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UFC 183: Toe to Toe Preview - The Complete Breakdown of Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz

Phil and David break down the fascinating UFC 183 main event between two superheroes, one representing the eccentric, the other the quixotic; Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz, respectively.

Artwork by would-be BBC radio star, Phil MacKenzie

Anderson Silva takes on Nick Diaz at middleweight in the main event of UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 31st. We are taking a deep dive into the fight which is better than it appears at first glance.

Middleweight (185 lbs)

Anderson "The Spider" Silva
33-6-0
Odds: -500

Nick Diaz
26-9-0
Odds: +435

Single line summary:

Two of the weirdest guys in MMA fight at the weirdest point in their respective careers, in a fight which will probably be weird

OR...

Burger King takes on High Times in a mixed martial arts battle of dramatically different products.

History Lesson / Introduction:

Phil: Anderson "The Spider" Silva. The greatest middleweight of all time. By popular consensus, the greatest MMA fighter of all time. Years of dominance, highlight-reel performances and picture-perfect KOs. His title reign was brought to an end by Chris Weidman in a strange KO, then he was put back in for the rematch, and lost it via strange TKO.

David: That stings doesn't it? I can't think of a dramatically more peculiar fall of an icon than Silva's. It made sense when Fedor lost because well, Werdum is world class on the ground. When Sakuraba lost, hey, the guy isn't that big and was fighting leatherface. Chuck Liddell had clearly taken too many shots to the grill, and Couture was two years removed from the aroma of the great depression. Silva's fall just seemed to amount to "oops, my bad, oh god my leg!". It was unexpected as a transformation of The Thing, horrific special effects and all.

Phil: Nick Diaz is the frustrating, lovable, mercurial, quotable, foul-mouthed, truculent 31-year old teenager of MMA, and the former Strikeforce welterweight champion. He got a UFC title shot against GSP, lost it to Carlos Condit by not following his contractual obligations, fought Condit for the interim belt when GSP was injured, lost in a stinker, got another shot against GSP, lost that, and promptly retired. He claimed that the only fights he'd take were a GSP rematch, or a bout against Anderson Silva. Everyone laughed at him.

David: Nick Diaz is one of the few fighters who justifies all the "hot takes", with each one fascinating me on a personal level. He has that distinct personality that allows authors, and observers to project more than analyze. It's hard to say where he goes from here. While he's experienced a renaissance in the way his style has blossomed, he's still the same walking talking middle finger he's always been. It's interesting how the UFC has decided to promote him leading up to this event; like Dana and the 'guys from the truck' realized Nick might retire during the weigh-ins as a best bcase scenario.

What are the stakes?

Phil: For Diaz, this would be a massive win, which would probably propel him into a fight with the welterweight champ, Robbie Lawler. It would be complete bullshit of course, as he hasn't won a fight in the division since his 2011 victory over retired featherweight BJ Penn. But, he already owns an ancient win over Lawler, and there's no denying that a rematch between the two would be a compelling watch: the carousel of Hendricks-Lawler-Macdonald is starting to cause the three of them to blur at the edges a little. Rory the cold professional, Hendricks the rugged good ol' boy, Lawler somewhere in between, and it's starting to get difficult to remember who's who and why you should care which one of them holds the belt.

David: I don't know. Even a Diaz win could end up having no effect on the division. Would anybody be shocked if he just walked away from the sport for the second time, but with more conviction?

Phil: Dana has claimed that Silva could get a middleweight title shot by beating Diaz. Not only is this even more indefensible from a competitive standpoint, but I'd argue that it's slightly... immoral? Silva had almost nothing for Weidman in both their fights. For the Spider this fight should be looked at as what it really is: one of the fun, competitively meaningless fights that legends should roll their careers down on.

David: To defend a Silva defense slightly, I would say it's just goodwill for an icon. He's not gonna defend for long, but if he shows that he has just enough in the tank, why not ask Weidman to defend his belt against Silva at his strongest? It's not like they can't easily sell the rematch as "well it wasn't really a win because all Weidman did was block a kick".

Where do they want it?

Phil: Nick really, really likes getting people up against the cage and hitting them. The style he embodies is the two wide, embracing arms and the jutting chin, as though he's literally trying to hold the space that the opponent occupies and daring them to hit back. Once he does close in, he's a suffocating volume striker. His punches vary from insultingly soft pats and slaps, to the parabolic thump of his right hook to the chin and body. Working on the offense, he's endlessly looking to unbalance, disconcert and hurt his opponent.

The major problem, of course, is that The Stockton Slap has joined Connect 4, Chopsticks, Draughts and Head-up Limit Texas Hold ‘Em as something which has been mathematically solved:

Diaz + {Circular momentum = r * mv
If punch evaded = yes and distance is less than 1, then leg kick
If 2 > distance from back to cage is less than 1, then increase circular momentum
If distance from back to cage is less than one 1, then takedown} = 30-27, 30-27, 29-28

We can think of Anderson as a skilled, mobile counterpuncher, one who can take advantage of Diaz's defensive liabilities, move away from the patented "death of a thousand cuts" offense that the Stockton native brings, and leg kick him. Silva is clearly historically able to follow the gameplan. Add in size and power advantages, and it starts to look pretty grim for Diaz.

