It didn't look like much, but it did the trick. Just a tap on the chin and the long-reigning middleweight champion crumbled to the UFC 162 mat with the usurper, Chris Weidman, following him to the ground to pound out a vicious and historic win. Anderson Silva has looked so untouchable for so long, it was hard to believe that a wrestler with less than ten fights was able to render unconscious the man who had ruled the UFC's middleweight division so absolutely for seven straight years.
So how did Weidman do it? Why did Anderson's lauded defense fail him so dramatically after serving him so well for so long? And why Weidman, when other men with far more knockout wins were unable to even stagger the Spider in the past? Fraser Coffeen and I are gonna break it down, with lots of stills and tons of GIFs. First things first...
Here it is. The sequence that ended a title reign, gave rise to a new champion, and spawned dozens of conspiracy theories. Check out the GIF.
1. Anderson is pretending to be hurt when Weidman connects with a long left hook that serves its purpose in driving Anderson toward his right hand.
2. Anderson is slick enough to avoid the follow-up right narrowly despite moving right into the path of it.
3. Weidman flails at Anderson with an awkward right hammerfist while bringing his feet back into position.
4. Weidman hops forward with another long left hook that catches Silva in a terrible position with his chin hanging in the breeze. A split-second later Anderson goes down, and Weidman pounces.
Connor Ruebusch: First of all, take a look at Weidman's feet in relation to Anderson's. You can see in the very first frame how much better his positioning is. His lead foot is pressuring Anderson's center constantly. Anderson is meanwhile squaring his hips, possibly to stop the takedown or else out of sheer carelessness. I love the fact that Weidman used the long left hook correctly, even if it didn't quite work at first. He gets Anderson to move with the hook in order to land the right hand. Anderson's so fast he was able to avoid it, but the thought was there. For a recent example of how a long left can be used to "corral" the opponent into the rear hand, check out this GIF of T.J. Grant knocking down Gray Maynard.
Fraser Coffeen: Silva’s hips may not be great in frame #1, but they’re downright terrible in frame #3. You don’t need to be any sort of striking expert to look at Anderson with his feet right together, standing on his tiptoes, and be able to say "That’s not right." No, it’s not at all. What is particularly interesting to me here is that Silva is out of position with his hips squared in frame 1. After Weidman throws that hook, Silva brings his right foot back (frame 2), which actually puts him back into a proper position. But then he makes a near rookie mistake of bringing the left foot back so that it’s right next to his right (frame 3). You just can’t do that.
Contrast that with one of the masters of this sort of thing – Floyd Mayweather. Watch Floyd’s feet during these exchanges with Robert Guerrero (GIF). He always keeps his feet apart, either pivoting to the side when he takes a step, or taking a hop step so that he moves both feet. He also keeps his hips angled at all times, never coming straight on as Anderson does. This allows him to keep moving and evading no matter how many punches Guerrero throws. You can see that in this GIF as well, even though it doesn’t clearly show the feet. (GIF)
Connor: The hammerfist Weidman throws after the straight right has a curious way of looking uniquely weird from every single angle. Regardless of how goofy the strike looks, it serves its purpose very well. It barely grazes Anderson's lip, but it completely occupies his eyes. Look at Anderson's face just before the knockdown.
Connor: He has no clue that left hook is coming straight for his chin. His eyes followed Weidman's right hand straight back to Weidman's torso, and meanwhile the left is zipping around outside his field of vision. Everyone knows that saying about the punch you don't see coming being the one that knocks you out, but it's completely applicable here. I'm reminded of this GIF, of Stephen Thompson knocking out Dan Stittgen with a very light head kick. But Dan had no clue it was going to land until it already had. In fact, Anderson probably didn't know that left hook was coming until he was watching the replay on the big screen after the fight.
