Most agree that Silva is the greatest of martial artists. Now, and of all time. Because he's really good. He beats people up all the time. He's never lost in the UFC. He's defended his title ten straight times. Kind of feels like ten million. When the guy he's fighting walks into the Octagon, if he's not nervous and scared, mankind as a whole is nervous and scared for him. Then Silva hovers into the arena whilst meditating Indian style, channeling some sort of mystical mind power that melts normal people's brains if they dare wonder how he's levitating. He floats tranquilly through the crowd and into the Octagon atop a palpable aura of eminence and sheer ass-kicking greatness. Then Silva gets into a fight stance, cocks an eyebrow like Bruce Lee, does something super fast and totally awesome, and the other guy just dies. Kind of like this:
That's what always happens. Except against Chael Sonnen. He's a good wrestler who almost beat Anderson Silva. It surprised everybody! But he lost at the very end. Which also surprised everybody. They were like, "Oh man!"
Now there's this new guy: Chris Weidman. He's a good wrestler too, and seems pretty awesome at other stuff. We're just not sure yet, dude. But people think he might beat Silva, even though he's a new guy, and everyone's excited again! It's the biggest fight of the year. And I'm here to talk about it. First, read all this, then read the stuff below it.
- Best striking ever
- Best footwork ever
- Best champion ever
- Really good Jiu-Jitsu
- Takedown defense?
- Two-dimensional fighter
- Old (38)
- Young (29)
- Great wrestler
- Rare wrestler with Jiu-Jitsu skills
- Good (maybe great?) striking
- Rare three-dimensional fighter
- Only nine fights overall
- Only two Top-Ten wins
- Looked like a phenom in only one Top-Ten win
Range (Note: in-text links reference Nate and I's video discussion of these in-depth factors.)
Anderson Silva is at his best when he's out in open space, moving of his own accord and wreaking havoc with his unfathomable medley of obscenely quick movement and soul-stealing striking. Much of Silva's mystique is built around the utter dominance of his cage motion. It's why we'll never forget his Matrix-like showings against Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, as well as his unpopular goof-offs against Thales Leites and Demian Maia ... opponents have trouble getting close enough to even lay a finger on him.
Think about that for a moment: before you can punch, kick or otherwise engage someone offensively, you have to be in the proper range. The overwhelming majority of Silva's opponents could not assume or maintain that range. So not only does his elaborate and quizzical movement lock opponents in his preferred phase of combat, the Free-Movement Phase, it closes most of the doors that lead to more lucrative opportunities.
For Weidman, those doorways are 1) the Clinch Phase and 2) the Grappling Phase -- or anywhere other than being trapped in an open-space striking match -- and those lucrative opportunities are 1) diminishing Silva's otherworldly motion and striking by physically restraining him in a standing tie-up or 2) putting Silva on his back and imposing his preferred range of being on top.
Let's start with Option #2 for Weidman, the Grappling Phase, since his obvious advantages there far outweigh the equality of Option #1 in the clinch.
The salivating appeal of this fight and Weidman as a challenger is the logical thought process that he can re-enact the blueprint that Sonnen laid out so spectacularly. While Sonnen is far more experienced and proven in MMA, Weidman's two-time All-American honors at Hofstra University and, in what could be the entire game-changer, his experience and knowledge of submission grappling lend credence to the notion that he could be more effective than Sonnen was.
Let's scrutinize that POV. One can basically secure a takedown by shooting in from outside (i.e. from the Free-Movement Phase) or by initiating the Clinch Phase and pursuing from there. The only opponents to consistently take Silva down are Sonnen and Travis Lutter, and both did it with the blast double-leg from outside.
Silva's takedown defense has been rock-solid from the clinch. In their second outing, Silva finally stopped Sonnen's takedown by anticipating his bull-rush, digging in underhooks, getting a wide base and keeping his back against the cage for leverage and to prevent Sonnen from changing angles. When he sees the attack coming and can prepare accordingly, Silva is ultra-tough to take down.
When Sonnen and Lutter hit blast doubles on him, a big factor was the element of surprise. The change of levels and deep penetration caught him off-guard for any combination of the following.
- Disguising the takedown with a set up: this can be as basic as flinging a strike high and then dropping down to waist/hip level, but evolves into injecting the level drop amidst a chain of techniques and/or when it's least expected.
- Footwork/Movement: Sonnen's footwork was phenomenal against Silva. He stayed perfectly on balance, feinted with different angles (footwork) and at different levels (head/upper-body movement), steered Silva toward or into a corner and got deep penetration on his level change by knifing his lead foot in between Silva's. Sonnen also set up his attempts with strikes very respectably.
- Explosiveness: This is self-explanatory. The explosion of the takedown obviously influences one's ability to catch Silva off-guard and get deep penetration on his hips before he can react.
- Using Silva's Forward Movement Against Him: With a heightened focus on getting deep inside, a well-timed takedown when your opponent is coming at you can do most of the dirty work for you.
Weidman's wrestling background alone gives him great potential to succeed in those areas. However, not only does Weidman's lack of top-shelf experience make him difficult to assess, his performances have been remarkably hot and cold. If you were to watch his fight with Demian Maia, you might walk away thinking that Weidman just doesn't have the explosiveness and footwork to get inside on Silva. But if you were to watch his fight with Mark Munoz, the entire story was the ease, grace and quickness with which he changed levels to snare the single-leg takedown.
The downside of a single leg versus a double leg is that it flat-out isn't as effective as a double leg and gives Silva more of a chance to recover his balance and employ his sound takedown defense from the clinch. But, based on the point that Silva often stays upright by putting his back against the cage, the single leg is a viable option versus the double because it doesn't require swallowing up as much distance and can be performed quickly in open space. And taking Anderson Silva down in the middle of the cage is an ideal scenario for Weidman, so that -- along with the fact that the blast double hasn't been a big part of his takedowns -- might be a fruit-bearing strategy for the challenger.
Regardless, Weidman's clear advantage is wrestling and top position, just as Silva's is open-space striking. Of course, Weidman could catch Silva on the feet and Silva, a BJJ black belt, could sweep or submit Weidman from his guard. Neither are helpless in their weaker realms but it's simply unlikely that they'll be able to impose their will there.
What brings intriguing balance to this fight is the competitiveness of the clinch match up. One school of thought is that Weidman will be one step closer to grounding the fight if the can tie Silva up in the clinch; another is that Silva's clinch game is downright nasty. In the Rich Franklin fights, Silva used the double collar tie or Thai plum to paralyze Franklin with stifling head control, maintain a safe cushion of space between his hips and Rich's and bombard his body and face with vicious knees.
The catch is that Silva relies on underhooks for takedown defense, which puts his hands/arms at a much lower position to fight for balance than going up high for the offense-minded Thai plum grip. Additionally, were Weidman to pursue takedowns from the clinch, his head, body and vital organs must drop downward to attack the hips; a trajectory that puts him directly in the cross-hairs of Silva's feared Thai striking arsenal. Because there are equal risks and rewards for either in the clinch position, I'm deeming it even.
That leaves a hearty advantage for Silva on the feet and for Weidman on the mat, with a virtual tie in the clinch, which is the aspect of combat that links the striking and grappling phases together. And that perceived balance is what has everyone buzzing about this match.
As usual, I hope to lay out many variables so the reader is well equipped to make their own final prediction. My personal inclination is that Weidman might not have the speed and footwork to get inside on Anderson and, even if he can, he'll still have to deal with the sport's best striking on his way in. If he survives the salvo of leather, I see Silva being able to hold his own in Weidman's strongest realm more effectively than Weidman can in Silva's.
My Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO.