PHILADELPHIA - After riding through a slight valley, Anderson Silva soared to a new peak at UFC 101.
The UFC middleweight champion moved up a weight class and not only beat former light-heavyweight Forrest Griffin, he made him look bad in the process. Silva beat up the bigger man, all but breaking his will in three minutes 23 seconds in a non-title fight.
It was a jar-dropping performance that cemented Silva's status as mixed martial arts' top dog.
"He's the most talented fighter in the world. He's pound-for-pound the best in the world," said UFC president Dana White. "He proved tonight not only that he's that, but he can dominate in two different weight divisions."
The 34-year-old Silva was bumped up to 205 pounds and matched with Griffin after a pair of lacklustre wins over Thales Leites and Canadian Patrick Cote. White wanted to challenge the Brazilian to show his full arsenal.
Unfortunately for Griffin, he did.
In the main event at the Wachovia Center, lightweight title-holder B.J. Penn reinforced his 155-pound championship credentials in the main event by submitting Kenny Florian at 3:54 of the fourth round in a one-way contest. It was a convincing, welcome win for Penn (14-5-1) after a battering at the hands of Canadian welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at 170 pounds at UFC 94.
"When Anderson started fighting I walked into the bathroom because I didn't want to see what was happening so I would try to focus," Penn said later. "Then I heard everybody yelling and then I've saw Anderson walk in and say 'Now it's your turn.' Tough act to follow."
Two minutes into the co-main event, Silva rushed Griffin and knocked him down. Then he waved him in, ducking and weaving to avoid Griffin's attempted shots, and nailed him again.
Silva (25-4) offered to help Griffin up. And then promptly knocked him out.
As Griffin (16-6) moved towards him, Silva evaded two punches and then - moving backwards - knocked him out with a single right. Griffin, flat on his back, held his hands up as if to say "no mas."
Silva was smiling and unmarked after the fight. Griffin was nowhere to be seen after running out of the cage.
"He might be in Georgia by now, I'm not sure. He ran out and I haven't seen him since," White said. "But he's an emotional guy."
Griffin is big, well-rounded and has the heart of a lion. But he was too slow for Silva, whose striking skills are clinical and deadly.
Silva all but toyed with the former 205-pound champion. The Brazilian eyed his opponent in the first minute or so, as he normally does, dismissing Griffin's attacks as if he was shooing a fly. Then, urging Griffin to take it up a notch, he punished him.
Silva may have been the victim of his own success in his two previous outing when he failed to reproduce his earlier violent onslaughts.
"Forrest came to fight, to stand up and fight, and Thales unfortunately didn't," Silva explained through an interpreter.
"Styles make fights," he added. "Thales came into the fight trying to take me down. Forrest stood there and tried to exchange. It just kind of comes with the business. But Forrest should definitely be respected and be congratulated, because he came well-prepared and he came to fight."
Unfortunately, it looked like he came to a gunfight equipped with a knife. Once Silva tagged him, his game plan was out the window and he was picked apart.
So what's next for Silva?
Once again, White rejected a proposed boxing match against Roy Jones Jr.
"I don't know what will happen if Anderson Silva went into box Roy Jones Jr. I just don't see the point. This is MMA."
A rematch with former Pride champion Dan Henderson is likely next in the middleweight ranks. And then?
"I don't know," said White. "He can do anything. . . . There's a lot of things we can do. It depends how much Anderson wants to challenge himself. And from talks we've had, he wants to fight some of the best at 205 and continue to defend his 185-pound belt."
"He wants to be involved in the biggest fights that we can put together, whether it's at 185 or whether it's 205," said Ed Soares, Silva's manager.
The six-foot-two Silva normally walks around at 215 to 220 pounds, cutting to 185 to make middleweight. He has the frame to fight at light-heavyweight and there are more challenges there than at middleweight.
But Silva is not interested in facing light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, a friend.
"It has nothing to do with friendship," White countered. "It's about who's the best, it's about competing against somebody else. No different that a basketball game or a football game. If Anderson gets to that point where he starts taking out 205-pounders, I'll make that fight, I promise you I'll make that fight."
Silva just shook his head.
"Lyoto's my friend. He's my brother. There's no way that fight will happen," he said.
Last time out, Machida repeated that Silva was a friend and the two would never fight. Except, maybe, if the price was right.
"Show me the money," Soares, who also manages Machida, said in May with a grin.
Machida and Silva are the two most accurate strikers in mixed martial arts, according to stats compiled by Fightmetrics.
Even if they don't meet, the two Brazilians could top the 205-pound division as 1 and 1a, with different opinions on who's who.
Aside from a disqualification loss to Yushin Okami in January 2006 (for an illegal kick), Silva has not been beaten since Ryo Chonan submitted him in December 2004. That was 15 fights and 55 months ago.
Silva has won all 10 of his UFC fights, a record win streak for the organization. He has lost just one round in three years in the UFC - to Henderson whom he then submitted in the second round at UFC 82.
Penn won a US$60,000 bonus for submission of the night. Silva collected an extra $120,000 for fight and knockout of the night while Griffin got an additional $60,000 for taking his painful part in the fight of the night.
The event drew a crowd of 17,411 and a gate of $3.55 million, the biggest in state history according to White.
The two big events aside, the card was not one of the UFC's best. There were a string of fights that went to decisions with not all enthralling.
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