Fraser: That hammerfist is little, but like Connor says, it does its job in distracting Silva. It also allows Weidman to move forward, which is huge here. The reason he can take such advantage of Silva's off-balance stance is that he is pushing forward (look how far forward Weidman comes in those 4 frames). If he simply hung back, Silva would have been able to regain his footing and his temporary slip-up would have passed right by. For a good example of this, check out this GIF from Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar. Here, like in the Weidman fight, Silva's hips are square and he has nowhere to go. But where Weidman pushed ahead, Bonnar just plants his feet and throws. That allows Silva to keep his feet square and just use side to side movement to avoid the shots. I'm curious what would have happened in that sequence had Bonnar moved in more aggressively while throwing those punches. I get why Bonnar doesn't press in, because there's that fear that if you do, THIS (GIF) will happen. But Weidman took the risk and it paid off.
ANDERSON SILVA VS. FORREST GRIFFIN
Speaking of Stephan Bonnar, let's talk about Silva's past use of clowning antics and wild head movement. Anderson has caught a lot of flak for supposedly giving the fight to Weidman with his arrogant behavior, and perhaps that's true to some extent, but Anderson was able to use those same tactics throughout his career. Why was he able to thoroughly embarrass much larger men like Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar when the same behavior failed him so spectacularly against Weidman? Check out the diagram and the GIF.
1. Anderson fades a lazy jab from Forrest Griffin.
2. He slips and bobs under a right hand.
3. Fades a left hook.
4. And counters with a short left hand, knocking Forrest to the ground.
Connor: There's a big contrast between this exchange and the Weidman one. First of all, Anderson is looking to counter, rather than just avoiding Forrest's shots. Countering is made a whole lot easier, however, by the fact that Forrest doesn't move at all. It's not the best angle, but look at the stills and see for yourself. It's not until frame #4 that Forrest's left foot even comes forward at all, after his left hook has already missed. Like Fraser said, Weidman was able to catch Silva because he pressed forward. More importantly, he pressed forward intelligently, keeping his feet under him while punching. Weidman was in a very balanced position when he put Silva down with the left hook. Contrast that forward movement with the eventual frustrated charge of Forrest Griffin, whose head comes into range well before his feet and hips, making Silva's pawing jab far more devastating than it would have been otherwise.
Fraser: Here's another sequence from the Griffin massacre that showcases Forrest's lack of movement (GIF). Just as Connor pointed out above, Forrest is 100% planted here, which may give him more power, but that power is irrelevant if he can't connect a single shot. There's a marked contrast between Forrest's planted position and Weidman's forward motion. What also interests me in this clip is Anderson's footwork. He keeps his lead right foot firm, but watch his rear left foot. As he moves in and out of Forrest's range, he takes steps with that left foot, but always keeps it roughly a shoulder's width from his other foot, and always keeps it slightly back so that his hips and feet never come square. That allows him to keep his options open and continue evading - something he failed to do against Weidman.
Connor: Also consider that when he was knocked out, Forrest was running straight at Anderson (GIF). Silva hit him with the right hand, and was already moving to his own left, Forrest's right, when Forrest fell. You cannot attack an evasive fighter like Anderson Silva in straight lines. Moving side to side might keep you lined up with him, but he'll maintain range. And moving straight at him gives him all the opportunity in the world to side step, leaving his opponents lurching past, swinging at air. Weidman's final left hook carried him toward Anderson at a diagonal angle. Though his stance and position were horrendous, Anderson was moving at an angle away from Weidman after dodging the right hand. He simply didn't predict that Chris' footwork would be as good as it was, and Weidman closed the distance perfectly to land his shot.
Fraser: Good point on the angle. The only other thing I'll add is that against Griffin, Silva lets him get off 2 shots before countering. Weidman connects on the 4th shot in the combo, and Silva showed no signs of throwing a counter punch any time soon. There's only so long you can evade before you need to either fire back or get out of there, and Silva did neither.
ANDERSON SILVA VS. DAN HENDERSON
Everyone knows that Anderson has absorbed some seriously heavy shots in his career without batting an eye. Now let's examine why Anderson was able to eat the H-bomb, but fell to the much less vigorous punch of Chris Weidman. Here I've collected the best punches that Hendo landed on Anderson in their UFC 82 fight.