David: Oh! Well, allow me to retort. If the Stockton Slap belongs with Hold 'Em, then I'd argue that Silva's Back Step Biff belongs to Foldit, resolving the enzymes that cause Aids-like monkey diseases, one counterpunch at a time.

What I'm trying to say is that the Stockton Slap ain't your typical monkey disease. One of the reasons why this fight fascinates me is that even a prime Silva has some level of difficulty dealing with Nick's pressure. Anderson doesn't use overt movement. Yes, he's nimble, and one of the greatest strikers the sport has ever seen, but his movement sometimes feels more implicit than explicit. For that reason I think Silva's resets offer Nick just enough time to throw and land punches that would otherwise miss against the more linear gameplans of moving outside of range like GSP and Condit did.

Silva won't be able to replicate what either of those men did. In a way it's not in his best interest either, yet it might serve him well. Nick won't be coming at him like Forrest Griffin, all sound and fury, resonating nothing. Nick will be playing ashes in the fall all over Anderson's there was a time.

Insight from past fights:

Phil: I thought Silva looked dreadful in the Weidman fights. In fact, I pre-emptively wrote my eulogy for the great fighter's career before the second fight. What I saw in Weidman-Silva II did not encourage me that I was wrong. Silva looked old, and discouraged, and was essentially knocked out in the first round by clinch punches. This does happen in MMA, but only normally when there are titanic discrepancies in power and durability (Brenneman-Hendricks, Mir-Carwin). Weidman has power, but he isn't the hardest hitter in the world, so it's not too much of a stretch to say that Silva has deteriorated a lot from the days when he was shrugging off Dan Henderson overhands.

I think we often underestimate the spectrum of fighter deterioration. It affects the mind and the body. Strikes not only do more damage, but land more cleanly because the reactions are a split-second slower. Basically, styles and skills are incredibly important... but not quite as important as just how difficult it is to maintain quality performances at the top level. The sheer physical and mental strain of it all. A brutally traumatic injury and time off leave me with little confidence that the man who will step into the cage is going to be anything like the middleweight GOAT.

David: I gotta disagree ever so slightly even though a name like the "toe to toe" preview implies an arbitrary exchange of competing hot takes, despite me piggybacking off your eloquence. I think Anderson looked more discouraged and offset by Weidman's timing than he did failing to endure punishment. Anderson has always been hit by flush shots, but never as unexpectedly as he did against Chris, who seemed to really resolve Silva at range. It's not a sexy theory because it implies Anderson Silva would have lost in his prime. I don't believe that because I do think Silva has lost a step (especially watching the Wiedman rematch), but not so much that we've identified something obvious about Anderson's decline.

If he gets knocked out against Diaz then we'll truly know. Getting back to the theme here, I think Nick's bout against Penn is significant; a lot of people assumed Penn's superior technical boxing would trump Nick's earthy brawling style. Instead Nick made every punch count. Penn is nothing like Anderson, but they share the feature of having little experience against volume strikers that combine technique with toughness. In a way this feels like a tough matchup for Anderson if it's true that his chin has deteriorated.

X-factors:

Phil: The idea of listing X-factors in this fight seems laughable. We have no real idea what either of these fighters will look like. Will Diaz be rejuvenated by this challenge, or is he there to pick up a paycheck? His brother looked numbingly terrible in his last outing, which may mean that the Cesar Gracie camp has begun to fall apart. The idea of Anderson being at his peak is probably an impossibility, but how much of the old magic does he still have? However, in picking one element out of the chaos, I would say one thing: Diaz cuts really, really easily.

David: Yep. We're all aware of the countless x-factors in Anderson's corner, but what about Nick's? Despite how unreliable he is outside of the cage, he's been pretty steadfast and reliable inside of it. Sure he's prone to getting frustrated, but he never sabotages himself except when he simply fails to adapt. Could that change now that he's paid his Honda off? As William Goldman would say, nobody knows anything.

Prognostication:

Phil: If Anderson is anything like he was, he should take this. There's a clear strategic path for him to follow, and he should have every tangible physical advantage. I just think that he's done. I believe he has cloaked a late-career deterioration with cunning and technique for a while, and now the wheels have almost completely fallen off. His footspeed and durability have disappeared, he doesn't sound like his head is in the game at all, and I don't think he can hang with an aggressive younger fighter. While Silva remains the greatest sniper in MMA history, and a single shot away from victory at all times, Nick Diaz by TKO, round 3.

David: Man. Zero confidence in Anderson huh? I agree that Nick will win, but Anderson still has enough faculties intact to give Nick some scares ala the Daley fight; difference being I think Nick will have a much harder time recovering from one of Silva's strikes than Paul. Nick Diaz by TKO, round 2.