UFC 293: Israel Adesanya hot on Anderson Silva's heels for recognition as greatest middleweight in MMA history

There has been surprisingly little talk about Israel Adesanya challenging the perception of Anderson Silva as the greatest middleweight in MMA history, even as Adesanya goes about cleaning out the UFC's 185-pound class for a second time.

Adesanya — who on Saturday in Sydney, Australia, will defend his belt against Sean Strickland in the main event of UFC 293 — clearly deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the legendary Silva, the longtime middleweight champion.

Adesanya was 11-0 in MMA when he joined the UFC, and he has gone 13-2 since. He lost a decision to Jan Blachowicz at UFC 259 on March 6, 2021, in Las Vegas in a bid to win the light heavyweight title. And he was knocked out by Alex Pereira and lost his belt at UFC 281 on Nov. 12, 2022, in New York, though he avenged that defeat and regained the belt by knocking Pereira out at UFC 287 on April 8.

Adesanya also holds a decision victory over Silva, though Silva was 44 when they fought in 2019.

Silva went 15-0 in his first 15 UFC fights. He extended that streak to 16 with a win over the late Stephan Bonnar but has gone 1-7 with a no-contest since.

Silva was 31 years, 2 months old when he debuted in the UFC, while Adesanya was 29 years, 3 months old when he debuted.

Adesanya is a massive favorite to defeat Strickland on Saturday. At BetMGM, Adesanya is -650 to win, while Strickland is +450. If Strickland wins, he'll be among the biggest underdogs ever to win a UFC title bout.

Silva's run ended after that victory over Bonnar. He was regarded not only as the greatest middleweight in UFC history — he'd done that years prior — but also as the greatest fighter in MMA history. But he didn't age gracefully. He got knocked out by Chris Weidman at UFC 162 and suffered a horrific broken leg in their rematch.

After a no-contest with Nick Diaz, he lost consecutive bouts to Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier. He broke the skein with a win over Derek Brunson but concluded his MMA career with losses to Adesanya, Jared Cannonier and Uriah Hall. He was stopped by both Cannonier and Hall and was clearly fighting well beyond his prime.

Adesanya just turned 34 in July, and if he takes care of Strickland as the odds and nearly every expert suggest he will, he'll be 14-2 in the UFC with plenty of big fights ahead of him. He hasn't given any indication of being on the decline, as his knockout of Pereira in their bout at UFC 287 showed.

Nigeria's Israel Adesanya, left, reacts after defeating Brazil's Anderson Silva during their middleweight bout at the UFC 234 event in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Reigning UFC champion Israel Adesanya (L) and Anderson Silva are the two greatest middleweights in MMA history. Adesanya defends his title Saturday in Sydney, Australia, against Sean Strickland in the main event of UFC 293. (Andy Brownbill/The Associated Press)

It's a close battle to determine who is better, though Silva has the benefit of being finished in his career. That allows a fuller perspective, and we're able to judge more on prime versus prime. Cormier and Bisping are already in the UFC Hall of Fame as fighters, while Forrest Griffin was inducted in the fight wing.

Silva is the only Hall of Famer Adesanya has fought at this point, though several of his past opponents could wind up making it.

It's also important to consider only prime versus prime, so for the sake of this discussion, let's set a cut-off at 40 years old and count only bouts that came before that. Silva turned 40 on April 15, 2015, so none of his fights from that point forward — a win over Brunson and losses to Bisping, Cormier, Adesanya, Cannonier and Hall — are considered.

Eliminating those five bouts from Silva's record, his UFC mark would be 16-2 with a no-contest. That no-contest was originally a win over Diaz, but both men failed anti-doping tests, and the result was changed.

Adesanya can be 14-2 with a win over Strickland, and he has lucrative bouts with Dricus Du Plessis, Khamzat Chimaev and others potentially ahead of him. It wouldn't be a shock to see Adesanya try another bout at light heavyweight, where elite opponents such as Jiri Prochazka and Jamahal Hill would challenge him.

Silva gets the nod over Adesanya at this point, given his 16 consecutive wins, the manner in which he did it (12 KOs and two submissions for Silva vs. five KOs for Adesanya) and the quality of his opposition. Quality of opposition is subjective, but Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort and Griffin are significant wins.

Adesanya is never going to surpass Silva in terms of finishes, but he can surpass him in terms of wins and quality of opposition, depending upon whom he defeats after Strickland.

Adesanya is charging quickly, but at the same point in their careers, Silva remains a nose in front of him.