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Anderson Silva says he didn’t finish Thales Leites at UFC 97 out of respect

(Getty)Anderson Silva's last three middleweight title defenses have ended in knockout or technical knockout in the first or second round. He has been on a tear that has cemented him as one of, if not the greatest mixed martial artist in the sport's history.

But before the recent tear and the fifth-round submission win over Chael Sonnen, Silva went through a period that can only be described as weird. In wins over Patrick Cote, Demian Maia and Thales Leites, Silva was not the dominating force we're used to seeing now.

At UFC 97, Leites was clearly outmatched, but Silva couldn't -- or wouldn't -- finish his fellow Brazilian. Three years later, Silva explained why he didn't finish the fight to Brazilian outlet Tatame.

"There's no such thing as holding back. I want to finish as soon as possible. The only time I did it was because he was a friend of mine. It was against Thales Leites. We went until the last round because he's a friend of mine and I respect him", Anderson said.

Since it was three years ago and he's been so dominant since, it's hard to hold this against Silva. However, it puts a new wrinkle in the question of teammates and friends fighting.

Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard were teammates, but their scrap at UFC 150 was one of the best 1:16-long fights I have ever watched. Neither held back out of respect, as Silva said he did against Leites.

Their fight gave ammunition to UFC president Dana White, who often gets frustrated by fighters saying they don't want to fight teammates. If teammates Cerrone and Guillard could not just fight, but knock each other silly, why not push teammates to fight?

Silva's comments say why it can still be tricky to force fighters to fight friends and teammates. His bout with Leites caused White to say, "I've never been embarrassed of a UFC fight like I was tonight." While White and the UFC can push fighters to get in the Octagon together, they cannot make them fight the way they want.