This is part two of a two-part article. If you missed it, you can find part one right here.
The Brazilian wandering spider is widely considered the most dangerous arachnid on earth. Its venom, a potent cocktail of proteins and peptides that attacks the central nervous system, causes terrible pain in its victim. After the initial shock the victim may experience sweating, nausea, hypothermia, vertigo, and ultimately death.
Rarely aggressive to humans, the wandering spider tends not to inject the full supply of its venom when threatened, but when it does it can be fatal. And when it comes to food, there are few hunters more deadly. The spider stalks the forest floor by night, or lurks in hiding. It picks its prey carefully. What it maims, it kills.
Like his eight-legged namesake, Anderson "The Spider" Silva is not easily survived. In sixteen UFC wins Silva has earned seventeen knockdowns, usually the result of a lighting fast kick, a nose-crushing knee, or a sharp counter right hand. These techniques are Silva's bite, and they are truly formidable. It's not the fangs with which a spider kills its prey, however, but the venom therein. For Silva, that venom takes the form of his deadly accurate ground striking--a potent and quick-acting toxin indeed.
Yesterday we examined the distance manipulation that allowed Silva to knock down Vitor Belfort with a perfect front kick to the jaw. Now let's examine what the champion did to seal the deal.
(Click to enlarge)
1. Stunned senseless, Belfort falls to his back. Silva moves in.
2. First, he controls both of Belfort's ankles to prevent an upkick or an attempt to achieve guard.
3. He passes Belfort's left ankle to his left hand.
4. This crosses Belfort's ankles, rendering his legs useless. He can neither kick, nor attain guard, nor plant his feet on the canvas in order to stand. He is trapped . . .
5. . . . and wide open for Anderson's straight right hand.
6. After landing, the champ leaves his right fist on Belfort's collar bone, using that arm as a post . . .
7. . . . which leaves him balanced and postured enough for the left straight that puts Belfort out for good.
Note the form with which Anderson throws his ground strikes. First, he prefers to keep both feet planted firmly on the ground. This allows him to stand far above his prone opponent, giving his strikes more distance with which to build momentum and power. Silva throws his finishing shots just like the punches he would throw at a standing opponent--in Frame 5, you can see how Anderson pivots on the ball of his right foot as he throws the right hand, twisting his shoulders and hips and transferring weight from right to left. This, in turn, loads the left hand, which is thrown in much the same way, with the added benefit of Anderson's right hand posted on Belfort's chest as a measuring stick, one which keeps the challenger pinned flat on his back and enables Anderson to maintain his postured up position.
The vast majority of mixed martial artists lose all control when an opponent falls to the canvas. They are wont to jump, recklessly, into the felled man's guard, flailing punches and elbows like a starving hyena with clumsily balled fists for teeth. Typically, their best hope is to keep the beleaguered opponent in a defensive shell long enough to prompt a referee rescue. If they are lucky, they actually knock him out.
Anderson's ground strikes, by contrast, are hypodermic needles, precisely placed for maximum effect. In addition, he rarely leaps thoughtlessly into his opponent's guard, instead approaching his fallen foe with characteristic nonchalance. Silva's finishing sequences are methodical, calculated, and inarguably the best in the business.
(Click to enlarge)
1. Yushin Okami, victim of a counter right hook, falls to his back.
2. Eyeing his options, Silva approaches Okami just as he did Belfort, aiming to control his milling feet.
3. Bearing down on Okami's ankles, he collapses the downed man's legs and slices his right shin across his calf and thigh, pinning Okami's right knee to the ground.
4. Anderson uses this position, essentially a half-completed knee slide pass, to limit Okami's ability to hip escape. From this position, he pins Okami's right wrist to the ground and fires his own right through the gaps in his defense.
5. As Okami frees his wrist and works his way up onto his right elbow, Anderson switches to left uppercuts.
The Spider's Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is, in many ways, revolutionary. Though his guard game is often limited to simple trapping, holding, and waiting, Silva's top game is uniquely suited to his striking strengths. This half-pass position against Okami is an excellent example. With footwork, guard passing, and simple stacking, Anderson is adept at either circumnavigating or nullifying his opponents' legs, all in order to secure his effective position.
When that position is actually threatened, Silva does not lose control and attempt to desperately thrash his opponent into compliance. He maintains his composure and, like all great fighters, adjusts. Let's see the remainder of that sequence against Okami.
(Click to enlarge)
1. As Okami turns into Silva in an effort to reguard, the champion circles to the left, away from his entangling legs.
2. Posting on Okami's head and leg, Silva rolls him over until . . .
3. . . . he winds up in the vulnerable turtle position.
4. Anderson attempts, and misses, a right knee to the body, allowing Okami to roll to his back.
5. But the champ simply follows through and delivers a series of snapping left hands the moment Okami rolls over.
6. Once again circling to his left, Anderson peels away Okami's hands with one arm . . .
7. . . . and delivers the fight-ending blows with the other.
Confidence and composure are the defining features of Silva's finishing sequences. The Spider never fights as if he needs to finish his opponent; he fights as if he knows that he can. A more reckless or less disciplined striker might forego grappling fundamentals in pursuit of the finish, or allow the opponent to improve his position in the hopes that he'll be unconscious soon anyway. Anderson, on the other hand, is always careful to secure his position before launching his final assault. And, should the opponent prove tough enough to withstand his power and threaten that position, Anderson will pause momentarily, nullify the threat, and then resume his attack.
