Israel Adesanya vs Anderson Silva UFC MMA news
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It is time to reframe how we assess greatness in MMA. Israel Adesanya prepares for a second UFC middleweight title fight against Robert Whittaker at UFC 271, and a chance to close distance on Anderson Silva's remarkable legacy.

Silva's record 10 middleweight title defenses (consecutive and cumulative) may stand the test of time. There are two primary causes for why modern-day fighters likely will not surpass Silva's record: competition level and career length.

The skill gap between fighters has narrowed over the years. A baseline well-roundness has resulted in increasingly competitive fights. High-level specialists with one vastly superior skill are much more rare. Adesanya's striking, Charles Oliveira's jiu-jitsu and Khabib Nurmagomedov's wrestling come to mind and, even still, the former two have experienced turbulence.

UFC fighters are beginning to clue in on the risk vs. reward of competing at the highest level. It appears the culture is shifting towards winning a UFC championship, generating as much money as quickly as possible, and parlaying their gold to greener pastures. Nurmagomedov and Henry Cejudo both retired as champions at just 32, reigning UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou may be on his way out and even veteran Georges St-Pierre returned for a one-off fight to win a second UFC belt before calling it a day. Silva's 14-year run at a high level just isn't something this generation's fighters are incentivized to do.

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Let's compare Adesanya and Silva's UFC accomplishments.

StatisticAdesanyaSilva
UFC record

10-1

17-7, 1 NC

Longest UFC win streak

9

17

UFC title defenses

3

10

UFC record at light heavyweight

0-1

3-1

UFC finishes
4 (40% of wins)
14 (82% of wins)

On the surface, Adesanya has a lot of ground to cover if he wants to match Silva stat-for-stat. Digging a little deeper, however, Adesanya and Silva's UFC fights are not one-for-one trades. Adesanya jumped up to light heavyweight after just two UFC middleweight title defenses, challenging Jan Blachowicz for the 205-pound strap. Losing the fight hurts his resume, surely, but losing a competitive fight to the reigning champion softens the blow. After all, Silva's wins at light heavyweight came at the tail end of James Irvin, Forrest Griffin (to a lesser extent) and Stephan Bonnar's careers.

"Stylebender" doesn't need to notch seven or eight more wins to match or eclipse Silva. He needs some good PR. Adesanya owns victories over four of the men ranked in the top five at 185 pounds, plus another over a former title challenger in Yoel Romero. Finishing fighters at the top end of middleweight is a truly difficult task, but it is what Adesanya needs to do. A second emphatic stoppage of Robert Whittaker, arguably the best middleweight champion between Silva and Adesanya's reigns, is an important next step. From there, the winner of Jared Cannonier vs. Derek Brunson (whom he has already beaten) should be next. 

As Adesanya continues to clear out the middleweight division, UFC matchmakers will be forced to draw from lower-ranked contenders or from other divisions, positioning Adesanya to rack up wins. If Adesanya can stay relatively active, he could realistically score four more wins with all four being finishes by the end of next year.

Adesanya does not need a UFC light heavyweight championship. Being a two-division champion is a cherry on top, but a legendary fighter it does not make. The fighters in rotation for G.O.A.T status are generally Silva, Jon Jones, Demetrious Johnson, Fedor Emelianenko and St-Pierre. GSP was in the discussion before he won the middleweight crown. The only exception is Amanda Nunes, who simultaneously held the UFC women's featherweight and bantamweight titles. Double champs Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Henry Cejudo are usually omitted from the debate.

To make it clear, it is going to take time for Adesanya to meet or exceed the standard set by Silva. But he's closer than people think.