UFC 162 is just around the corner, and Chris Weidman will challenge Anderson Silva for the UFC Middleweight belt. The MMA community seems to be split into two camps that, by the nature of internet debates, have become more extreme as the arguments have raged on. One side insists that Weidman is too young, unproven, and inexperienced to present any sort of challenge to the reining champion. Weidman's backers claim Silva is aging, and Weidman's combination of wrestling and Jiu Jitsu will let him replicate Chael Sonnen's success without getting submitted.
As with most internet debates, the actual subject has taken a back seat to being right, so let's take a real look at the situation between Silva and Weidman. The simple fact of the matter is that, while Silva is the clear favorite, Weidman's skill set presents clear problems for Silva and makes him a very live underdog.
First and foremost, Weidman is a very talented grappler. A two-time DI All American in wrestling, Weidman turned from a chance to train for the Olympics and began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie. With less than one year of training, Weidman qualified for the ADCC Submission Wrestling championships, the most prestigious no-gi grappling tournament in the world.
Weidman's combination of wrestling and Jiu Jitsu experience makes his a very creditable threat to Silva. While Anderson Silva is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has a good deal of grappling skill, Silva's rather passive grappling from off his back and Weidman's pass, smash, and submit style match up very well for Weidman. Silva doesn't escape back to the feet very well once he has lost his guard because Silva does not initiate scrambles, possibly to avoid transitional submissions. The downside is that while Silva allows top fighters to really go to work, he waits for them to make a mistake. But Weidman, under the tutelage of Serra, Renzo and BJJ mad genius John Danaher, has a very strong, heavy, and clean top game.
And, unlike Chael Sonnen, Weidman is a real threat to end fights from top position. He has strong striking from the top and excellent submission offense, so Silva's practice of giving away rounds on the ground to finish the fight later might not be applicable here because Weidman can take, or even create, a small mistake that will end the fight. On the ground, Weidman has a clear and significant advantage.
But all fights start on the feet, and Silva is actually difficult to takedown with any consistency. To close the distance on Silva, a fighter needs to be able to strike with enough creditability to get Silva not thinking about the takedown. Closing that distance poses a big challenge for Weidman and it is the primary reason that Silva is the favorite in this fight. Controlling distance and using it to create striking openings is how Silva has ruled over the Middleweight division.
So while Silva is justifiably the favorite, if you are just writing off Weidman as another sacrifice at the altar of the Spider, you could be in for a very rude awakening. Weidman has a great deal of talent, and even if he loses on Saturday, it is highly likely he could hold the belt in a post-Silva Middleweight division. He is fantastically talented and has grown by leaps and strides in the four years he has been in MMA. He is very much part of the next generation of Middleweights, one of the few actual prospects to develop in the last few years.
Any prospect who breaks through to greatness, at some point, has to score a huge upset, beat a fighter they were not supposed to defeat. When Jon Jones was given Shogun Rua on short notice, many thought it was too soon for the young fighter and that he wasn't complete enough to compete with a grizzled veteran like Rua.
It is often said that MMA is a sport were anything can happen, and fighter's fortunes can turn on a dime in sport. It has been a while since the sport has delivered a head-turning upset and, considering there are pieces in place that make it a realistic scenario, just don't say you weren't warned.