Anderson Silva has won 17 consecutive bouts, 15 of them finishes. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Someday we will look back and explain to the younger generation what it was like to see Anderson Silva compete in the cage. We will mention his record-breaking title reign, his standup wizardry and maybe even his feud with a certain former real estate agent from Oregon. For all his greatness, Silva remains a champion that we do not really know all that well -- no small feat in this social media-driven era. With “The Spider,” much remains a mystery.
Now 38 years old, the Brazilian’s Ultimate Fighting Championship title reign is at six years, nine months and counting. His winning streak in the Octagon stands at 17. Only Chael Sonnen can say he has truly come close to defeating Silva. Enter Chris Weidman, an unbeaten wrestler who has looked dominant in ascending to the No. 1 contender’s spot. Eventually every champion must fall, and the trendy line of thinking seems to be that Weidman is the one to bring Silva back to earth. Meanwhile, Silva claims he is not interested in the opinions of others. No matter whom you favor, it feels like something special could happen in the UFC 162 headliner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Here is a closer look at the card, with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 162 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Middleweight Championship
Anderson Silva (33-4, 16-0 UFC) vs. Chris Weidman (9-0, 5-0 UFC)
The Matchup: While it might not have the allure of a super fight with Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones, Silva-Weidman is about the best the middleweight division can do at the moment, especially when you consider what happened the last time a rejuvenated Vitor Belfort faced “The Spider.” This is certainly more significant than Silva’s last appearance, when he clowned and dominated an outmatched and artificially enhanced Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153.
The main issue with Weidman is a lack of buildup. The Serra-Longo Fight Team member had a breakout performance against fellow title hopeful Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV 4, taking down his opponent with ease, transitioning from one submission attempt to another and eventually landing a vicious vertical elbow that led to a stoppage in the second round. The fact that Weidman’s statement fight came in front of a limited Fuel TV audience approximately one year ago has not helped to boost his star power within the promotion. Blame a torn labrum, which kept him out of a proposed bout with Tim Boetsch at UFC 155, for temporarily halting his momentum. Lack of notoriety aside, Weidman still possesses the tools and athleticism to give the champion his greatest challenge.
Ever since Sonnen utilized suffocating pressure and wrestling to nearly upset Silva at UFC 117, the popular thinking has been that it will take a similar effort to end the Brazilian’s reign. Such a blueprint is not so easily duplicated, as Sonnen’s MMA-tailored wrestling might be the sport’s finest, and his willingness to set up takedowns by throwing punches in the pocket is a risky endeavor. Even Sonnen himself was only able to replicate the feat for a round in their UFC 148 rematch before an ill-advised spinning back fist in the second frame led to his demise.
A two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at Hofstra University, Weidman has proven to be a prolific and efficient takedown artist thus far in his UFC career, landing 4.47 attempts per 15 minutes at a 72 percent success rate. Weidman surpasses Sonnen as a versatile grappler, however, as he was lauded for his efforts against Andre Galvao at the 2009 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships. Other wrestlers who have taken down Silva have not experienced great success because they did not advance position; not only is Silva a threat to sweep and submit, but his long frame allows him to play effective defense from his guard by utilizing a body triangle. Weidman, meanwhile, is active with punches and elbows as he looks to pass guard, and his long arms allow him to secure chokes from unusual angles.
Of course, Weidman will have to navigate through dangerous waters if he is to close the distance on Silva, whose ability to land powerful counters against unsuspecting foes is unmatched. Thus far, Weidman has not faced anyone in the Octagon who could truly test him on the feet. Munoz is known for ground-and-pound; Demian Maia is a jiu-jitsu ace; and his other victories -- Tom Lawlor, Jesse Bongfeldt and Alessio Sakara -- were against mid-tier competition at best. Arguably the most gifted striker Weidman has faced was Uriah Hall at Ring of Combat 31; and Hall’s impersonation of Silva at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale left plenty to be desired.
With that said, reach will not be a factor in this matchup -- Weidman has a half-inch advantage -- and the “All-American” figures to have added some tools to his standup arsenal during his layoff. Nobody is as accurate and powerful as Silva, and Weidman must also be wary of the champion’s knees from the Thai plum should he force a clinch. Conversely, Silva must take note of the standing elbow Weidman used to fell Munoz. Realistically, Weidman must play the percentages and use his striking as a means to get inside against Silva, where he can eventually force him to work from his back. Anything else is asking for disaster.
The Pick: The champion’s comments about wins and losses not mattering during a recent conference call are somewhat disconcerting, and at some point, age and mortality will show themselves in a Silva bout. It will not be here. Silva will get taken down in this fight, but during the moments when the fight is vertical, he will remind everyone why he is the best striker in the world. The Brazilian battles through adversity to win by knockout or technical knockout in round three or four.
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