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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

UFC 208: Anderson Silva puts legacy on line at Barclays

Anderson Silva talks about his fight against Derek Brunson at UFC 208 open workouts at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (Newsday/Mark La Monica)

The following words in the following order seem as unfathomable as they are accurate: Anderson Silva hasn’t officially won a fight in close to five years.

It once was presumed that for such a statement to be published as fact, it would precede something to the effect of “because he retired from mixed martial arts close to five years ago.”

Alas, that part lacks veracity. The rest, however, remains an accurate depiction of the latter years of Silva’s career.

In his prime, Silva was the greatest MMA fighter ever, an other-worldly man who won fights with his aura before he even showed up for weigh-ins. When Silva fought, anything was possible. The fastest front kick ever seen to the jaw of Vitor Belfort, ending his night. A four-plus round beating at the hands of Chael Sonnen, only to be usurped by a triangle choke out of nowhere by “The Spider.” Three knockdowns in three minutes, the last one a simple jab to finish off Forrest Griffin.

Those fights happened five, six and eight calendars ago, though. Questions of just how far the 41-year-old Silva has fallen permeated UFC 208 media day and open workouts this week in Brooklyn. Middleweight Derek Brunson, Silva’s opponent in the co-main event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday, is preparing for the best Silva ever.

“Still the same Anderson from the beginning,” Brunson said. “He’s going to go out there, try to frustrate you. He’s going to try to dictate the pace of the fight, keep his hands moving a lot.”

Such a line of questioning never seemed so prevalent with Silva. He’d always been the constant, the guy you just expected to win. Kind of like when Tom Brady has the football in the final minute. Or Michael Jordan with the basketball in his hands and the shot clock off. You know Brady is going to throw a touchdown, and you know Jordan will hit the last shot. That was Silva.

Now, no one’s quite sure. Except, maybe, for Silva.

“Saturday, I prove to myself how much energy, how much passion I have for this sport,” Silva said.

Chris Weidman knocked some of the shine off Silva’s bright star with a brilliantly placed left fist to his jaw, flooring the Brazilian legend at UFC 162 on July 6, 2013. Silva lost his middleweight title that night, along with his undefeated record in the UFC and 17-fight winning streak spanning seven years.

The Silva mystique lessened six months later when he lost again to Weidman at UFC 168, this time breaking his left leg in two places when his kick attempt was blocked.

On Jan. 31, 2015 — 13 months and three days after he was wheeled away from his fighting arena on a stretcher — Silva returned with the fanfare befitting his career. He beat Nick Diaz via unanimous decision that night.

Technically, though, it now registers as a no contest after Silva tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in both pre- and post-fight tests.

Those positive tests certainly altered Silva’s legacy. But there’s also a positive result to that positive test. It was shortly after Silva’s positive test that then UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta announced a comprehensive drug-testing program for all of UFC’s 500-plus fighters to be administered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Silva served his one-year suspension, then returned in February 2016, when he lost to Michael Bisping by unanimous decision in a very close fight. (Of course, he dropped Bisping with a flying knee at the end of the third round, but the referee didn’t step in to end the fight as the bell sounded while Bisping fell to the ground.) Then, Silva accepted a non-title fight against light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier on three days’ notice at UFC 200 last July. He lost, again by unanimous decision.

“I look at his past couple fights, the guy just had a couple of unfortunate events. Bisping’s the champ, he knocked the guy out but they restart the match,” Brunson said. “The guy might have slowed down a little bit but I think he’s still faster than 95 percent of the middleweights. The skills never leave, so it’s still there. He got a lot of fight left.”

For his part, Silva said he wants to fight for five more years, then lessened it to “maybe three or four.” He said has six fights left on his contract.

“I proved for a long time how much I give my heart and my time to UFC,” Silva said. “Why not give me an opportunity to fight for the belt again? I don’t know. This is a good question for Dana, not me.”

Still, at age 41 and his stature among the greatest secured but among the current somewhat wobbly, he remains “Anderson Silva.” He drew the biggest attention from cameras and fans at Thursday’s open workouts at Gleason’s Gym.

“You see when Anderson Silva walks in the hotel, everybody’s like, damn, it’s Anderson Silva, yo,” said Queens’ Randy Brown, an up-and-coming fighter on the card who grew up idolizing Silva. “Even other fighters and coaches are like, oh, it’s Anderson Silva.”

At times, Silva sounds like he wants to keep fighting. And at other times, Silva seems like he just wants to be at home with his wife, five children and two dogs.

“He’s still the greatest in my opinion,” Brown said. “After this, he should just win and relax. Nobody wants to see Anderson hurt. Anderson’s the man, I don’t want to see him tarnish his legacy.”

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