Can Chris Weidman dethrone the pound-for-pound king? | Photo: Kathleen Hinkel/Icon SMI
Two days after the United States celebrates its 237th birthday, the Ultimate Fighting Championship brings another top-level title bout to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The world’s most prominent mixed martial arts promotion will flex its promotional muscle with a week’s worth of fan activities in Sin City, including its immensely popular Fan Expo. It will be capped off with a middleweight title fight between the world’s best pound-for-pound best fighter, longtime champion Anderson Silva, and unbeaten challenger Chris Weidman on Saturday in the UFC 162 main event.
How We Got Here: Silva last defended his belt 364 days ago in this exact same venue against old foil Chael Sonnen. Weidman has been waiting in the wings -- and recovering from shoulder surgery -- since he blasted through Mark Munoz almost a year ago on Fuel TV. The stars aligned for the “All-American” wrestler when potential middleweight challengers Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold suffered brutal knockout losses to Vitor Belfort. Also, whatever lingering steam surrounded a potential super fight between Silva and welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre fizzled, leaving Weidman as the last man standing ... A terrific No. 1 contender fight between featherweights Ricardo Lamas and Chan Sung Jung fell apart when an injury to Anthony Pettis left champion Jose Aldo without an opponent for UFC 163. “The Korean Zombie” was all too happy to fill the void, with Lamas left to twiddle his thumbs. Fortunately, former lightweight boss Frankie Edgar was there to slide into the co-main event slot, as he tries to put a stop to his three-fight losing streak against 23-year-old Charles Oliveira in his second appearance at 145 pounds.
Show Me the Money: When you have won 16 straight UFC fights, oddsmakers are going to shine on you. Against Weidman, Silva (-225) remains a healthy favorite but not by the overwhelming margin to which gamblers have grown accustomed. The last time “The Spider” was a lesser favorite was against Dan Henderson at UFC 82 more than five years ago.
Zero Downside: Righteous, competitive matchups for UFC are always no-brainers, and Silva-Weidman is all sorts of right. No matter the outcome, the UFC and the fans will leave smelling like roses. If Weidman upsets the champion, their rematch will become the biggest bout of 2014. If Silva thrashes another challenger, calls for a super fight with St. Pierre or Jon Jones will only grow louder. Plus, it will also cement the fact that we are watching the greatest fighter of all-time do things no one else has ever done. Score one for good matchmaking here.
Useless Fact: Silva has more consecutive title defenses (10) than Weidman has professional fights (nine).
Only as Good as Your Last Fight: The last time Weidman and Munoz saw action was against each other in July 2012. Weidman blasted the 2001 NCAA national champion, becoming the middleweight division’s darling and the sexy pick to upset Silva. Munoz, on the other hand, nearly disappeared from the spotlight while recovering from injury. He went from the main event on a Fuel TV card to not even making the par-per-view portion at UFC 162 -- until a reshuffling opened a slot for his bout with Tim Boetsch. Would Munoz be as attractive an opponent for Silva had he been the one doing the manhandling at UFC on Fuel TV 4 instead of Weidman? It may be a little bit of a stretch, but one cannot deny how much that one fight raised the stock of one competitor at the expense of another. Do not forget, Munoz owns a 12-3 record as a pro.
Say What: If a fighter competes in this sport long enough, he eventually loses. However, Silva’s unblemished 16-0 record in the UFC spits in the face of that belief. What else is left for the 38-year-old to accomplish? During a pre-fight media call, Silva sounded like a man who was content with his career, no matter the outcome of his bout with Weidman. “And whatever I should have done in the sport, I’ve already done,” he said. “Win or lose, I’ve already done everything there is to do. Now, it’s just a matter of doing what I love to do.”
Act II: The last six months have provided something of a mixed bag for UFC title fights. There were three challengers -- Edgar, Sonnen and Nick Diaz -- who were coming off losses and two others, Antonio Silva and John Dodson, who failed to move the needle much. Plus, we had the controversial split decision between lightweight champion Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 7. With the exception of Ronda Rousey defending her bantamweight crown in the first-ever women’s bout inside the Octagon, the first half of 2013 has proven forgettable. That can all change with UFC 162. Weidman has a lot of people talking -- the Smartest Guy at the Bar included -- as the man with the best chance to dethrone Silva ... Title bouts involving top-draw champions and worthy challengers populate the rest of the calendar year. Light heavyweight boss Jon Jones will defend his gold against surging Swede Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165, and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez will forge his trilogy against former titleholder Junior dos Santos at UFC 166 in Houston. To top it all, UFC 167 will mark the 20-year anniversary of the Ultimate Fighting Championship with St. Pierre defending his belt against Johny Hendricks in November. Throw in three other potentially action-heavy championship bouts at 125, 145 and 155 pounds, and the next six months look downright violent. With that said, the SGATB politely requests a sacrifice to the Injury Gods in an effort to keep this schedule intact.
Awards Watch: A savvy submission fighter, Cub Swanson has turned into a potent knockout artist; a potent knockout artist, Dennis Siver has turned into a savvy submission fighter. These world-ranked featherweights will likely duke it out all over the place before scoring “Fight of the Night” honors ... Gabriel Gonzaga and Dave Herman have not seen the judges’ scorecards since 2010. Look for Gonzaga to take the path of least resistance: taking down Herman and strangling him into surrender for the “Submission of the Night” bonus ... The Silva-Weidman main event could easily lead to two post-fight performance awards. Silva could knock out the challenger, or Weidman could submit the champion. Since the SGATB is picking Weidman to score the upset, let us throw in “The Spider” winning the “Knockout of the Night” bonus as an alternative ending.