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UFC 208: Holm vs. De Randamie - Anderson Silva vs Derek Brunson Toe to Toe Preview

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Silva’s return the cage for UFC 208, and everything you don’t about why Silva should have considered staying home.

MMA: UFC 200-Cormier vs Silva Joshua Dahl-USA TODAY Sports

Silva and Brunson do questionable battle this February 11, 2017 at the famous ‘spot the SUV in an awkward spot’ Barclays Center Brooklyn, New York.

One sentence summary:

David: MMA legend returns for a beating that could be legendary even in hell.

Phil: It's the star-power dead zone of 2017, Silva, and we need names, so get in there against this young killer, and pray you've still got some venom left in the fangs.

Stats

Record: Anderson Silva 33-8-1 NC Derek Brunson 16-4

Odds: Anderson Silva+125 Derek Brunson -145

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: Mr. Anderson... we’ve... missed… you. Unfortunately Mr. Anderson is returning at a bad time. Derek Brunson is a legitimate middleweight pugilist. Yea, Silva just fought Daniel Cormier and didn’t get destroyed. But his performance was too mercurial to take seriously as “showing he’s still got it”. Cormier gave him a little too much respect, and Silva did the same thing he’s been doing since the Weidman fight: clown around like you’re hurt until you’re actually hurt. Silva’s probably the most eccentric fighter MMA has ever had we took seriously (Genki Sudo?), so it’s weird to see his presence kind of mocked due to his clear downward trajectory, but this is where we’re at. I don’t know. I could just be salty that this card basically awful and this will be another BJ Penn moment.

Phil: Muffin-top Anderson is a strange thing to behold. There's that weird mixture of fear, nostalgia, excitement and the echoes of old magic that you know is never quite coming back. It seems strange that we always used to think that he was one step away from retiring every time he defended his belt, and yet here we are, closing in on four and a half years since his last win.

David: A five fight winning streak at 185 filled with brainbiter punching took Brunson’s stock all the way to the top. Then Robert Whittaker derailed it all in a John Wick-like exchange of fury. Brunson is still a premiere talent in the division. I don’t really know if this bout is a step down, a step sideways, or some interdimensional standstill but it’ll be a nice spotlight for him nonetheless.

Phil: Brunson's career trajectory has been profoundly odd. Sacrificial lamb for Jacare, unfairly dumped on for decisioning Leben and Larkin, came close against Romero, and then a run of shockingly brutal violence, until all that hard-built momentum flailed right into a brick wall against Whittaker. Still, he has one thing going for him after that performance: absolutely no-one thinks he's boring any more.

What’s at stake?

David: Other than Silva’s health? Brunson beating Anderson doesn’t really tell us anything. Regardless of how it ends. Maybe Brunson catches him with a reverse flying armbar. That would be revolutionary, and worth pondering Brunson’s presence as a causal element in the changing MMA landscape. If he loses, then we’re back to square one as middleweight keeps it carousel of middling talents exchange gold. That’s unfair isn’t it? I like Bisping, but the dude’s not talented enough to hold that belt for very long.

Phil: Silva's a guy where the UFC will put him in high profile matchups repeatedly because they feel like they can. Much like Vitor, if he wins they get a lucrative title fight or eliminator. If he loses, he's Brazilian, so they're not going to be as broken up as Dana was by Chuck or Ronda's losses. There will be no hugging in the locker room for 45 minutes. It's like that old Zuffa nursery rhyme goes:

Pretty and white? I'll hold you tight

Foreign or black? Stay well back

Or something.

David: Was that nursery rhyme written by David Allen Coe?

Where do they want it?

Phil: No surprises with Anderson. Not to say that he's predictable, but we know what we're getting. He's a greatly diminished version of the destroyer that was, and jealously portions out the remnants of shocking, fight-ending violence in smaller and less potent packets. He was never a great round winner, but that ability has deteriorated even more in recent years as he'll take minutes on end off the fight. That said, he still has a deep bag of rhythmic and defensive tricks - the John Cage of empty space in a fight, and opponents can never be quite sure whether segments of inactivity is the wily old fox playing dead to drag them into counters, whether he's catching his breath, or whether he's genuinely hurt. Even from outside it can be almost impossible to tell: take his fight against Daniel Cormier. Just when the light heavyweight champ was convinced that this old and visibly out-of-shape fighter was no threat, Silva sank his toes under Cormier's ribs and almost finished him.

