One of the most highly-anticipated fights to be announced this year will finally take place at UFC 101 in a light heavyweight match-up between current UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva (24-4) and the USA Today/SBN Consensus Rankings #4 ranked Light Heavyweight fighter Forrest Griffin (16-5).
The bout will be Anderson Silva's second in the light heavyweight division following a brutal knockout victory over James Irvin at UFN 14. It'll be his first fight back in the Octagon following his title defense at UFC 97 against Thales Leites, a bout that drew much criticism due to Leites' reluctance to engage and Silva's inability to finish Leites. Griffin is returning to the Octagon following the loss of his light heavyweight title to Rashad Evans at UFC 92. He rode a wave of two upset victories over both Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson before losing to Evans.
Anderson Silva is one of the most dangerous strikers in MMA today. In his southpaw stance, he's been known to pick apart opponents at will with accuracy and power that has been unmatched by anyone within the middleweight division. A member of Black House in Curitiba, Brazil, Silva trains with some of the best BJJ and striking partners in the world. Fighters like Lyoto Machida, Paulo Filho, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Andre Galvao, Junior Dos Santos, and Ronaldo Souza have all graced the halls of their facility in Brazil at one point or another. For this bout, he's been training at the Black House facility in Los Angeles, a move that happened due to some conflicts between X-Gym and Soares, with some of the fore-mentioned names along with Gesias Calvancante.
Silva's skill level is astounding. He holds black belts in Judo, TKD, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu but is most feared for his Muay Thai mastery. With his vast skill-set, he's beaten the who's who of UFC talent. He dropped Chris Leben at UFN 5 in :49 seconds, crushed Rich Franklin at both UFC 64 and UFC 77, submitted Travis Lutter at UFC 67, finished Nate Marquardt at UFC 73, and soundly beat Dan Henderson at UFC 82. Oh yeah... he also stopped Patrick Cote and Thales Leites in his two most recent bouts, although many fans discount those due to Cote's injury and Leites' unwillingness to engage.
Griffin has a tough task ahead, but he's no stranger to the underdog feeling. The most notable win on his record stems from his UFC 76 showdown with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, who was at one point considered the #1 Light Heavyweight fighter in the world. Griffin shattered his indestructible image by taking him deep into the fight, exploiting his weak conditioning, and submitting him in the third round of their battle. The UFC promptly threw Griffin into the seventh season of The Ultimate Fighter against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as a coach, building the hype for an eventual title fight showdown at UFC 86.
Griffin defeated Jackson for the Light Heavyweight title via some well-placed leg kicks, solid striking, and complete avoidance of the dangerous striking ability of the champ. Griffin went on to defend his title at UFC 92 against Rashad Evans after Evans had spectacularly knocked out Chuck Liddell at UFC 88. In Griffin's first title defense, he was stopped by Evans via TKO in the third round to lose the title.
Griffin trains out of Xtreme Couture gym in Las Vegas. Much like Anderson Silva, he has a plethora of top-notch training partners to push him day in and day out. He has a good base of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, and Muay Thai in his arsenal, but his best attributes come from his toughness, determination, and conditioning. He is a fairly hardy individual, able to sustain quite a bit of damage and keep coming, and he is surely never out of any fight. He has a solid team of trainers in Randy Couture, Shawn Tompkins, and Muay Thai coaching from guys like Tyson Griffin. He also has the gameplanning abilities of Randy Couture at his disposal.
This bout really comes down to if Forrest Griffin has the tools to inflict damage on Anderson Silva. Dana White's entire reason for creating this match-up is because Griffin will go after Silva, and it'll cause Silva to come forward to finish this fight. It's pretty tough to figure out a sound gameplan that would be effective against Silva though, and that's probably the primary problem any fighter would have against Silva.
Randy Couture has stated in leading up to this bout that Griffin's best chance is potentially putting Silva on his back. Silva's jiu-jitsu skills haven't been showcased in the Octagon too often, but the general consensus among fans is that Silva is a legitimate black belt with very good technique on the floor. Of course, there are plenty of examples in MMA of black belts being punished by great wrestlers, and that may be the course of action in this fight.
On the feet, I don't see Griffin having an advantage at all. Silva's speed and accuracy is astonishing, and he almost looks bored trying to punch with opponents. Griffin has some kickboxing at his disposal, but I imagine Silva's speed may be a problem for Griffin. His best chance is taking down Silva, and even that may be a futile gameplan against such a quick striker. A Couture-esque gameplan of controlling Silva in the clinch and using his bigger size to muscle Silva may ultimately be the risky choice here. If Silva's power in the clinch isn't overwhelming, Griffin could find his way into a Greco-Roman type of battle against the cage, much like Couture's fights.
Most fans will likely pick Anderson Silva here. He is better in almost every area of this fight. A lot of fans are coming back to the point that Griffin's kickboxing could hurt Silva's legs or some Greco-Roman dirty boxing could punish Silva in the cage, but I don't see this happening. The strength difference between the two will be negligible at best, and Silva is just downright better at everything. If Griffin can implement some sort of brilliant clinch game without being kneed into unconsciousness, he has a chance. I won't take that bet though.