1. In probably his best shot of the night, Henderson lands a clean and very straight right clean on Anderson's chin.
2. Anderson walks into a wild overhand left hook as Henderson spins around to face him.
3. Hendo flings a punch at Silva after half-catching an attempted low kick.
4. Similar to #3, Henderson bulls forward with a wild right that clubs Anderson on the side of the head.
Connor: Look at Anderson's body position in all of these frames. With the exception of frame #4, his feet are more or less stable on the ground in each still. His back is straight, with his shoulders back and chin down. He also has some semblance of a stance in each still, meaning that he is standing in such a way that he has a lead foot and a rear foot, with his hips in a good position relative to his opponent. Frame #3 is probably the worst one in that regard, since Dan Hendo is countering him off of a caught kick, but the punch is a slapping one, and Anderson's good posture alone is enough to absorb it.
For the sake of comparison, look again at Silva's posture at the moment Weidman's punch landed. Leaning back can help you avoid punches, but it can also completely nullify your ability to absorb them. As Fraser said above, once you lean back so far, you have nowhere else to go. Compare Anderson's fall to this GIF of Manny Pacquiao being knocked down by Juan Manuel Marquez. Even an iron-chinned world-beater like Pacquiao can't withstand a punch like that without his feet planted and underneath his torso.
Fraser: I've long touted Silva as the best MMA striker in the world, and I still think that's true. But I'm also not so blinded by my appreciation for what he has accomplished that I can't see the obvious truth about this finish, and here it is:
Chris Weidman beat Anderson Silva.
That seems like an easy "Well, duh" statement, but it has to be said. Because a lot of people are not giving Weidman any credit and are only looking at the things Silva did wrong, making it seem as if Weidman was just a prop who happened to be there when Silva self-destructed. They shouldn't view it that way, and hopefully this breakdown has made that clear. Yes, Silva did make some fundamental errors, but some of those errors were caused by Weidman's own actions, and it was only Weidman's work that allowed him to capitalize on the errors in a way that previous opponents have not. This is not just one man's hubris leading to a fall - this is one man utilizing that hubris to orchestrate the fall.
Connor: Absolutely. Anderson Silva clowns his opponents to get them to open up. He did it to Leites, Maia, Griffin, Bonnar, and Weidman. I can't take the fact away from him that it worked in four of those five matches, but in the same vein I can't take anything away from Weidman by saying that Silva "went too far" in his showboating. Instead, we should realize that Chris Weidman fought the perfect fight against Anderson. He shot for takedowns. When Silva taunted he either didn't react, or taunted right back. And when Anderson, in desperation, began clowning him more and more, he made him pay. This was a definitive win for Weidman.
My sincerest hope is that we make use of this fight to learn as fight fans. After the finish, Joe Rogan began prattling on about not playing around and taking chances, despite the fact that that is the style that has won Anderson so many fans and so many fights in the past. It would be easy to watch the stills, GIFs, and replays and simply say, "Well, that's why you fight with your hands up." But that all-too-popular conclusion misses the point by a mile.
So many concepts of scientific striking are encapsulated in this finish that it pains me to think that the world will largely remember Chris Weidman's win as some sort of fluke, or blame Anderson rather than applauding the man who knocked him out. The fact is, Anderson's defense may not be as good as we once thought it was. And in any case, his style has always had noticeable flaws. Weidman was just the first man capable of overcoming the inimitable aura of Anderson Silva and, with a potent combination of confidence and skill, finished the man no one thought could be finished.
Maybe MMA fighters are learning. Perhaps this moment marks the beginning of a new age in which Silva-esque mental tricks won't be enough to rule a weight class for nearly a decade. Perhaps Weidman's performance was brilliant, even if it wasn't beautiful. I'll leave you with Esther Lin's excellent image of the knockout and ask: does this look like a fluke to you?
Because to me it looks like progress.