MMA has a wicked sense of justice, which is to say it has no sense of it at all. While athletes in other sports conveniently believe in divine intervention when the outcome goes their way, in MMA it is more clear than anywhere else that there is no intervention, simply two individuals fighting with the outcome resting purely on their interactions.
Sometimes, that means that when shin cracks against shin, one gives way. And it doesn’t matter if the broken leg belongs to the greatest MMA fighter of all time, or if the fight that the broken leg ends was hyped to be the biggest bout ever, or anything else.
Shin hits shin, and unlike the other 10,000 times it has happened, one gives way. Not because of divine intervention, not because of fate, but simply cold biology and physics. A perfectly imperfect combination of split second actions and reactions.
So Anderson Silva very likely won’t get the finish that he deserves. To earn the praise-filled ego-stroking victory lap that athletes in other sports enjoy, he’ll have to endure months of recovery before even walking again. Then months more building up strength. Then months more after that preparing to fight.
Another all-time great, Mariano Rivera, got to tour the continent and receive gifts and watch tribute videos all last summer as he got ready to retire. Ultimately, his Yankees were unsuccessful in their pursuit of a World Series, and he wasn’t able to walk away as a winner in that respect.
But he walked away. He walked.
You aren’t guaranteed that in mixed martial arts. In fact, it’s downright unlikely. In MMA, you go out on your shield. Chuck Liddell did. Randy Couture did. Fedor Emelianenko did. And on and on it goes. You have to dig deep to find the Chris Lytles of the sport, the lucky few who were able to suppress that need for gritty competition, for greatness, long enough to realize that it never really ends well.
Anderson was the Michael Jordan of MMA, we say. The real Michael Jordan retired, then came back, then retired, then came back again. Each time based upon his own whims and not his body’s inability to take the very literal beating his job entailed. When he left, he was tarnished ever so slightly by wearing a strange jersey and looking a little more pedestrian than normal. But he walked away.
You can craft a narrative around any rivalry in the sport or ride the motivational wave of a comeback story, but you have to remember that the story itself, like the athletes, is just along for the ride. It’s written in pencil, not ink, and no matter how illustrious the career, no matter how big the event, the sport itself isn’t invested in your tidy little narratives or feel-good stories. The sport isn’t invested because the sport is nothing. It’s just two fighters out there, and nobody ever really knows what’s going to happen. Sometimes, that messes everything up, and you look around and realize that the organized chaos taking place in the cage is complete madness, except for the fact that everything happens for a reason.
The reason, of course, is because the individuals in there made it happen.
So there’s not any meaning to be found if Anderson Silva’s career ended when he threw another leg kick and had it checked, just like has happened thousands of times in fights or in training, only to suffer a gruesome injury. Except for the meaning that there is no meaning, and this sport that we all love so dearly is not subject to any narrative, agenda, or purpose, except for answering the question of what will happen when two fighters get in the cage and do battle on any given night.
Cause and effect have no favorites or sympathy. So sometimes, the greatest fighter of all-time may leave the cage not with a standing ovation and a belt around his waist, but instead with a horrifically broken leg and a second straight defeat looming over him. Tonight was just a brutal reminder that the sport doesn’t care about anything but truth, and sometimes the truth really does hurt.