Anderson Silva tries to get used to not defending his title against Michael Bisping this February 27, 2016 at the O2 Arena in London, United Kingdom.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Middleweight's longest-standing journeyman takes one last lunge for the ultimate consolation prize.
David: The former P4P champ hopes to avoid a Roy Jones Jr. fall.
Michael "The Count" Bisping 27-7
Anderson "The Spider" Silva 33-6-1 NC
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Remember when Anderson Silva was going to retire? Like, after every fight? We'd get all these articles about how the division was cleaned out, how there wasn't really much for an artist like the Spider, and how it was clear he only had a year or two left in the sport. Here we are. He's 40 years old and his last win was over three years ago. I guess he was always MMA's most unpredictable champ, so the way he's ended up on the long downslope rather than just disappearing in a puff of smoke is a strange kind of double bluff.
David: Silva's reign never seemed to be defined for what it was; a truly eccentric, but no less emphatic narrative of a fighter performing beyond his age. MMA doesn't have much history, so when history is being made, it doesn't register except as some loud noise in a promotional vehicle marketing extreme violence over craft. Silva wasn't Roy Jones Jr. He was Bernard Hopkins. His ability to dummy the competition in his late thirties was more remarkable than some of his combinations. Unfortunately he may endure a Jones level fall rather than the fine wine decline of Hopkins.
Phil: Michael Bisping, conversely, is exactly where he's always been. Increasingly locked out of the top of the sport by better fighters and more dynamic athletes, he still fights them, loses, goes back, beats fighters that aren't as good, demands other fights, comes back to near the top, rinse and repeat. At 37 the pattern is as established as any in the sport. By this point we don't just have a good grasp of what's going to happen, but when it's going to happen- Bisping gets hurt at around 4-7 minutes through the fight; he accepts the big loss; says "fair play to ‘em", tells everyone (quite correctly) that he's "not going anywhere."
David: Bisping has always been one of the more underappreciated UFC fighters. His ability to garner attention without the game to match, or the results should endear him to critics, but I guess his personality is too abrasive for some. Yea his TUF stint with Jason Miller was a complete waste of time, but so is the show in general 75% of the time.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Yoel Romero REALLY did a number on this division. The Cuban knocked out Tim Kennedy after being essentially knocked out himself, and Kennedy was so pissed off that he hasn't fought since. He destroyed Machida, and then he won a hellaciously sketchy decision over Jacare. Having removed three potential contenders, he promptly removed himself with a failed drug test. Go Yoel.
Improbably, this has all cleared the way for the winner of this fight to maybe... get a title fight? If Bisping wins, it might be the ultimate irony that a PED failure is the one thing which finally opened a pathway to him for that title shot he's always been after.
David: To be fair, Kennedy has ISIS, and dimpled chad to worry about. I get that. But I don't get our infatuation with steroids, and the sinister implication that using them is some kind of felony offense. Yes, we want our sports to resemble our social mores, but sports are also business. As long as professional competition is built on money, fighters built like comic book characters will be in demand. Which is my lazy, half assed philosophical way of saying I want Romero back, testosterone confusing the galvanic skin response and all.
Where do they want it?
Phil: They roughly want the fight in the same space, and they want to base their approaches off the same approximate strike, but they are very, very different fighters. Anderson is all about the southpaw jab (although it's reportedly his dominant hand). This is, for him, a fight ending strike, but he occasionally pairs it with the left straight or the kick to the body or head, all primarily as counters of course.
Silva's all about manipulation- misdirection in the clinch, brief moments where he gently shoves an opponent's hands away before cracking them with a laserbeam GnP punch. The misdirection has taken a more reliable, steady turn of late as he's aged and his speed has drifted away. Less wacky dancing, more hand parries.
David: The issue with Silva at this point is similar to the issue with Roy Jones; their defense relied on speed, and anticipation rather than IQ and absorption. Once the physical skills began to wane, the anticipation needed to be that much sharper to offset the decrease in punishment taking. It didn't, and so Roy Jones ended up getting murdered by guys like Antonio Tarver, who Jones would have never had a problem with in his prime. Same thing with Silva.
