After passing the baton, matchmaking will be key in Anderson Silva’s career


MELBOURNE, Australia — The cageside microphones picked them up, clear as day. Six words from Anderson Silva to Israel Adesanya that were enough to make a fight fan cry.

“I pass the baton to you.”

UFC 234 did not mark the end of Silva’s career, but there was a sense of finality to it all the same. A 43-year-old legend fought a 29-year-old version of himself on Sunday, and after losing via unanimous decision, he gave him his blessing, in the end, to chase greatness.

It was beautiful, honestly. It was an honor for Adesanya, and he treated it as such. His path moving forward is set. He immediately turned his sights to a UFC title shot, and the defending champ Robert Whittaker. He has accepted the baton, and he’s running with it.

Now, how about the man who passed it off?

As impressive as Silva was on Sunday — considering his age and the two-year layoff he returned from — there is a fine line in MMA between a perfect “passing of the torch,” and a difficult-to-watch beatdown of an aging legend.

For Silva, this fight represents that crossroads. He did not look out of his element at all against the dangerous, undefeated Adesanya, but he is now, officially, 1-5 in his past seven bouts (including a no contest) — and was never really close to winning this one.

Silva’s bag of tricks — dropping his hands to his waist, urging an opponent to meet him along the fence, smiling and taunting another man after he connects on the feet — are still there, but the devastating knockouts that used to follow them aren’t.

It has been more than six years since he finished a fight. His reflexes are, naturally, slowing down. He’s one of the smartest fighters the world has ever seen, and for that reason alone, he’s very good at protecting himself. But eventually, even that won’t be enough.

The point here is not that Silva should retire, but correct matchmaking will be so crucial during whatever career he has left.

Following Sunday’s loss, he told ESPN he has “three or four” fights left on his contract, and that maybe he will retire once that contract is finished. If that is the case, I hope those “three or four” matchups are against opponents that make sense.

Because most fights that end with the passing of a baton don’t look like the one we saw at UFC 234. They end violently and suddenly. It’s rare to see a baton gingerly pass from one hand to another. They’re often wrenched away in lopsided fashion.

In other words, this is the last time I want to see Silva fight a young gun, with the promise of a title shot if it goes his way. That chapter of his story is now written. And it was perfect.

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