We expect mixed martial artists to drop out of fights at the last minute as the result of injuries suffered during training—twisted knees and sprained ankles and concussions and the like—and we accept this reality as the price we pay for being fans of a violent sport. In return for the pleasure we get from watching men and women sacrifice their bodies we understand that the fights we watch are ready reminders of our ever-diminishing physical capacity and our inevitable mortality. Every knockout and choking into unconsciousness is a tiny death for those with eyes to see and every fighter a memento mori, a metaphor with a message: witness the fragility of the body, live while you can.
Still, things are different when you find out some fighter you admire has been laid low not by a stray punch or ill-advised pre-fight takedown or an unfortunate deep cut but by collapses of a nature far bleaker and more disheartening: by age and infirmity, those cruel inevitabilities that will make any mixed martial arts fan feel helpless and contemplative, even philosophical, in a way a flash knockout in the gym never could.
This is how I felt today when I woke up to the news that Anderson Silva had pulled out of his fight with Uriah Hall this weekend at UFC 198 event in Curitiba, Brazil. Nothing could be more deflating than finding out the greatest-hand-to-hand fighter in the history of the world (second, arguably, only to Jacob, who took down god), the greatest artist in the history of MMA, the man who transcended the sport and made even non-fans (even those who live in a state of constant repulsion) believe in something—to find out our one true poet had been forced out of a fight by something as decidedly un-poetic as acute cholecystitis.
Anderson "The Spider" Silva, laid low by a moody gallbladder.
The good news is that Silva will be okay. After complaining of abdominal cramps and pains on Monday Silva checked himself into a hospital yesterday (just a few hours before he was scheduled to board his flight for Curitiba), where he was diagnosed with cholecystitis, a sudden inflammation of the gallbladder, the small organ tucked under the liver that stores the bile that gets used by the small intestine to digest food. Earlier today the former longtime UFC middleweight champion underwent surgery and a few hours later his physician, Dr. Marcio Tannure, told the press that Silva's gallbladder had been successfully removed and that he should be free to leave the hospital Friday.
So that's the good news. The bad news is that Silva is now 41-years-old and this emergency is likely to be just the first in a series of non-fighting-related physical collapses to plague his body and his career, the beginning of an inevitable decline. Meaning from this point on Anderson Silva's most dangerous opponent won't be other, younger men but his own deteriorating body. Which is almost too much to bear for those of us who have been admiring his anatomy-defying genius for years. Researching the fighter's condition this morning I came across this phrase: "Acute cholecystitis is more common after age 40." Having just turned 40 myself I found these words harrowing not just for Anderson Silva but for one of his most loyal fans: my own poor self.
I'm comfortable with MMA fighters being reminders of mortality while they're fighting. But not this. Fights are supposed to be warnings that I could go at any moment, like a call to arms, not that I'm on an inevitable downward slope through slow decay toward inescapable obsolescence and eventual disappearance, like a death sentence. For 10 years of my life Anderson Silva has been living proof of physical possibility and wonder and art in a bland and cynical world. Now I'm just supposed to sit around and watch as he transforms into some metaphor for the unhappy narrowing of life's possibilities and the sure decay of the body?
I don't know. Maybe I'm being too philosophical and giving Anderson Silva too much credit for being an innocent bystander to his physical collapse and our heartbreak. Maybe this is all more cynical than I want to believe. After all, the Brazilian recently finished a long suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing anabolic steroids. And according to my admittedly cursory research, the use of anabolic steroids can cause high levels of toxicity in the liver, and liver damage can lead to the formation of stones in the gallbladder, and gallstones can reduce or stop the flow of bile from the liver to the gallbladder, a process known as cholestasis, and cholestasis can lead to inflammation of the gallbladder, a condition known as ... cholecystitis.
In other words, Anderson Silva and UFC 198 and MMA fans might be the victims of age and time and decay or we could just be suffering for Silva's sins of ambition. But then, ambition is almost as inevitable as death in this world, and it's a fool who looks for answers or explanations or meaning.