Having said that, he's still brutal with his strikes. Silva's power developed throughout his career because he made a concerted effort to move his head more which allowed him to deal damage in the pocket. Not that he was ever a perimeter striker. But his switch into developing counter punch movement, and utilizing his kicks better at range kind of transformed him into something of a phenom. Traces of that man still exist, so Bisping better keeps his arms and legs in the octagon vehicle at all times.
Phil: Bisping is one of the steadiest, most reliable fighters around. This is a blessing and a curse. We know what he does and so does everyone else- he builds a stepwise approach from a crisp jab, working from the outside in volume. He occasionally pairs it with a pawing right hand which he does not retract fast enough. Like Silva, he favours the collar-tie and the knees. Silva's game is more modular, however- he can arrange the pieces as he sees fit, whereas Bisping's is always constructed sequentially. The collar tie is an ending point he works towards for rocked opponents.
Bisping's improvements have mostly been around developing more of a kicking game, but he's still essentially the same guy he always was. He's always been an incredibly dirty fighter, frankly- habitually landing illegal strikes, holding the cage, sticking his fingers in the opponent's gloves. I think it's at least partially as a holdover from the Dark Ages of MMA, when Bisping was fighting in smoker shows around the UK; sleeping in his car and so on. Fighters from back then tend to be heavy on either gamesmanship, or PEDs, or both, and he shares his griminess with his ex-Wolfslair teammates Kongo and Rampage. Despite all this there's an stubborn, vicious honesty to Bisping which I think has become more apparent and more appealing over time. He's going to do it his way, and he's going to try it as hard as he can.
Others have referred to him as maximizing his relatively limited gifts. I'm not sure if I completely agree- I always felt he should have made more of his own natural knack for grappling, and his lack of body punches is silly considering his considerable advantages in pace and cardio over almost everyone he fights. Again, it's that stubbornness.
David: As Tito Ortiz once said, 'if you ain't trying to cheat, you ain't cheating'. Actually, he may have got that one right. But for reality. Bisping really does maximize his limitations, so I kind of disagree with you there. He's a fighter with meager power, lacking in dynamic combination striking, possessing awful defensive instincts. Yet he's made a name for himself succeeding on the feet through mechanics that allow him to be active, concealing his limitations enough to sort of hang with the elite.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: My big one would be Bisping's last fight against a Silva. Wanderlei was a sizable underdog; considered near-completely shot and a bit of a layup for Bisping. Bisping did indeed win *most* of the fight by volume, but he also clearly lost 2/3 rounds, because Wanderlei flurried, and knocked him down, and grabbed a guillotine, and generally made sure to land the clear, memorable offense when it counted.
This is the problem with Bisping's stubborn approach. Really great fighters are cunning as hell, and that's something which doesn't go away with physical deterioration.
David: I'm afraid this could look more like Bisping vs. Cung Le, with Anderson playing the role Le always had. It's a sobering thought, but one that's entirely possible. Bisping is only four years younger than Anderson, but he still uses a young man's strength. Since I'm all over the boxing analogies today, I liken this to Ricky Hatton vs. Kostya Tszyu, where the superior technician just didn't have enough vigor to overcome the younger opponent's suffocating enthusiasm.
Phil: Is where Silva's at even much of an X-Factor? He won the Diaz fight but just looking at him, it was as clear an example of someone desperately telling himself "you got this" as you're likely to see. Now, after the failed test? In a fight where he weighed in wearing a T-shirt? Hmmmmm.
David: Not sure. I think he really wants to be there. I'm just not sure it's in him to avoid being discouraged if he loses again.
Phil: I am very, very tempted to go for a double Cheater Hedge and go back on both my staff pick and the one I made for the League of Extraordinary Journeymen. I have a sinking feeling that Silva will come in looking truly awful. But, that was the feeling I had last time, and I was wrong. One last quality win for the Spider. One last slam of the door for the Count. Anderson Silva by TKO, round 3
David: League of Extraordinary Journeymen? Sounds like the name of a B movie version of the Expendables. Oh right. That concept actually has a name and a trailer. Well, I'm gonna be the cynic here and say that Bisping's exuberance will be enough to end Silva's career this weekend, giving us the chance to take a break from Conor McGregor and wax nostalgic about Silva's very storied career. Michael Bisping by TKO, round 3.