Although Anderson Silva is one of the greatest champions the UFC has ever hosted, every great fighter’s reign must end. The man has never lost a title fight, managing to finish six of his eight championship bouts before the judges could have a say. That leaves two unanimous decisions wins over Thales Leites and Demian Maia. These, unfortunately for Silva, comprise two of his last three title fights, suggesting that his finishing ability may be escaping him as he enters the latter half of his thirties. Even though he submitted Chael Sonnen in the fifth round, the beating he took en-route to the submission victory seems to contribute to the case that Silva may be slowing due to age. In addition to the possibility that Silva is losing his greatest asset, superior speed, he may also fall victim to the execution of a sound game plan.
In his last two fights he has shown chinks in his armor in the least likely of places. Against Maia he came out in traditional fashion and delivered devastating strikes for the first three rounds, landing nearly every shot he threw. As the fight entered championship territory Silva seemed to become less efficient and less effective with his striking. His aggressive offense gave way to a more defensive avoidant strategy that left many wondering if exhaustion could explain the fighter’s peculiar shift in game plan. In the fifth round Maia landed more than twice as many power shots to the head than did Silva. Maia, not known for his striking, was able to connect with clean punches on the once impossibly elusive champion. Signs of Silva’s diminishing speed continued, as was evident in his most recent fight with Chael Sonnen.
The Sonnen fight was a serious wake up call for Silva and served as a "How to Defeat Anderson Silva Manual" for UFC middleweight challengers. At the start of the first round, Sonnen quickly sent Silva to the mat with a series of big punches. By the end of the night Silva had absorbed more strikes in twenty-three minutes than he had in his entire UFC career. Sonnen managed to outclass the champion in every facet of the game until the opportunistic Silva secured a triangle choke halfway through the final round. Although Sonnen would test positive for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and rumors of Silva’s rib injury surfaced, the fight still showed that it is possible to dismantle Silva. Sonnen may be a rarity in that he possesses quick enough feet and strong enough wrestling to get Silva to the mat, but his hands have never been considered a real weapon, and they alone put Silva on his back.
Vitor Belfort has been afforded the luxury of seeing Sonnen crack the code of an aging Silva. Regardless of the benefits Sonnen received from the PEDs, Silva is facing an even quicker opponent in Belfort. For the most part Sonnen managed to outclass Silva’s standup. Thus, it can be expected that Belfort, regarded as having some the most lethal hand techniques in MMA, will challenge the champion’s legendary striking. If Silva’s injury was truly to blame for his lackluster standup and Vitor finds himself in trouble on his feet, he can utilize another tactic employed by Sonnen: Wrestling.
Silva’s impeccable take down defense has relied on his superior reflexes. Reflexes that seemed absent during his last fight. Belfort has solid wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), judo, and is perhaps one of the only middleweights considered to be quicker than Silva. This combination of technique and athletic ability should allow him to execute the game plan mapped out by Sonnen. But, Belfort’s black belts in both BJJ and judo should prevent him from being submitted like Sonnen. Silva is a legendary champion who has dominated for nearly five years while demonstrating immense skill, dedication, and heart. Unfortunately for Silva, Belfort posses the knowledge and skill to dethrone the champ, and will likely do so come February 5th.
By Eric Warden