Say what you want about the UFC Championship and its unmatched promotion of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Call it brutal, and barbaric. Call it uncouth. Brand it savagery. Hell, reduce it to a society of animals blood bathing one another – but you can’t possibly deny this company one thing – it remains the only cage within which the art of fighting, short of killing, is finely displayed in its most vicious and yet most profound form.
And who dominates it? Anderson da Silva – the 37 year-old father of 5, from a country we know for its lush beaches and imperial salsa soccer style than its elaborately evolved ancient martial arts form – capoeira – which is a much preserved dynamic fighting technique originating from West & Central Africa. This is Brazil we are talking about.
How do you mess up a film about an exciting fighter from an exhilarating country? Like Water, 2011, cannot be the greatest film on Anderson da Silva. Notwithstanding, it accomplishes some level of excellence that a dissertation-like documentary filmmaking can possibly emulate – Anderson da Silva’s dominance in the MMA – though giving too much weight to his fight against the blood doping, drug testing, testosterone enhancing former Greco-Roman American Champion wrestler, Chael Patrick Sonnen, who also happens to have been a former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler from the University of Oregon.
However, because the Silva-Sonnen fight occupies more than 80 percent of this film, director Pablo Croce probably makes the case for yet the most elaborate documentation of the contrast in fighting styles and fighting philosophies between the two individuals and peradventure, the cultures that shape them.
We are first introduced to da Silva’s unanimous decision win against Demian Maia which was largely criticized not for the lack of performance but for the way and manner in which he humiliated Maia. da Silva mocked Maia the entire bout, verbally taunting him, “come on, hit me in the face, playboy,” while employing quick and precise striking at the same time. His tempo and slipperiness were too much for Maia – an art that couldn’t have been more misconstrued by Dana White himself when he confirmed rather proverbially that it was the most embarrassed he had ever been since becoming UFC president. Embarrassed, of course, for Maia who had hitherto heaped tons of insults on da Silva pre-fight.
But Anderson da Silva’s humility is as striking as his supremacy in the UFC. In the post-fight interview, he apologized and insisted he wasn’t himself – that he would go back and re-evaluate the modesty that has made him so fearsome – he just cannot stoop to other fighter’s level.
And so did he re-brand his art, the traditional Brazilian way – with its firm roots in the origins of the West African martial arts philosophy – humility, modesty and total respect for the opponent. To this end he was immensely criticized again by UFC fans the world over.
But Anderson da Silva stood his ground and refused to swerve off course while Chael Sonnen breathed heavily down his neck with insults, taunts, and gross disrespect for da Silva, per chance, in a bid to instill some fear.
In contrast, the fighting philosophy I aspire to (not necessarily the technique), as an African-American, is one hugely rooted in the same cultural philosophy and mental conditioning as da Silva’s all-encompassing capoeira – a style that also evolved into the Stick Dance in the USA. A similar stick dance, Tahtib, was practiced in ancient Egypt and even survived up until the 19th century in North Africa.
And I couldn’t emphasize it more – that’s one thing in the hurt-business I may be sympathetically biased about – total respect for the opponent. To this end, Anderson da Silva minced no words and lost no temper in giving Chael Patrick Sonnen the respect accorded an opponent in this art form, however violent.
There’s an African Proverb that sums up that energy, “retreating is as good as advancing – you must live to fight, otherwise, you are already dead – the onus in every aspect of surviving violence against you, falls on staying alive!” It’s a mentality that speaks to humility and meekness even yet, in the face of an enemy you know you can utterly crash.
But tyranny with its concomitant appetite for mischief is one word that tied up the end of the documentary on the fight between da Silva and Sonnen. Da Silva came into the fight, a rib broken, while Chael Patrick Sonnen stepped into the cage heavily doped – on God knows what?
According to CompuStrike, in da Silva’s first 11 UFC fights, he was hit only 208 times. Sonnen alone hit him a total of 289 times – a work rate possible against a master tactician the kind that da Silva is, only if you were a total coke head. Apparently, the stakes were a little too high for Sonnen – I wondered what he was dying for? For the pride of hometown?
But in the hurt-business as Floyd Mayweather Jr. would put it, “everything looks easy from outside the ring until you step in it” – especially when you have a testosterone over-dope oozing out of every pore. With about two minutes left in the last round, Silva locked up Chael Sonnen in the famous triangle armbar. His neck about to snap, a humiliated Sonnen gladly submitted at 3:10 of Round 5, to save his own life – not to say da Silver would have broken it.
And so ended the debate on which fighting style, which fighting mentality, which fighting tradition and which fighting philosophy remains the most enthralling and most effective – mayhap, those of the famous Black House in Rio? A House from which many exciting and studious fighters have emerged alongside Anderson da Silva himself!
Perhaps it is not far from the truth that during the 19th Century, Portuguese soldiers would categorically state that, “it took more than one dragoon (more than a whole infantry) to capture a single Quilombo warrior, since they would defend themselves with a strangely moving fighting technique.”
The Quilombo, if I may add, were escaped Africans who developed capoeira from a survival tool to a martial art focused on war in order to constantly defend themselves against the Portuguese colonial troops in Brazil. This is the long tradition Anderson da Silva comes from, a Quilombo Warrior at heart, at his best, in every respect. He won’t go away – and he just can’t die!
He’s Like Water! He is everywhere – ever present and calm – but his humility cannot be mistaken for cowardice. Probably, it takes someone like Sonnen to rattle and unleash the giant beasts in da Silva – it takes a constant insolence towards him to cause the calmest Ocean that he is, rise up, roaring and gushing down your doorstep.
Here is, really, part of the tale of a man who has mastered an African Art form, in all its beauty, modesty, superior technique and overpowering bravery – Anderson da Silva indeed is Like Water.
Director: Pablo Croce
Writers: Lyoto Machida, Ed Soares
Stars: Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo and Junior Dos Santos