Previously, I published the first piece in this two-part series, examining the fights which made Anderson Silva into the fighter that he is. In Part 1, we talked about Silva's transformation from flatfooted sprawl-and-brawler into dancing counterpuncher.
In this installment, we will look at Silva's greatest moments in the UFC along with some of his craftiest.
Rich Franklin I and II
Against Rich Franklin, Silva showed his greatest trait—a willingness to adapt to the fight. Rather than come out and move, as he had against Chris Leben and had been moving toward doing in most of his fights at this point, Silva came out flatfooted with his hands high and ready to parry Franklin's awkward strikes.
Silva didn't dance away or side step as Franklin attacked—rather, he covered up or parried and reached directly for a collar tie on Franklin's head. When he succeeded in getting his double-collar tie, Silva introduced to the American mainstream what Wanderlei Silva had given the hardcore fans a taste for several years earlier: the beauty of knees to the face from the double-collar tie.
Like the rest of Silva's game, his clinch benefited from going in a different direction than his Chute Boxe teammates. Where Wanderlei or Mauricio "Shogun" Rua would grab an opponent's head and yank on it until it was sore, throwing themselves off balance with jumping knees to try and cause some damage, Silva would throw low kicks and body punches from his clinch and use trips to off-balance Franklin.
Silva's knee strikes to the ribs were also some of the finest I have seen in MMA.
The abruptness and decisiveness of Silva's dethroning of Franklin—a champion with two successful and routine defenses at the time of their bout—captivated the public. Although Franklin was given a rematch, he lost in an almost identical manner.
It was interesting to see Silva fight to a game plan so perfectly suited, as it turned out, for his opponent—and even more exciting to see the kind of combinations that Silva, traditionally a counterpuncher, could put together on offense.
Silva's bout against Patrick Cote might seem an interesting bout to put on here because almost nothing happened before it ended due to freak injury. Cote was a strange choice for a title fight and seemingly offered little to challenge Silva, but he stumbled onto exposing arguably Silva's biggest flaw.
Silva is a counter fighter almost exclusively—even his brilliant clinch work against Franklin came off parried or blocked strikes. Hands down or not, Silva fights safe. He likes to see what's coming and then then deal with it—not run in and risk getting caught with a punch that he didn't see coming.
This fight turned into a tedious game of cat and mouse, with neither man quite sure which he was. What Silva did learn from it, however, was that he needed weapons to outpoint opponents who would try to make him engage.
When Thales Leites refused to attack Silva, Silva unleashed the long thrust kicks to the knee joint that he is now known for, along with the roundhouse kicks to the calf and other lengthy, noncommittal techniques.
This ability to win fights when the opponent wanted to force him to lead played out well for Silva against Demian Maia. Maia looked for any excuse to pull guard, but of the 60 strikes that Silva threw in the bout, around 40 were long leg strikes. They flustered Maia, while Silva never had to step into danger.
Being an exciting fighter but unafraid of a boring fight because you know you can still win is something that goes underappreciated. Silva could have charged Maia, Leites or Cote at any point, but he could have been knocked out by Cote (not too likely) or dragged to the ground by the mildly dangerous Leites or the incredibly dangerous Maia.
By far, Silva's most impressive victory in many fans' eyes was his destruction of the durable Dan Henderson. Henderson not only has an iron jaw but has fought a who's who of names in the MMA world. Henderson was easily the biggest name Silva ever met, and Silva rose to the occasion.
After a first round that saw Henderson hold down The Spider, doing little but covering the champion's mouth and nose with his hand (now illegal), the fight unfolded on the feet in the second frame. Henderson clipped Silva with some good punches, but as soon as Silva lured Henderson into a brawl, he was able to change level, slip and land his sinister left straight.
The same punch that stunned Leben and turned the rest of the fight into a one-sided beating was the one that did Henderson in.
Henderson—iron jawed but often dropped—stumbled, and the champion followed him to the floor. Finishing with a rear-naked choke, Anderson showed that he could hang with world-class, well-rounded opposition.
Silva's knockout of Belfort can perhaps be considered the pinnacle of his martial arts career. In Belfort, Silva met a fellow Brazilian with hands just as dangerous as his own.
In other ways, though, the two men were stark opposites. Belfort is an aggressive swarmer who rarely engages in counter fighting or strategy at any deep level, whereas Silva is a counter fighter to the point of inactivity at times.
Silva not only knocked out his foe but did so in the opening minutes of the bout. By pulling out an unorthodox (at the time) strike early on with a front snap kick to the jaw, Silva was able to catch his opponent off guard and get a quick finish over an opponent who would have been more of a threat every moment that he was in the Octagon.
Jack Dempsey was famous for his early finishes, and whenever asked about it, he would reply "the sooner the safer." Whenever Sugar Ray Robinson was asked if he carried any of his opponents who seemed completely overmatched, he would respond the same way.
If a fighter respects his opponent and thinks him to be a threat, it is often better not to spend time "feeling out" but to hurt them quickly.
Fedor Emelianenko over Tim Sylvia and Jose Aldo over Cub Swanson are two other quick victories over elite competition that resulted from unorthodox techniques and swarming early. Sylvia and Swanson are very good fighters, easily better than most in their respective divisions, but neither would come anywhere near talk of a rematch because they were perceived as being completely blown out.
Silva's greatest trick was doing the same with Belfort. After an initial bull rush from Belfort, Silva managed to hypnotize him into standing still outside of boxing range but within Silva's kicking range. As Silva began to move, Belfort braced himself and began picking up his lead leg to check a low kick.
He never saw the front snap kick enter through the blind angle.
Belfort's decisive loss to Silva—and use of testosterone replacement therapy—have effectively kept him out of title contention despite crushing Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold, among others.
The kick was called the greatest knockout in UFC history. It ushered in an era where the front snap kick to the jaw has become a relatively commonplace and effective technique.
From elite strikers such as Lyoto Machida to grapplers who lack grace on the feet such as Dong Hyun Kim and Josh Thomson, the front snap kick has worked its way into the mixed martial arts mainstream and will always be compared with Silva's knockout of Belfort, when he introduced the world to this unappreciated technique.
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.