Destiny’s a strange concept, especially for athletes.
For as highly as any athlete is touted in the early goings of their professional career, many fall flat. For as often as so-called experts make bold claims about any young athlete’s destiny, far too many have their actual destiny unveiled before them. Because, by definition, not every young athlete—or fighter, in this case—can go down as the best in history.
A familiar concept in any sport, mixed martial arts is filled with fighters destined to be has-beens. Their head movement isn’t enough to create barely-there distances between face and fist. Their cardio isn’t enough to carry on an inexplicable pace throughout a 25-minute fist fight. Nobody is immune to Father Time’s call.
Strangely enough, every fighter should strive to be part of this group, because the only other membership available envelops far too many names we’ll never remember: the ones that never were.
And so we find ourselves, looking back at the last four years of Erick Silva’s career and wondering where he’ll land. One of the most exciting talents to come out of Brazil at 170 pounds at the start of the decade, Silva’s UFC career has struggled to take the sort of shape we all anticipated.
Seriously, we’re only three years removed from entertaining the idea that Silva could eventually have a better career than then-fellow prospect Rory MacDonald (yes, the same Rory MacDonald that just took part in arguably the greatest welterweight title fight of all time).
But there were plenty of ways to argue in favor of the Team Nogueira fighter and not be that guy.
At the peak of the discussion, Silva was 3-1 in the UFC. That lone loss to Carlo Prater came amid a controversial disqualification for blows that referee Mario Yamasaki perceived to land on the back of Prater’s head. Dana White and the UFC paid Silva his win money and moved along as though he’d won, and so did we—he was technically undefeated in the most competitive fighting promotion on the planet.
But then he ran into Jon Fitch and, like most of Fitch’s opponents did at the time, Silva was unable to get off his back for three rounds, dropping a unanimous decision. It was his first real loss in the UFC.
His second loss showed much of the same—a talented young striker who struggled against quasi-talented grapplers. At least that’s what we saw before getting knocked out by Dong Hyung Kim in the second round of their co-main event at UFC Fight Night 29 in October 2013.
He stringed together a couple of wins against lesser talents sandwiched between losses to fighters on the cusp of breaking into the elite. He didn’t have it in him to finish Kim or Matt Brown, which made critics overly concerned with his capacity to get past his shortcomings and get the job done against any one of the UFC’s top five welterweights.
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Information per UFC.com
Silva’s two most recent victories against Mike Rhodes and Josh Koscheck gave us glimpses of the fighter we knew he could be. But considering he did it against two fighters who have a combined 2-8 record in their last five outings, you’re allowed every ounce of skepticism you have over the exceptionally talented 31-year-old Brazilian cage fighter.
That’s why his match-up against No. 10-ranked Rick Story was such a big deal. For the first time since falling short against Brown, Silva would have an opportunity to prove himself against a ranked opponent.
“It’s always bad to change opponents on short notice.” Silva said to Combate (per Bloody Elbow). “I prepared for almost four months for Rick Story, then the fight was postponed, then it was postponed again and now this last minute change, only two weeks away from the fight, it hurts my training camp. But we are professionals, we are always ready. The UFC asked us to remain in the card and we couldn’t leave them hanging.”
What’s more, this was Silva’s moment to show the world he’d bettered himself as a fighter—a striker prepared to handle the challenges that surface when stepping into the cage with a fighter that smothers like Story, Kim and Fitch so often do.
Still, he faces No. 15 Neil Magny at UFC Fight Night 74 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada this Sunday, hoping to secure his longest (actual) winning streak under the Zuffa banner. A victory over Magny—who’s divisional climb took a hit when he last stepped into the cage with Demian Maia a mere 22 days prior to his scheduled fight Sunday—would sit as the biggest accomplishment in Silva’s career.
He may not be headlining Sunday’s event, but all eyes will be on Silva. It’s not just about defeating the fighter who went 5-0 in 2014. It’s about showcasing his exceptional talents and dominating an opponent we know he’s capable of dominating.
Silva has all the potential in the world, he just hasn’t met it. But he won’t have that chance unless he keeps the ball rolling Sunday.