UFC 153: Jon Fitch vs. Erick Silva Dissection

New-breed prodigy versus crafty old warhorse.

Every sport has an oscillating cast of future prospects and rising up-and-comers. MMA is no exception. As each fighter undergoes their trials, they're eventually either discarded from the running or graduate to the status of accepted A-level talent, and another promising candidate fills the void left from their departure.

Perhaps the most prominent constituent on the present day hype-list is Brazilian Erick Silva (14-2), who draws longtime #2 welterweight Jon Fitch at Saturday's UFC 153 event from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As with almost every genuine top-shelf prospect, we were first introduced to Silva via the Bloody Elbow Scouting Report, in which he was branded the #3 welterweight to watch out for.

Silva's appeal is simple: he trains with the esteemed squad of card-carrying legends at Team Nogueira and fights like a ravenous Pitbull who's had a juicy but just-out-of-reach sirloin waved in front of his nose for months. Sheer ballistics have erupted since "Indio" made his Octagon debut. First, Silva clobbered Luis Ramos like he owed him money and then reenacted that same level of malicious savagery against Carlo Prater.

However, a salvo of questionably placed blows mixed with incongruent officiating morphed the 1st-round TKO into a DQ, though Silva's 2nd official career loss did little to devalue his stock. Taking a substantial leap in competition in his last turn, Silva drew tenacious wrestler Charlie Brenneman and dazzled in his most authenticating performance yet. Brenneman drenched Silva with relentless takedown attempts right out of the gate, as expected, and the prospect validated his status by rolling out all the right tricks and techniques to stifle Brenneman before taking his back and sinking in a 1st-round rear-naked choke.

More UFC 153 Dissections

Silva vs. Bonnar | Nogueira vs. Herman | Teixeira vs. Maldonado
Davis vs. Prado
| Maia vs. Story | FX-Facebook Prelims

AKA welterweight Jon Fitch (23-4-1) has been the source of much bickering. For the gist of his UFC tenure, Fitch was unanimously wedged just behind welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre in the division's hierarchy, cutting an 8-0 swathe to earn a title shot and then sustaining his perch with 5-straight wins after the respectable decision loss. Though he'd etched a spectacular 13-1 clip in a stacked weight class, Fitch's decision-heavy style, which accounts for 9 of his 13 wins and once extended to 8 consecutive fights, wasn't a hit with the action hungry fans.

The former Purdue wrestler was finally extracted from his #2 foxhole after drawing with B.J. Penn and getting walloped by Johny Hendricks (1st-round KO) in his latest turns. Those crippling setbacks were Fitch's only appearances in 2011 and he's yet to compete this year, which has darkened his once-gleaming aura even more.

Continued in the full entry.

SBN coverage of UFC 153: Silva vs. Bonnar

In what will ultimately unfold with another striker vs. grappler storyline, the mission for both fighters is clear: Silva wants to annul takedowns and force a fist-fight while Fitch will endeavor to put Silva on his back and keep him there. In order for either to impose their specialties they must first shut down their opponent's.

While Silva is riding high off a convincing anti-wrestling demonstration, Brenneman is no Jon Fitch. "The Spaniard" is one of the rare few to taste success in the UFC with a one-dimensional style; wrestling is the only threat he presents. While Fitch is far from a striking juggernaut, he's more capable on the feet and has honed his average Division 1 wrestling background into a fierce arsenal of MMA takedowns that are implacably pursued and set up and executed well.

Fitch has dominated with takedowns in all of his 13 UFC wins except against Roan Carneiro, who surprisingly clenched that individual battle by a score of 2-0 before he was choked out. Fitch's wrestling is the clear key to his success, which is not a good thing -- it relegates him as a more formidable version of Brenneman with one dominant but predictable approach.

Of course, in the realm of that singular facet, he's a beast. Fitch excels in exploding with good timing, getting deep penetration on his shots and driving through until completion. If the fence prevents him from powering his opponent backwards any further, Fitch will wisely hit a new angle and/or switch techniques to chain different attacks together. Much of the audience's complaints revolve around Fitch's remorseless dedication to control -- top position is top priority and Fitch abstains from any offense that could sacrifice his perch. While that might not blow the viewer's hair back, it's an intimidating trait to opponents, as they're destined to pay dearly for even the slightest of mistakes.

And Silva absolutely made a few mistakes against Brenneman, the biggest of which was his strike selection. First, he opted for a spinning back kick from a highly inadvisable range. Even when uncorked from a farther, safer distance, a spinning back kick is a high risk and low reward choice against a takedown artist, as it's release is slower and easier to see coming, the rotation leaves the thrower momentarily blind and it's harder to recover and react after it's loosened. Despite getting taken down cleanly on his first attempt, Silva threw another but managed to avoid trouble.

Secondly, Silva used a short-range knee while Brenneman was charging straight forward with multiple punches. While uppercuts and knees are ideal weapons for level-changers, the distance he unleashed it from was unwise. Silva addressed Brenneman's straight-line sprint with a straight-line retreat of his own, which put his back on the fence. With all escape routes cut off, Silva's short-range knee was more of a last ditch, all-or-nothing prayer and Brenneman was able to swallow him up. The only way a knee from that distance and in that location would work, especially against a charging opponent, is by inflicting fight-changing or fight-ending damage. Again ... high risk and low reward.

Silva also allowed Brenneman to slip around to his back in the rear-waist cinch after a scramble. He showed excellent creativity by hooking one of Brenneman's legs between his own when he was forced to the ground, which landed him in position for a kneebar or heel hook; it was too loose but the counter attempt alone was threatening enough to detach Brenneman. Was it effective to escape? Yes. It was also a scenario to avoid at all costs on Saturday and a perfect example of a minor lapse that Fitch is adept at capitalizing on -- that tiny detail could turn into 5-minutes of Fitch grinding and Silva finding himself 10-9 in the hole.

Silva showed some encouraging signs too though: he switched his stance often, which causes the wrestler to adjust his head position on a takedown and it shuffles the target for single leg takedowns, he tailored his offense with wrestling-attuned strikes such as uppercuts and spearing knees, he demonstrated good use of under-hooks and defensive clinch work and kept strong balance and composure when unloading punches.

Another bright spot for Silva is his diversity. He has more offensive potency and avenues toward victory than just a thunderous set of hands, as his submission game is wholly effective on the mat, in the clinch, in scrambles and in transitions. If you factor in his one-shot power on the feet, this makes Silva an ever-present threat to end the fight at any time and in all positions. Fitch's best position will be on top, but Silva's active guard is well equipped for stringing submission attempts together or creating opportunities to escape; his submission savvy is even more prevalent when Fitch's head is protruding during the act of performing a takedown.

On Fitch's end, he's struggled the most against the talented strikers or power punchers he's faced. St. Pierre shucked off takedowns and dotted him up standing, Mike Pierce put him on roller skates in the 3rd, Penn distracted with heavy punches to set up his own takedown and Hendricks nearly beheaded him. Even more intriguing is the fact that the searing overhand loopers that GSP and Hendricks landed on Fitch are eerily similar to those Silva employed to lamp Ramos in his debut as well as Prater in the follow up.

It's uncommon for a rising prospect to edge such a staunch veteran on the betting lines, yet Silva creeps in as a narrow favorite with odds in the ballpark of -140. In another exception, I rarely side with the less proven fighter when aligned with a battle-hardened grinder but Silva seems to have the tools and horsepower to surpass this test.

My Prediction: Erick Silva by TKO.


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