UFC 162 brought one of the greatest surprises in recent UFC history as the relatively inexperienced Chris Weidman knocked out the great Anderson Silva. Weidman has just nine fights to his name going into the middleweight title bout, and had been absent from the sport for a year (a quarter of his total career) due to injury.
Here's the GIF of the knockout. You're going to want to keep that open.
Unfortunately, Weidman has been robbed of some of the glory that he deserves. Many fans and journalists are claiming his KO to be more a case of Silva losing the fight for himself rather than Weidman taking the title from him.
But was that really the case?
Weidman won the first round in fairly convincing fashion as he took down the champion, landed good punches and attacked with a kneebar and heel hook. Once the fight returned to the feet, Anderson Silva went to his showboating and looked to convince the judges that he was winning the round based on his confidence and bravado.
Sadly, MMA is the kind of sport wherein judges can be fooled into thinking that showboating actually means something. Some fans are certainly still convinced Silva won the first round.
In the second round, it was more of Silva going about his usual antics and waiting for Weidman to overextend himself. The challenger did a wonderful job of continually moving into good striking range rather than lunging in at Anderson's bait. His jabs landed successfully through Silva's razzle-dazzle, and that had to irritate the champion.
I spoke in my "Killing the King" series about how Anderson rolls with or pulls away from punches and how his opponents in MMA make it a lot easier for him by never leaving the left-right-left punching pattern:
In MMA, this [rolling with strikes] should be easier than in boxing because almost all MMA fighters attack by alternating their hands—left-right-left or vice versa.
Boxers often double or even triple up the same hand mid-combination, which makes it difficult for the defender to turn side to side as Silva does.
Very few opponents have doubled up punches from one hand against Silva. I am not saying that doubling up would allow a fighter to knock Silva out—there isn't a simple answer to an iron chin. However, there is a reason why elite boxers rarely roll with every punch as effectively as Silva does; boxers are not as predictable and one-note in their offense.
Of course, I had no idea that Chris Weidman would be the man to try this and even less of a clue that it would end in a knockout for a fighter whose chances most of us were pretty pessimistic about.
Weidman's success in throwing Silva off his game and catching the champion off-balance before finishing him on the ground was largely due to his doubling up off his right hand.
Leaning straight back away from punches at the waist is a technical taboo in boxing. It opens up some lovely counters if you can convince an opponent to lunge at you—see Silva over Forrest Griffin or Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston (which I wrote about here)—but if you get hit while bending backward at the waist, absorbing the force of the blow could end badly.
A fantastic example of both the risks and rewards of pulling straight back from punches can be seen in Prince Naseem Hamed's bout with Kevin Kelley. Hamed was dropped multiple times as he was hit while trying to lean back, but equally, Hamed's own knockout punch came off one of these awkward backward leans which made Kelley overcommit.
Fans can complain about Silva leaning back with his hands low all day because it cost him the fight, but it has also won him numerous fights in his incredible win streak. It is difficult to lean as far back, or as freely, with one's hands up—try performing limbo while holding your fists to your chin for a lesson in human balance.
Anderson loves to draw fighters in by making their strikes fall just short.
Plenty of elite fighters in boxing, kickboxing and MMA have pulled away from strikes, as Silva does, and have become known as crafty fighters for their chosen style; Ali and Prince Naseem are a couple of great examples from the boxing world.
Unfortunately, most who do pull away from punches eventually get hit while they are doing so, which is far worse than getting hit while leaning backward in a stance with some semblance of a guard.
A great example of the problem faced in Silva's leaning away from punches at the waist can be seen in Sugar Ray Robinson's autobiography, Sugar Ray, in which he details preparing to fight the incredibly awkward and savvy Randy Turpin, who had bested Robinson for his title in their first meeting.
Recounting how Turpin pulled directly back from strikes, Robinson remembers that an old adviser, Soldier Jones, counselled him to "feint Turpin into yanking his head back...because then he can't yank it back no more."
After apparently being headbutted in their second meeting, Robinson began to worry that the fight could be called off as a technical knockout in favour of Turpin. Robinson reminisced, "In my desperation, I feinted Turpin into retreat with my left jab, as I had done to my sparring partners. When he yanked his head back, I let go a right hand to the face."
Turpin was awkward, but nowhere near as active in his backward leans as Anderson Silva is. The truth of the knockout is pretty simple: Weidman's double right hand caused Silva to lean back as far as he could before the left hook was released.
Watch Silva's fights with Stephan Bonnar, Vitor Belfort or any other who chose to strike with him. It was predictable left-right-left combinations from start until finish (whether that be a minute in or 25 minutes later). Anderson is so used to evading basic combinations that they just won't work.
Reaching to hit Silva—as Forrest famously did—is just asking to meet a counterpunch as your strikes fall short.
What Weidman did was to stay in range at all times while getting Silva to lean back. As the second, short right hand came (with nothing on it), Anderson pulled back just as he normally does for the left hook, leaving him with nowhere to go, bent over backward and unable to move his feet as Weidman's left hook sailed in.
The thing which most people won't understand is the importance of the powerless backhand in the middle of the combination.
So often in combat sports, it is the minor punches which are more important than the major ones. Had Weidman not gotten Silva to pull his head back with the slappy second right hand, the left hook would have sailed right past by an inch or two, and we would all still be talking about Silva's reflexes.
As it happened, the first time that Weidman used the double right hand to place himself in range for the left hook, it worked. Had the fight continued, I have little doubt that Weidman would have continued to work his way in and fake Silva into overcommitting to a backward lean.
A similar effect can, of course, be accomplished by doubling up the jab, but the double right hand obviously worked well on this occasion.
On the subject of leaning back at the waist to evade punches and how precariously positioned it can leave a fighter, I am reminded of an old trick that the great karate master Mas Oyama would perform to illustrate the importance of posture.
Oyama would have a man sit on a chair with his feet on the floor and his back against the backrest. At this point, Oyama, a strong man by most standards, would place his index finger on the seated man's forehead and ask him to stand up. When the man inevitably couldn't, Oyama would explain that it was more to do with the weight of the seated man's head being behind his centre of gravity and needing to move it forward in order to stand.
I am not so traditional-minded that I believe a fighter should never pull straight back from punches—that is simply old fashioned and has been proven wrong by the enormous success of men like Ali, Prince Naseem, Roy Jones Jr. and Silva. What I will say is that using this unusual style of evasion does raise the stakes enormously when the leaning fighter inevitably does get hit clean.
Keep your eyes open for my breakdown of Cub Swanson's performance against Denis Siver and my upcoming pair of articles on "The Fights That Made Anderson Silva."
Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.