Silva doesn't even need to hurt his opponent on the feet to establish a dominant, offensive position on the ground. No matter what the circumstances that lead him there, the Spider is coldly ruthless the moment he finds himself on top of his opponent. What's more, he rarely throws anything resembling traditional punch combinations--whereas most fighters pile on the offense with an overwhelming barrage of punches, alternating from one hand to the other, Silva is more likely to post with one arm, or use it peel away a guarding glove, before shooting precise, surgical punches through the gaps.
(Click to enlarge)
1. Nate Marquardt battles to finish a single.
2. Silva pummels his left arm under Marquardt's belly and connects his hands behind the challenger's left leg.
3. Dropping to his hip, Anderson hits a beautiful switch, dropping Marquardt on his face.
4. As Marquardt spins to his back, Anderson quickly moves to stay on top of him.
5. With full control of his posture, Anderson is free to strike. He misses this right hand . . .
6. . . . but follows up with a clean left to the jaw.
7. Pivoting to his right, Anderson moves around Marquardt's left knee, bypassing his guard in the process.
8. As the champion continues to connect with punches, Marquardt tries to shove him away with a kick from his right leg--which Silva promptly catches.
9. Keeping hold of this leg, Silva crosses Marquardt's legs, nullifying them completely, and chambers a powerful right hand . . .
10. . . . that spells the beginning of the end for Marquardt.
Here is the reason for Anderson's great success with non-combination punching on the ground. The purpose of combinations, during a standup fight, is for each successive punch to enhance the chances of the next one landing. Upright and with his feet under him, an opponent is free to utilize footwork and head movement in addition to his arms and shoulders to defend an attack. Given the breadth of options at his disposal, it makes sense to attack with a series of varying strikes, each one aiming to lead him into the next.
On the ground, however, a fighter's options are few. He has the use of his arms, yes, but these are easily bypassed without his footwork and evasive movements to help. He can squirm around in an attempt to dodge the more obvious blows, but he is essentially limited to a back-and-forth wiggle--a far cry from the unpredictable variation of head movement on the feet. The grounded fighter's best bet is his legs: to hip escape, he must plant his feet on the ground; to shove his attacker away and attempt to stand up, he must be able to place his feet on the opponent's hips; to tie the other man up, or attempt a submission, he needs free movement of his legs to work his guard.
And from the start of the sequence above to the very end, Anderson Silva works to take away the legs of Nate Marquardt, as he does to every opponent that ends up under him on the ground. Eliminating his only vable means of escape, the Spider is free to administer his punches carefully, selecting his openings and striking with deadly precision.
FAREWELL TO GREATNESS
This breakdown has been a long time coming. Anderson Silva's ground striking is easily the most overlooked and underappreciated aspect of his fighting style, and it's always a pleasure to explore the nuanced skills of such a masterful martial artist. Now that we've done that, however, it's time for some sober words. No more spider metaphors, no more grandiose descriptions of Silva's picturesque technique.
You see, this may very well be the last opportunity I have to write about Anderson Silva as an active fighter. Tomorrow, he faces Nick Diaz, a career welterweight whom many expect to succumb rather easily to the former middleweight champion's precise and powerful counters. As for me, I'm not so sure.
I could be completely wrong. It's quite possible that Anderson strides into the Octagon tomorrow night and, as he has so many other times, makes a very dangerous opponent look positively helpless. It's possible that Anderson outclasses Diaz so badly that the Stockton native retires for good. It's possible that he puts on such a convincing display that a rematch with Chris Weidman, who has already stopped Silva twice, ends up sounding like a pretty great idea.
But I can't shake this feeling of unease.
You see, the thing about fight fans is that we are used to the exceptional. We expect it. Fighting is, by its very nature, exceptional. How many fight cards have been transformed from ho-hum to spectacular by two nameless fighters, whose names no one will ever remember, battling for a glory that belongs only to them? I've seen fights between preliminary nobodies that moved my soul. I've pondered why some of these men and women could possibly want to risk life, limb, and sanity to pit themselves against one another for my entertainment. I've been stirred to tears by comeback wins and valiant, hopeless defeats. This is the sport that captivates me, and it is truly exceptional in every way.
And with Anderson Silva, we have been gifted far more than our fair share of the exceptional. Beating Nick Diaz tomorrow would make this great man greater still, but how much more can we really ask from the fighter who ruled over his peers for so many years, with the smirk of a jester and the scowl of a king? Silva is very nearly 40 years old, and he doesn't seem to be wearing his age as well as he used to.
I won't make any kind of firm prediction. I don't want to plead with Anderson Silva to quit while he still has his health, nor do I want to fill his fans with hopeless despair. If this really is the last chance I have to look forward to an Anderson Silva fight--to admire the brutal beauty of his work--then I simply want to take this opportunity to say: thank you. Thank you, Anderson, for laying yourself bare for the world to see. Your skill, your pride, your cruelty, your playfulness, your grace, your honor--I won't forget these things that made you a champion.
And no matter what happens tomorrow night, whether it's the end at last or a new beginning, I will always look back on your time at the top as one to be remembered. You were great, and you always will be.
For more analysis, be sure to check out Heavy Hands, the only podcast dedicated to the finer points of face-punching. This week's episode features an in-depth, hour-long discussion of the fascinating style matchup that is Anderson Silva vs Nick Diaz.