Thiago Silva arrest unfairly gives UFC bad name

The good news is that no one was killed or even hurt. Beyond that, nothing but bad news came out of the arrest of UFC fighter Thiago Silva late Thursday night at his home outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after an hours-long standoff with police.

Silva remained jailed Friday afternoon on several felony charges stemming from an incident in which the 31-year-old light heavyweight showed up at a jiu-jitsu gym and allegedly threatened his estranged wife, Thaysa, and the facility’s owner, renowned black belt Pablo Popovitch, with a gun before fleeing to his home. After four hours barricaded inside, he surrendered to a SWAT team.

Prosecutors originally charged Silva with felony attempted murder, but at a hearing Friday morning Broward County judge John Hurley downgraded the charges to two counts of aggravated assault with a weapon and one each of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and resisting an officer without violence. Silva, a Brazilian national, was deemed a flight risk and therefore denied bond.

Minutes after the court hearing, UFC president Dana White told, via text message, that the promotion soon would make a formal statement but that Silva “will NEVER fight in the UFC again.” The company made it official within the hour, tersely: “The Ultimate Fighting Championship has terminated the contract of Thiago Silva, effective immediately.”

Silva, who fought 12 times in the UFC after joining the promotion in 2007, was scheduled to face Ovince St. Preux at UFC 171 next month.

The police report and statements made in court paint a picture of an ongoing domestic dispute. It’s a sad story for all involved, most horrifyingly for Thaysa Silva. A black belt who has competed in the World No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu Championship, she has been married to Thiago for 13 years, according to a police report obtained by the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, and while they separated as a couple in late 2012, the Silvas continued to share a residence.

The newspaper reported that Thaysa Silva took out a restraining order against her husband last week following violent threats, and that she called 911 on Wednesday to say he was at the residence, threatening her again. In court, the judge read several threatening statements alleged to have been made by Thiago Silva, among them, “I am going to hire someone to kill you, and I am going to move my girlfriend in.” Silva also is accused of having put a gun in his wife’s mouth at that time. On Thursday night, he allegedly waved the gun in front of both Thayla Silva and Popovitch, with whom she’s in a romantic relationship.

Thiago Silva will have his day in court. When that day comes, we surely will be told about his state of mind as his marriage fell apart. This is a man who had a thorny youth in the favelas of Sao Paolo, with his early biography filled with references to poverty, neglect, and physical abuse. His fighting career has followed a bumpy road, too, with one stretch of six bouts over four years producing but one victory. Two fights that would have been wins were declared no contests after Silva altered a urine test following one and tested positive for marijuana after the other. He won his last two UFC bouts, but even then ran into trouble, missing weight prior to his decision victory over Matt Hamill in October.

None of that is to suggest that Thiago Silva is a victim here. It just points to a troublesome back story, perhaps a degree of desperation, even helplessness. Here’s a jiu-jitsu black belt, a man whom we all can agree is an expert in self-defense. Yet it was not a gi he is alleged to have brought to that gym with him.

While Silva is the one sitting in a jail cell, his former employer is no doubt going to be punished for the fighter’s alleged deeds as well. The mug shot depicting a menacing-looking man in a buzzcut, tattoos covering his neck, is the very image of what many in the general public think when they hear the term “UFC fighter.” Never mind that the promotion’s fight card in Las Vegas later this month will feature three clean-cut Olympic athletes, or that most of the competitors on the roster of this and other fight organizations represent themselves and the sport of mixed martial arts with honor.

For that reason, it was wise of Dana White to unhesitatingly take a strong stance on Silva. Not that it was a surprise. The UFC president has the reflexes of a cat when it comes to reacting to anything that impacts his business. He often takes criticism for this, including from the owner of this byline. Often, White’s unilateral proclamations give rise to suggestions that a fighters’ union could do wonders for the athletes who compete inside the octagon. That still may be true, but here’s one instance where the lack of such a body helps the sport as a whole. Could you imagine NFL commissioner Roger Goodell taking any action against a bad-apple player without first vetting it against the collective bargaining agreement?

The UFC has had plenty of black eyes inflicted on its image by fighters, from those spewing misogynist and homophobic rhetoric to those who’ve appeared on police blotters. Even some fans have gotten involved, most recently at last weekend’s UFC 169, with Newark police reporting that two people were stabbed during altercations in the stands at the Prudential Center. MMA is a fighting sport that engenders a certain vibe. How many complaints did we hear after 10 of the 12 bouts on Saturday’s card ended in decisions rather than knockouts or choke-outs? Not enough excitement, which is to say not enough violence.

An ongoing challenge for the UFC and other fight promotions will be to clarify for the greater public the brand of violence they’re selling. And to stand with the rest of society against the violence with which they refuse to be associated.

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