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UFC Vegas 12 preview: Anderson Silva leaving behind a complicated (and somewhat messy) legacy

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UFC 183 Open Workouts Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva is often considered to be “the greatest mixed martial artist of all time” ... a strange distinction when you consider that time is a continuous, never-ending assembly line of next big things.

Like this guy.

Perhaps it’s more fair to call Silva the greatest for a period of time, since “The Spider” ruled unchallenged for over six years, racking up 16 straight wins with a staggering 14 finishes. His level of competition hasn’t aged very well, but we can’t punish an athlete for the limitations of his era.

As James Irvin explained to me back in 2008, he only scored the Silva fight because nobody else would take it.

We can, however, take a critical look at what makes a legacy stand the test of time. Silva was often criticized during his heyday for fighting like a “jackass” when the promotion was trying to find its sea legs in international waters.

But UFC President Dana White could never stay mad at the Brazilian for very long, simply because Silva had the balls to jump divisions when the promotion needed a bailout. He was the definition of “pound-for-pound” best because weight classes were of no consequence.

Just ask this victim.

I often wonder how Silva would have been regarded if he took the advice of his family (as well as frenemy Jon Jones) and called it quits after breaking his leg against Chris Weidman. Let’s face it, it’s been nothing but a train wreck in the years that followed.

It wasn’t just the failed drug tests (or his idiotic excuses). Silva is not the first (and certainly won’t be the last) high-profile athlete to pop for performance-enhancing drugs. Fighters who own it and embark on a quick apology tour often move so far past it that most fans don’t even remember it happened.

Silva chose to blow us a kiss and blame his lawyer.

“Just to end this whole doping thing: I went very quickly from a guy who is on steroids to a guy who is on nothing,” Silva previously said. “I don’t use steroids, I don’t have any problems with doping. It doesn’t affect my legacy or career in any way.”

I think what hurt “The Spider” more than anything, at least in terms of legacy, is his inability to stop competing. The promotion is mercifully forcing him to retire after he fights Uriah Hall in the UFC Vegas 12 main event this weekend in Las Vegas, but Silva — who turns 46 in April — vows to compete elsewhere.

Since laying waste to Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153 in Brazil — the only place you’re allowed to take painkillers in-competition — Silva has failed two drug tests and lost six fights. The same fighter who was middleweight champion and No. 1 pound-for-pound is unable to crack the Top 15 at 185 pounds.

That doesn’t cancel out his reign of terror from 2006-2012, but it has undoubtedly set up shop in our collective cortex. So which part best defines his legacy ... the killer who treated middleweights like teenage counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, or the broken down cheater who couldn’t win a fight?

Perhaps both, or maybe somewhere in the middle.

MMA is a complicated profession and in the grand scheme of things, so new to the world of sports that even the fighters knee-deep in the muddy trenches are still figuring out how to navigate the ever-changing battlefield.

And let’s face it, UFC fans have been spoiled rotten.

I was fortunate enough to be a prominent part of the MMA blogosphere during Silva’s extraordinary run and I can tell you from witnessing it firsthand, “The Spider” — like Chuck Liddell and Ken Shamrock before him — is responsible for moving this industry forward when it needed someone to get out and push.

He was, quite literally, “Man of the Year.”

Yes, Silva’s legacy is complicated and somewhat messy, but not a detriment to the progress of UFC. No dollies through bus windows, no street fights caught on camera, no hit-and-run accidents, and no domestic violence accusations.

The worst you can say about Silva is that he failed a pair of drug tests and got too old to stay competitive. I can promise you there are fighters both past and present who would take the “Thug Nasty” challenge just to be mentioned in the same breath as “The Spider.”

Silva belongs in the UFC hall of fame and should be remembered as one of the all-time greats, regardless of what happens against Hall this weekend in “Sin City,” though I think we can all agree that canceling “Prime Time” would certainly expedite the process.