|Anderson Silva is pure magic inside the Octagon. (bleacherreport.com)|
A lot of the time it's important to take a look at and appreciate some of the more unheralded fights on a UFC pay-per-view. Just because a fight isn't the main event doesn't mean it won't be entertaining, and it certainly has the potential to be fight of the night. Times like this though, at UFC 162 in Las Vegas on Saturday, no disrespect to Cub Swanson or Frankie Edgar or Chris Leben, but this is Anderson Silva's show.
The 38-year-old middleweight kingpin puts his title on the line for the first time since the anti-climactic Silva Sonnen II almost a year ago to the date (he threw in a light heavyweight match against Stephan Bonnar in between). Silva has been and is the most electrifying fighter the UFC has ever had. Apart from two fights that basically shouldn't have happened (Thales Leites and Demian Maia) Silva has finished every single opponent in the Octagon. In fact, his last decision was September 11, 2004 against Lee Murray.
Since then, there have been elbows, knees, front kicks and chokes exectued by Silva with near perfection. His toughest fight was Silva Sonnen I, where he submitted Sonnen after being dominated for 4.5 rounds. This might be his most memorable fight to date, but certainly not his most memorable highlight.
What Silva is able to do in the cage is unlike what anyone else can do. When he fights it is like a national holiday. Coincidentally, with his first title defense in a year, his bouts are starting to be literal holidays.
The fantastic thing about MMA though is that no matter what you've done, what you've accomplished, or who you are there is always a new challenge. People will poke holes and cast doubts, that's normal, but with the UFC there's always a new contender. Sure if you're Silva list that contender line isn't as robust as say, Jon Jones', but each person that squares off against Silva has a chance to win or at least push the long-time middleweight kingpin.
This is the opportunity bestowed on Chris Weidman. The #1 contender is 9-0 and after a signature win against Mark Munoz, he was being talked about as a serious threat to Silva's reign thanks to his elite wrestling and apparenlty even more elite jiu-jitsu. Weidman, however, has been injured and he too has been out of action for a year. In hearing him talk, it doesn't seem like a deterrent, only a better chance to prepare for a potentially life changing moment.
Much of the hype surrounding this fight has been built around other fighters saying that Weidman can win. Chael Sonnen, Georges St-Pierre, Frank Mir ... the list goes on of fighters that haven't sided with The Spider in this upcoming fight. Now, you have to look at where these fighters motivations really are. Does Chael want Silva to win? No. GSP's jiu-jitsu coach also coaches Weidman. When you're Anderson Silva and you've wrecked your share of faces in the UFC, you won't have to look far to find a fighter or two who wouldn't like to see some of that brutality served back to the champ.
The fact that Silva is so dominant and that the UFC appears to be making a big deal about fighters giving some hype worth quotes could lead many a Silva fan to skepticism. This shouldn't underrate the skills Weidman has shown in the cage. He does possess the skills that have given Silva the most trouble in his time fighting for the UFC. Wrestling and the ground game (not sure if he has a flying scissor heel hook in his back pocket) are areas where the tall, limb-lengthened champ was dominated by Sonnen in their first fight, and clearly an area where he would be less dangerous than on the feet.
However, this is a gameplan that Silva has gone against before. As the old addage goes, the fight always starts on the feet, well, when you're fighting Silva this is most notably the case. When Weidman engages Silva, he won't just be looking for a take down, he'll be defending against severe leg kicks, the best fast-twitch movements in all of MMA, and oh yeah, he might just get a front kick to the face if he's not careful.
And when Weidman is able to get close, if he wants to try to take Silva down that way, he'll have some knees to the ribs to deal with.
Yes, Weidman's wrestling style is far more of the shoot in, double-leg variety, but he has to keep all options open to not be predictable. There is a dangerous test here, but I think the greater challenge will be in Weidman's end, not Silva's.
Have I bought into the hype for this fight? Has the UFC marketing push brainwashed me? No. I'll watch any Anderson Silva fight with great joy. Since this is MMA, anything could happen, and anyone can win at any time. So nothing is guaranteed.
When I do look at this fight though, I see Weidman having a very tough time closing the distance against Silva. Weidman is suprememly athletic and tough, but he'll have to get through a lot in order to lay his hands on Silva. I say this not only in the wrestling game, but also in Weidman's striking game. He is a pressure and in your face kind of fighter that Silva handles very well.
For the takedowns, this is obviously something both fighters will be aware of. I have enough respect to Weidman to imagine he'll be able to take Silva down and might squeak out a close round or two as a result. Silva does have good take down defense. I'm buying that his rib was busted in Silva Sonnen I, hence Chael being able to take him down at will, but at no other time has he gone down that easily.
I keep coming back to my respect for Weidman. He fought the tough fights, came back from injury, had a great belief in himself. As a result I think he won't quit or be scared of Silva. He's mentally strong enough to push past that. However, I think his toughness, his constant need to pressure, and his overall lack of superior skills compared to Silva will be his downfall. I think Silva keeps Weidman at bay with leg kicks and great movement, and if Silva can block or clinch up with Weidman early on and do some damage, that will be a huge thing moving forward for Weidman's gameplan.
I don't think Weidman is backing down, and I'm not sure how good his chin is, but I do think he'll give the fans one hell of a fight. I can already picture Dana White proclaiming how fantastic this fight was and how much heart Weidman showed. I'm going to say 3rd round TKO for Silva after a close first two.