I guess that's why we're still here. Even in the future when Silva has absolutely nothing left, he's always going to be that guy where we're never quite sure if it's true.

David: Silva has always been a lord of illusion, to borrow from Clive Barker. He keeps a broken pace that lulls opponents into believing they can dictate what he’s offered. Even in moments when he’s being pressured, and has no real tangible answer, like in the Chael Sonnen fights, that smirk always lurks beneath, like he knows the endgame. Unfortunately we’re past the endgame. Silva still does the things that made him great, but his body’s no longer able to complement his jive. I’m honestly not sure where to go with this analysis. I don’t feel we learned much about Silva in the Bisping or Cormier fights except that he’s still a dude that above all things, just kind of likes to have fun in there.

Phil: Brunson's style has progressed from underwhelming, to overwhelming, to a parody of itself. This isn't necessarily as damning as it seems: when a fighter does something really silly, it's often as obvious to them as it is to us. It's (relatively) rare that someone blows a fight in exactly the same way two times.

It's also notable that a crushingly offensive style still has benefits; it is simply not all that often that a fighter will constantly sell out for offense and never give an opponent breathing room. This, in general, is why I'm not sure whether the simple equation of "wild offensive fighter vs clean counterpuncher" tilts the fight towards the counterpuncher as much as it should in this case. Brunson, even at his most crazy, is an offensive dynamo in every phase. He feints effectively and works his way inside surprisingly well, and it is only once he connects with something that he truly starts to go all out. Silva is increasingly someone who seems to need to settle into the fight; fist-fighting as a well-worn and beloved armchair. A younger, fearless fighter swarming him from the start seems like it'd be exactly the kind of thing to deny him that opportunity.

David: I’m not sure what Brunson was trying to prove against Whittaker, but I think, with all due credit to Whittaker, that Brunson is a little better than what he showed against Whittaker. You hit an important point, which is Brunson’s progression beginning to caricature itself like a Scream sequel. He’s still elite in many ways, supporting his strong wrestling pedigree with a brutal left hand, and an even violent(er) left high kick. However, he’s not a fighter who has forgotten who he brought to the dance. He still has great respect for how he got here in the first place, which is refreshing in contrast to fighters who believe that being well rounded is the same as sufficient.

Insight from past fights

David: Watching most of Silva’s recent fights, I’m still struck by how hittable he is. I realize he got heat in all of previous fights, so this is not new information. But he had a serious chin that practically belonged in Mark Hunt Easter Island territory back then (anyone remember him taking Dan Henderson’s “H bomb” without so much as flinching?). Now it’s clear that the nervous system is constantly in danger of turning off the lights regardless of opponent. It’s eerily similar to what happened to Roy Jones Jr. once he rematched Antonio Tarver. His body is so used to rolling, or absorbing some of these strikes that he doesn’t really know how to turn that method of defense off. Against Brunson, this could be get ugly.

Phil: So the combination of this and the "Silva might not actually be all that good at fighting against pure aggression" point from earlier would be Silva against Chael. Both fights, but the first one in particular. Sonnen gave him zero space and blitzed him from the outset, and I think, as Pat Wyman has pointed out, that even at that point Silva was starting to deteriorate physically. The man who took that Henderson right simply does not get dropped by Chael Sonnen.

X-Factors

David: Just the usual; drostanolone, androsterone, and Burger King.

Phil: Is normal.

Prognostication

David: I feel like Anderson deserves more credit than I’ve been giving him. Cormier is still elite, and Silva took him to a respectable decision. However, Silva’s been declining for awhile, and Brunson is basically peak Brunson right now. Even Silva’s ground game has presumably withered. He used to be pretty good offensively, patiently setting up guard attacks. Now he struggles just to maintain guard. Brunson will give him no quarter. Sure Silva could land some crazy random counterattack, but this is the year of the Patriots and Steve Bannon. Derek Brunson by TKO, round 2.

Phil: The central pillar of my confidence in Brunson is this: old fighters need time to take opportunities, and Anderson has been the poster child for this tendency. I just think that Brunson can hurt him too bad before he works his way into the fight. For those looking for light in the tunnel, there's one way that I reckon that the dynamic changes: if Brunson hurts Silva just the right amount and Silva goes into autopilot, grabs the first opportunity and ices him. I don't think it happens, though. Derek Brunson by TKO, round 2.