Anderson "The Spider" Silva weaved a wicked web for over eight years and 16 consecutive victories, but at UFC 162, Chris Weidman landed a clean left hook that unraveled the whole damn thing.
Trust me, the sport of mixed martial arts is all the better for it.
The speakers at the MGM Grand Garden Arena blared Silva's signature "Ain't No Sunshine" as the middleweight tyrant approached the Octagon—there was seemingly no reason to think that Silva wouldn't walk away with his 11th consecutive title defense successfully completed. This was, after all, the man who had redefined the assumed potential for a cage fighter.
But in the end, Chris Weidman came through on his promises.
Though he stood directly opposed to the greatest fighter alive, the young contender won the opening round and vanquished the champion in the second frame. It wasn't an accident—Weidman capitalized on Silva's showboating with a beautifully timed combination that sent Silva's body crashing to the canvas.
For the briefest moment, time crawled to a halt.
In the ensuing aftermath, the air was filled with a mix of pandemonium, shock and disbelief.
Silva struggled to make sense of the emotions associated with his first loss in nearly a decade, whereas UFC President Dana White became irate at the hushed whispers of a fixed fight. Meanwhile, fans were left in a state of daze, confused as to the greater significance of the indomitable Silva's defeat in such a dramatic fashion.
Superfight dreams were dashed at the very instant that gold was wrapped around Weidman's waist—the new champion really shook up both middleweight rankings and the pound-for-pound list. Silva, after years of unstoppable devastation, was mortal once again.
But it's always darkest before the dawn.
In the week and a half since the upset, the MMA world has collectively recomposed itself and considered all the angles. The changes were unexpected and chaotic but they've also served to breathe fresh air into the sport at large. Silva was the head patriarch at 185 for so long that many struggled to imagine how he could ever be replaced on the middleweight throne.
Weidman is now invigorated with even more confidence than he had before the victory. "He had felt my power and knew I was way more powerful than him, and he realized he couldn't hurt me with anything he was going to do", he said in an interview with the LA Times.
Ardent MMA fans might recall an earlier age of mixed martial arts, in which Pride heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko was widely regarded as the sport's most invulnerable figure. The Russian juggernaut from Stary Oskol once had an aura of invincibility much like Silva's before his eventual downfall. When Emelianenko finally tapped to Fabricio Werdum under the Strikeforce banner, the MMA community didn't know how to react.
The great Emelianenko had fallen before our very eyes. but his loss served to ignite a spark in the combat sports world. Talk of the consequences was immediate and the repercussions were felt in all corners.
That very same paradigm shift is upon us again. As if the Emelianenko saga hadn't acted as enough of a cautionary tale, many of us began to presume Silva's victory at every outing, regardless of circumstances or the merit of his opponent.
His loss has indirectly put fellow fighters on check—if Silva was downed in such a brutal fashion, what does that entail for the remaining premier fighters? Namely, Jon Jones has had to deal with the ripples of Silva's defeat reaching his side of the pond. During the UFC 162 post-fight press conference, Dana White was asked who now holds the distinction of being the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter. He didn't hesitate when he emphatically responded, "Jon Jones."
In that sense, Weidman isn't the only fighter to benefit from his own victory—Jones seems to be approaching the entire situation in the wisest manner possible. At the UFC 165 pre-fight press conference, he voiced his thoughts on the matter:
It actually motivates me a lot to watch somebody who I look up to like that lose. It's just like a reality check. I try to keep my ego in check when it comes to the fight game. But watching Anderson lose like that, first of all it's what I would never do is put my hands down like that and fight my opponent that way. Watching Chris Weidman's dream come true, I have to make sure I continue to be the dream-crusher. It motivated me...To become No. 1 because Anderson lost doesn't really make me feel like I accomplished anything. So I am going to continue to work extremely hard to become the No. 1 light heavyweight to ever play the sport and to eventually creep up on Anderson Silva and the things Anderson Silva has done in his career.
I don't know about you, but my heart rate rises when I consider an even-further motivated Jones progressing into the next phase of his career.
Perhaps Jones witnessed the same thing we all had—years of calculated arrogance had finally caught up with the middleweight kingpin. The intriguing notion to now consider is just how many others have taken on the light heavyweight champion's outlook. How many fighters are clocking in additional gym hours, bumping up their drill intensity and aiming to add new wrinkles to their fight games after seeing Silva fall from grace.
Ironically, it's that very same fall that should excite MMA fans as we proceed through the coming months. Silva is a champion's champion, a fighter who doesn't hesitate when confronted with extreme adversity. His career is storied, and if we're willing to pardon that interim of several days where we thought a rematch would never materialize, he'll aim to impress when he rematches Weidman at UFC 168 in December.
Better yet, he appears to be able to walk the fine line that separates (what he perceives to be) the errors that cost him the title from the showboating that dazzled worldwide MMA fans in the first place. In an interview with Brazil's Globo TV, he shared his perspective as he begins to formulate a plan to regain the championship:
There was no lack of respect. I respect everybody. All the provocation, hands down... It should continue, it’s part of the show...Nobody likes to lose. I train four months to win. But you end [up] learning with your mistakes, and I learned the worst way possible. After everything that happened, we calm down and I realized I had something to question, even question Anderson Silva. I lost to myself, and that’s the worst loss. Losing by knockout shakes you, [it] will be in history, but will leave a lesson...Everybody has to retire, but it’s not my time yet. I’ll get a rematch. Chris gave me this opportunity and we’re fighting again. That’s another chance to overcome, reinvent myself as a person and athlete.
Silva is now on track to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes—if he takes Weidman seriously in the rematch, fans might bear witness to a display of his full dedication and focus. If he succeeds, his iconic tale will take another twist; if he fails, Weidman will be confirmed as the heir apparent to the middleweight throne.
As an added bonus, their expedited timetable for a rematch shifted the original main fight of UFC 168 into co-main event position—Ronda Rousey vs Miesha Tate will now serve as an action-packed prelude to Silva's second attempt against Weidman.
Talk about a way to end a year of combat sports.
Say it with me: there is a new middleweight champion and Silva is no longer undefeated in the UFC. Perhaps the revelation is tough to bear, but its effects are inescapably positive. Lessons were learned as other fighters were put on notice to never repeat his mistakes. A rematch for the ages has even been booked in record time.
Silva may have lost, but in the grand scheme of things, everyone will walk away as a winner.