by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
There is probably not a fighter in the upcoming Rumble on the Rock 175lb tournament as enigmatic as Anderson Silva is. At times he looks like a definite contender for the top ranking in the middleweight division, then without warning he has bad outings against fighters he should be favored to beat.

Formerly of the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil, Silva, started his career out with a loss against Luiz Azeredo at Meca Vale Tudo 1, then pulled off four wins in a row. Impressive enough in those four wins was Silva that he was given an opportunity to face Japanese superstar Hayoto “Mach” Sakurai in Shooto for Sakurai’s title.

Thought perhaps at the time to be a strong contender but not the one to dethrone Sakurai, Silva surprised the Japanese crowd, taking a unanimous decision and the Shooto Middleweight Championship from Mach. Silva had officially arrived on the scene with his win over the highly regarded Sakurai.

After returning to MVT for one more bout, Silva was bought up as part of Chute Boxe’s infusion of talent into Pride FC in 2002. Following in the steps of now former teammate Wanderlei Silva and Murilo “Ninja” Rua, Anderson was thought to be the next in the line of great Brazilian fighters for Pride.

Going up against larger talent in Pride’s 205lb division, Silva looked to be paying off dividends, winning impressively over Alex Stiebling at Pride 21. Then he followed that up with something of a letdown win over clearly less talented Alexander Otsuka via unanimous decision at Pride 25. While a victory, his inability to stop Otsuka was something of a concern.

Silva managed to stave off those concerns after knocking out hard-chinned Carlos Newton in his next match. In that fight in particular Anderson showed what he was capable of. He avoided the brilliant submission game of Newton, while staying patient standing, landing a viscous knee to Carlos’ chin late in the first round as Newton shot in for a takedown to get the KO.

Impressive once again hopes were high for Silva and it looked like he was back on track after the lackluster performance against Otsuka. Then the momentum Anderson was building came crashing down after an inexplicable loss to journeyman fighter Daiju Takase at Pride 26.

This became a time for change for Anderson. No longer was he considered a top tier contender by many due to the loss to Takase. Around the same time Silva left Chute Boxe to go his own way and many questioned that move as well. Perhaps worst of all, after being considered one of the next great fighters in Pride, Anderson was released from the company.

Determined to prove naysayers wrong, Anderson rebounded after leaving Pride, winning his next three fights, including wins over Jeremy Horn in South Korea and Lee Murray in England. Slowly but surely Anderson was rebuilding the momentum he once held, he now only awaited a shot to prove himself in the bigtime again.

Silva was given that shot at Shockwave 2004 against rising Japanese fighter Ryo Chonan on New Year’s Eve. Anderson was playing a new role for the company; no longer was he the young up and comer, but now the veteran test for the organization’s newest star.

In what was a great back and forth battle between Anderson and Ryo for two and a half rounds, it appeared as if Silva could work himself back in with the company if he finished the fight out strong. Then it happened, the highlight moment of the year, as Chonan pulled off his now famous scissors heel hook with just under two minutes left in the match, forcing Silva to submit.

Anderson’s return to Pride was noteworthy, but in the way Silva had hoped. Again out of the company and looking to rebuild his faltering reputation, Anderson rebounded. Returning to Cage Rage in England, Silva defeated UFC veterans Jorge Rivera and Curtis Stout in his two bouts in 2005 and now he looks to take another step forward in the ROTR 175lb tournament.

In the first round of the ROTR tournament Silva is scheduled to face off against Japanese fighter Yushin Okami in what could be the sleeper fight of the night. Heading into the tournament Silva is one of the favorites, his reputation in the sport has made it so, but if he is not careful he could be in for a rude awakening against Okami in a similar fashion Anderson had experienced against Takase.

While unknown to many American fans, Okami is a serious threat to Silva if Anderson takes him lightly. Both fighters like to throw and Silva should have the advantage there, but if Anderson’s mental and physical conditioning isn’t strong he could be in for trouble, especially on the ground where he’s had some problems in the past.

The key for Anderson is to stay focused, use his superior reach and natural size advantage to keep Okami at bay, all the while scoring points. If the fight goes to the ground Silva has to use his limbs to tie up Yushin and prevent the Japanese fighter from outworking him on the ground. If that happens, Anderson could set Okami up much like he did against Newton or at least take a decision victory.

A win could further help to rebuild Silva’s slowly revitalizing prominence. Prior to ROTR, the UFC had expressed interest in him, and with a good showing in the tournament, Silva could use it as springboard back into the limelight of MMA. A loss could further prove that while a very good fighter, Anderson lacks the consistency to be a great fighter and contender.

Rebuilding is something Anderson is used to at this point. He’s placed himself in that position but he’s capable of doing it and going one step further as long as he performs well when the spotlight is on him. If he can keep everything together, 2006 could just be the year that Anderson Silva steps out of the shadows of his former self and forges a bright future as one of the true great middleweight fighters in the world.