Anderson Silva is the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all time. He's surpassed not only his peers like Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, but also the classics of yesteryear.
Fedor Emelianenko has a case. So does Royce Gracie. But neither can match Silva. No one has ever done it better in the cage and Anderson has the records to prove it:
- 16-0 in the UFC Octagon.
- Unified Pride and UFC middleweight titles.
- Ten middleweight title defenses.
- Three successful excursions to light heavyweight.
What makes Silva's accomplishments even more spectacular is the way he goes about his business. Fighting is a brutal sport. In MMA, especially, brute force is too often the name of the game.
Silva is an exception.
He's elegant. To see him compete is to watch an artist at work; the mechanics of the human body his canvas. Silva moves like a dancer with gracefulness to behold, and dispatches his opponents with an ease that grants him the appearance of a man competing with boys.
Every Silva fight is a special treat. As he ages, they become even more special. Deep down, we know that this ride is coming to an end soon, but we're not ready to get off.
Of course, Chris Weidman can't afford to foster even a sliver of sentiment for the middleweight kingpin. Less than 10 fights into his career, and a virtual unknown to all but the most hardcore fan, he's been granted the gift of a lifetime.
Once the cage door shuts, fame and notoriety go right out the window. It becomes a competition of man against man, and Weidman is a fighter who appears built to beat Anderson Silva. He's Chael Sonnen, without Sonnen's propensity to fall right into a submission fighter's trap.
Sonnen 2.0, if you will.
Chael created the template for beating Silva. Weidman will look to follow it, fearlessly attacking, staying in The Spider's face and, above all else, grounding him whenever possible.
But it's easy to have a game plan right up until that first moment when you're face-to-face with the G.O.A.T. The key is how you respond after you get hit in the mouth for the first time. It's always easy until you get hit.
Can Weidman pull off the seemingly impossible? Can he be the first man to defeat Silva in the UFC?
I once saw boxer Roy Jones Jr. "fight" his way out of the corner with both hands essentially behind his back. His overmatched opponent finally had Jones where he wanted him and wailed away with both hands. Jones, with a flick of his head, avoided each blow. Then, like lightning, his right hand emerged from waist level to land a punch of his own.
It was physical genius.
There's a reason why Anderson Silva is still interested in a boxing match with the fading legend. He sees a mirror image there, and for good reason. Jones is similarly gifted in the striking department.
Over the course of his UFC career, Silva has landed nearly 68 percent of his significant strike attempts. That number, along with the 17 knockdowns he's tallied, are UFC records.
Weidman is no slouch standing. Anyone who saw him absolutely wreck Mark Munoz's face with an elbow can vouch for that. But he's a wrestler first, foremost and always. He can't compete with Silva here.
Twice an All-American wrestler at Hofstra, Weidman is an absolute beast on the ground. He averages more than four takedowns per 15 minutes of fighting. If the stats hold up in this fight, he's going to get Silva down to the mat at least once every round.
Silva has no doubt been training hard to defend Weidman's takedown. He's successfully avoided 70 percent of his opponent's attempts in his UFC career. Using distance, angles and his own formidable clinch game, Silva has made a career of punishing fighters who have tried to get him on the ground. He knows that's the strategy to beat him—and you will have to pay a price to execute it.
Sonnen showed that persistence is the key to getting Silva on the mat. Too often opponents break mentally the first time Silva thwarts them. If Weidman fails at first, he will have to get up, dust himself off, and try again.
I think he has the mental makeup to do just that.
This is where the fight will get very interesting.
When Sonnen and Dan Henderson took Silva down, the champ knew exactly what to expect. Their games on the mat were limited to ground-and-pound, giving each wrestler a single avenue of attack.
Weidman is a different kind of wrestler.
Training with Matt Serra has given Weidman not just an arsenal of submission attacks, but accompanying defenses as well. With Weidman, Silva will have to be content to enter survival mode when it goes to the ground. He won't be easy to finish on the mat, though.
Nearly a year has passed since Weidman last competed in a professional fight. That's a lot of ring rust to overcome, and Silva is a heck of a warm-up fight.
He's also never competed in a bout of this magnitude. Silva is an old hand when it comes to the bright lights. He been in the main-event at some of the biggest MMA shows in history. The media attention, out-of-Octagon obligations and magnitude of the actual bout won't phase him.
Weidman's star turn was on Fuel TV on a C-level show. This is all new to him.
Of course, the champion is 38 years old. And while Father Time has yet to win his ongoing fight with Silva, that contest has only one conceivable ending: Eventually, Silva will fade.
Will this be the bout?
I've been wrong too many times before to believe Silva is slowing down. He may, in fact, be ageless.
There's a reason why so many fans and journalists are picking Weidman in this fight. Sonnen showed the world that Silva could be stifled and created a template for killing the king.
Weidman happens to have the perfect skill set to execute that plan and emerge victorious.
Despite that, I can't pick against Silva here. Weidman, when it comes down to it, is just another wrestler. He has made himself into a very good fighter, but he isn't a next-level athlete like Silva.
Even at 38, I think Silva is special enough to find a way to walk out of the cage at UFC 162 with another title defense to his name.
Winner: Anderson Silva