Mixed martial arts fans are witnessing a historic championship run in the UFC’s middleweight division. To say Anderson Silva has dominated the division does not do justice to the dominant tear he’s been on.
The Spider dispatched of champion Rich Franklin at UFC 64 and has gone on to clean out the division—a division that would seemingly be competitive if Silva never arrived on the scene.
A parallel can be drawn between Silva’s dominance of the middleweight division and Tiger Woods’ dominance of the PGA tour. If Woods vanished from the golf landscape, the links would be ruled by a handful of elite golfers.
If Silva similarly vanished, Franklin and Dan Henderson would likely be at the top of the middleweight division. Michael Bisping, Demian Maia and Thales Leites would be considered top challengers with Nate Marquardt and Rousimar Palhares waiting in the wings.
Next up in the Anderson Silva show is Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert, and winner of five straight, Thales Leites. Leites has world class jiu-jitsu skills which are actually superior to Silva’s. What Silva possesses is a viscous striking skill set, both standing and in the clinch, and an amazing ability to finish fights.
What to look for: Leites will certainly try to get Silva to the ground. Dan Henderson and Travis Lutter were effective against Silva once they got him to the mat, but neither was successful in finishing him. Both Henderson and Lutter are wrestlers though, so Leites presents a unique challenge with his dominant jiu-jitsu skills.
Trying to get in close to Silva to take him down is the perilous part. His clinch game is second to none and his striking is so devastating that Leites could be marching in toward his own demise.
The only recent blemish on Silva’s resume is his poor performance against Patrick Cote. If any fight epitomized feeding time in the Sea World shark tank, it was the UFC’s serving up Cote to Silva at UFC 90.
But for some reason, Silva put forth an un-Spider-like effort that allowed Cote to remain in the fight until the third round. Cote finished himself off so to speak, landing awkwardly and blowing out his knee.
Silva regretted his poor performance and campaigned for a quick follow-up bout, all the while refraining from offering an explanation for his quirky demeanor against Cote. Insiders thought Silva felt dissed that the UFC presented such an unworthy opponent, resulting in a lackluster performance.
Upsets have occurred enough in this sport and it would be shortsighted to write Leites off. One need not look beyond the Matt Serra knockout of dominant welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
But can Silva be stopped by someone’s will other than his own? The same was thought of another young champion fond of the knockout: former boxing champion Mike Tyson. Tyson seemed unstoppable and many felt that he took Buster Douglas lightly.
He paid by getting his clock cleaned and that loss started the downward spiral in Tyson’s life that continues to this day.
It would be baseless and ignorant to imply that Silva is heading down Iron Mike’s path, but it seems that he might be the only threat to his run of dominance. He could opt to retire, as those rumors surfaced recently.
Going out relatively young and on top like NFL great Jim Brown might appeal to Silva, but the retirement talk was quickly squashed by Silva’s manager Ed Soares.
In examining Silva’s resume, it’s hard to think Leites has much of a chance. Silva’s two victories over Rich Franklin were downright brutal and Franklin was forced to move out of the division. Dan Henderson won the first round in his fight against Silva, only to wear down in the second round, succumbing to a choke submission.
Henderson is no joke and he carried the middleweight and light heavyweight belts for Pride FC. Franklin dominated the middleweight division before facing Silva and has looked impressive in all subsequent fights since facing him.
The fact that those two were dispatched without a legit threat to Silva has fans wondering where a superior foe might come from. The answer likely lies in two different weight classes: either welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre (GSP) in a champion vs. champion bout or a fight at light heavyweight.
A bout with former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell has been rumored. But with the Ice Man fighting on the same card at UFC 97 against Shogun Rua—and only a handful of fights left in the tank—a novelty fight against Silva is probably not on Liddell’s wish list.
Silva did take on light heavyweight James Irvin and finished him in impressive fashion. After catching an Irvin kick and securing his leg, he connected with an absolute bomb of a right hand that knocked Irvin out for several minutes.
Next up for Silva, after he most likely dispatches Leites, will be the winner of Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping. If that fight gets pushed out, undefeated submission machine Demian Maia could be up next for Silva.
Further down the road, an intriguing possibility—besides the potential fight with GSP—could be a shot at the light heavyweight champion.
Rashad Evans defends against Lyoto Machida and the winner will put the title on the line against Rampage Jackson.
A Silva vs. Evans/Machida/Jackson champion against champion bout would be a blockbuster, similar to a dream fight of Silva/St-Pierre. The UFC went this route recently, pitting lightweight champ BJ Penn against Georges St-Pierre and the fan interest was immense.
As one reader pointed out, Silva is unlikely to fight Machida given their close ties. Should Machida beat Evans and successfully defend against Jackson, a light heavyweight encounter against Silva isn't likely.
Given the state of the middleweight division, this might be the only way to challenge Silva before he takes his ball and goes home.