A couple of weekends ago, during the main event of UFC 162, the MMA community bore witness to, arguably, the most monumental event in the organization’s history. Indeed, in the blink of an eye, the storied reign of Anderson Silva atop the UFC’s middleweight division came to a sudden, crashing end at the hands (or more specifically left hook), of Chris Weidman.
Predictably, shortly thereafter, fans and UFC brass alike began to clamor for an immediate rematch. As the thinking goes, a rematch, and subsequent victory by the now-former champion, would go a long way in restoring some of the luster that Silva’s legacy lost that fateful Saturday night. But is an immediate rematch really the best way to go about rehabilitating said legacy?
Sure, from a purely financial standpoint, the decision is a no-brainer; Weidman-Silva 2 would undoubtedly be one of, if not the, promotion’s biggest blockbusters to date. But as far as Anderson Silva’s legacy is concerned, this path would be a risky proposition at best.
In many ways, Weidman-Silva 2, and its anticipatory buildup, could very well be reminiscent of another shocking UFC upset and its subsequent rematch. Interestingly, Frankie Edgar, who was a co-headliner at UFC 162, was also a co-headliner to Anderson Silva at UFC 112, the infamous Abu Dhabi card, when he dethroned the UFC’s then-lightweight champion, B.J. Penn.
At the time, many pundits considered B.J. Penn virtually invincible in his natural 155-pound weight class. And it was hard to dispel this notion; during his second foray at lightweight, Penn was indeed on a veritable reign of terror, discarding title challengers with disquieting ease. And yet on that day, in Abu Dhabi, “The Answer” solved the riddle that was B.J. Penn.
As soon as the 50-45, 48-47, 49-46 scorecards were read in favor of the challenger, the outrage to the result was immediate—the outcry, vociferous. The masses demanded an immediate rematch. In the eyes of many in the MMA community, B.J. Penn’s loss to Frankie Edgar was but an aberration, a minor blip on an otherwise stellar career at lightweight. Surely, a rematch would rectify this and all would be well in the world again, right? Wrong.
In their second encounter, at UFC 118, Edgar defended his new crown by defeating the former champion Penn in a far-more-decisive fashion.
Clearly, in the short span between their two bouts, Penn’s game had not evolved, both physically and mentally, to a level required in order to reclaim his title. The benefit of hindsight illustrates, unequivocally, Penn would have been better served had he not been thrust into a rematch with Edgar so soon, but had, instead, taken the time to properly absorb his defeat and grow from the experience.
Penn’s trajectory after his upset loss to Edgar at UFC 112 stands in stark contrast to that of another all-time great, Georges St-Pierre, after his own shocking loss to heavy underdog Matt Serra at UFC 69. Interestingly enough, following what is, unquestionably, the greatest upset in UFC history, the calls for an immediate rematch were relatively muted. Collective outrage of the masses? There was none.
As a matter of fact, before getting another crack at Matt Serra and the championship gold, circumstances would dictate that GSP fight twice in the meantime, against a dangerous Josh Koscheck, and then for the interim UFC welterweight title in a rubber match with Matt Hughes. Looking back on it now, one could surmise that being denied an immediate rematch against Serra was actually a blessing in disguise for St-Pierre.
Indeed, the trajectory that GSP ultimately followed seemingly allowed him to not only reinvent himself as a fighter, but to also further distance himself from the psychological trauma of his first meeting with Serra. When they finally did meet again, at UFC 83, Georges St-Pierre easily dismantled Matt Serra to regain his title.
Incidentally, St-Pierre hasn’t tasted defeat since that fateful night of UFC 69 and is currently enjoying one of the most venerable runs in UFC history, having dispatched of a veritable “Murderer’s Row” of challengers since reclaiming the welterweight belt.
In Anderson Silva’s case, many questions abound. Which course of action would ultimately be advisable, insofar as his legacy is concerned?
Should he throw caution to the wind and seek an immediate rematch against his conqueror? Is it prudent to seek an immediate rematch against someone who has displayed that he can solve the riddle that is “The Spider”?
Would Silva be wise to heed the teachings from the cautionary tale that was B.J. Penn vs Frankie Edgar and seek tune-up fights before attempting to reclaim his throne atop the middleweight division, à la GSP?
Silva’s place in the pantheon of MMA greats is assuredly secure. But if he were to lose the rematch to Weidman at UFC 168 in December, which is a very real possibility, considering that Weidman was only a 2-1 underdog in their first bout, his legacy as the “Greatest of All Time” would undoubtedly suffer irreparable damage.
A second defeat in a row would by no means diminish his many accomplishments inside the Octagon that will forever remain entrenched in our collective imagination. But his "aura" would undoubtedly be tarnished forever. The legend that is Anderson Silva would become, sadly, a tad bit less legendary.
Is this a worthwhile gambit? Only time will tell.