Anderson Silva, one of the most dominant champions in UFC history, is a legendary figure in combat sports. At the height of his powers, Silva delivered numerous iconic moments that'll be forever etched in MMA folklore.
'The Spider' left the UFC in 2020, marking the end of a 14-year gold-laden run in the world's premier MMA organization. During his championship reign, the Brazilian pulled off some truly remarkable victories to solidify his status as one of the best to ever grace the famed octagon.
With that said, here are five iconic Anderson Silva moments in the UFC.
#5. Anderson Silva dazzles in his UFC debut – UFC Fight Night 5
In the early 2000s, when the UFC was on the cusp of exiting a dark time in its history, Anderson Silva made a name for himself on the regional MMA scenes in Brazil, Japan and England. Silva finally signed with the American promotion in 2006, taking on TUF alum Chris Leben in his promotional debut.
The level of striking in MMA wasn't of the highest quality at the time. Back then, most of the top-flight competitors on the roster had wrestling backgrounds and the sport was quite grappling-heavy. Silva, with his flamboyant yet technical Muay Thai style, was unlike any other UFC fighter.
This was evident in his octagon debut against Leben at UFC Fight Night 5 in Las Vegas, Nevada, as Silva cruised to a seemingly effortless 49-second TKO victory.
Silva's speed, accuracy and timing left Leben looking rather clueless inside the cage. After two knockdowns inside the first minute, the referee called a halt to the action to cap off a statement-making debut from 'The Spider'.
Silva's knockout win over Leben sealed a title shot for the Brazilian. He went on to fight then-middleweight champion Rich Franklin in his next bout, coming away with yet another KO victory to kick off his championship reign, which lasted a little under seven years, comprising 10 title defenses.
#4. Anderson Silva showcases well-rounded arsenal – UFC 82
Anderson Silva claimed the UFC middleweight championship with his dominant victory over Rich Franklin at UFC 64. His next three bouts, a non-title fight against Travis Lutter, a title defense against Nate Marquart and a rematch against Franklin, all ended via knockout in favor of 'The Spider'.
The public consensus at the time was that a strong wrestler would be Silva's kryptonite, as it was clear that no other fighter was at his level in the striking department. At UFC 82, the Brazilian champion took on former PRIDE champion Dan Henderson, who many viewed as a nightmare matchup for Silva.
Henderson, known for his iconic 'H-Bomb', is among the hardest punchers to ever grace the octagon. With his wrestling background and undeniable fight-ending ability in his fists, the American compiled a stellar record to earn his shot at Silva's middleweight strap.
Henderson dominated the first round, taking Silva down and landing some thunderous punches and elbows. However, the tides turned in the second as the champion started having success in the stand-up. A powerful knee from the clinch saw 'Hendo' crash down to the canvas and Silva pounced on his back.
The Brazilian locked in a body triangle and latched on a tight rear-naked choke, forcing a tap from Henderson to retain his title. In the aftermath of his well-rounded showcase, Silva was regarded as the greatest fighter on the planet, as at the time, he had no known weaknesses.
#3. Anderson Silva's iconic front-kick to the face – UFC 126
After his impressive submission victory over Dan Henderson at UFC 82, Anderson Silva rattled off six more wins, including five more defenses of his middleweight title. For his eighth title defense, Silva squared off against fellow Brazilian Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC 126.
Belfort's record boasted wins over the likes of Tank Abbott, Wanderlei Silva and Randy Couture at the time. Coming into his title bout against Silva, he was riding a five-fight win streak comprising four knockouts, including a KO victory over former middleweight champion Rich Franklin.
With both fighters known for their devastating striking, this was a mouth-watering matchup on paper. However, Silva needed just under three-and-a-half minutes to dispatch Belfort and he did so in spectacular fashion.
Both fighters adopted a slow pace at the start of the bout, seemingly getting a feel for each other's range and power. Silva repeatedly dropped his hands and pestered Belfort with his unorthodox movement, trying to draw a reaction from the challenger.
Belfort stayed disciplined in the opening three minutes and wisely didn't force any action against the always-dangerous Silva. Out of nowhere, 'The Spider' unleashed a powerful front-kick up the middle, dropping his compatriot. After a few follow-up shots, the referee intervened, as it was clear that Belfort had no chance after Silva's foot cracked him flush under the jaw.
#2. Anderson Silva snatches victory from the jaws of defeat – UFC 117
Perhaps the most memorable rivalry of Anderson Silva's UFC career was his two-fight series with Chael Sonnen. Silva, although sensational inside the octagon, struggled to promote his fights as well as some of his peers, largely due to his refusal to speak English.
Sonnen, widely regarded as one of the greatest trash-talkers of his era, was a direct contrast to Silva in every way. 'The American Gangster's wrestle-heavy style was nowhere near as exciting as the then-middleweight champion's multi-dimensional skillset.
Nevertheless, Sonnen knew how to get under his opponent's skin and the lead-up to his championship bout against Silva was quite entertaining. The fight that ensued delivered on all fronts and culminated in a jaw-dropping finish.
Sonnen upheld an incredible pace throughout the opening four rounds, repeatedly taking the champion down and even securing a few knockdowns. The American significantly outlanded his Brazilian counterpart from top position, and going into the final round, it appeared as though Silva's scintillating title reign was finally coming to an end.
'The Spider' got taken down yet again in the final frame as Sonnen never ceased with his relentless barrage of ground-and-pound. If he had opted to exit Silva's guard and see out the remainder of the fight in a safe manner, in all likelihood he would've dethroned the long-reigning middleweight king.
However, with a little over three minutes left on the clock, Silva threw up a triangle choke and trapped Sonnen's arm, forcing the challenger to tap.
Chael Sonnen came agonizingly close to handing Anderson Silva his first loss in the promotion. The Brazilian titleholder showed that despite being ragdolled and beaten up for over 20 minutes, he could still find a way to win, further cementing his status as one of the greatest to ever set foot inside the cage.
Silva made light work of Sonnen in their rematch, finishing him via TKO in the second round. Nonetheless, their rivalry remains one of the most memorable, entertaining and dramatic episodes in MMA history.
#1. Anderson Silva's best-ever performance – UFC 101
At his best, Anderson Silva was untouchable inside the octagon. The performance that best represented the legendary Brazilian at the peak of his powers was his light heavyweight bout against Forrest Griffin in the main event of UFC 101 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
With no new challengers for his middleweight title on the horizon, Silva took on Griffin in a 205-pound bout just to remain active. It turned out to be the most immaculate performance of his career.
Right from the get-go, Silva looked like a matador, embarrassing Griffin in almost every single exchange every time he charged forward like a raging bull. The TUF champion couldn't land a single punch on Silva, who was showboating and evading all of Griffin's advances.
A little over three minutes into the fight, a rather sheepish-looking Griffin barged forward with a combination and all of his strikes failed to hit the target. After avoiding every punch that came his way, Silva landed a right-straight with almost zero wind-up, which saw Griffin crumble into the canvas.
Silva's almost god-like display at UFC 101 remains one of the greatest striking masterclasses combat sports fans have ever seen.