The waiting is almost over.
By this time on Sunday, we'll know the future of the UFC middleweight division. We'll know whether Chris Weidman's initial win over Anderson Silva was more luck than destiny. We'll know whether the 38-year-old former champion was able to reassert his storied dominance.
We'll know if Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate squashed the beef.
These and other truths will be revealed. Until then, though, we're just going to have to guess.
Begin the slideshow (if you dare) to read Sunday's headlines today...
Chad Dundas: Hope you’re sitting down, nerds, because you’re not going to like this one.
Look, for the past dozen years or so, we’ve known your boy Anderson Silva dances to the beat of a band no one else can hear. That’s been even more evident in the run-up to UFC 168, as the quirky former champion has had little truck with the media’s efforts to peek inside his head.
Silva’s been largely noncommunicative as he prepares to rematch Chris Weidman. He said as little as possible during the pre-fight conference call before scheduling, skipping and rescheduling one-on-ones with the press. For a few minutes there, he donned a Santa hat and smiled for the cameras in Los Angeles, but the impression has been either that he’s very focused for this fight or that he’s completely over it.
I’m going with the latter. During the final few years of his historic title reign, Silva had clearly grown bored and listless. All told, our picture of the great man today is of a slumping artist, disinterested and in decline. He’s the aging wizard who’d rather sit quietly amid the dusty stacks of his library than be out slinging spells on the front lines.
His loss to Weidman at UFC 162 was a call to action, a signal that it was time to redouble his efforts and get back to being the man who toyed with the middleweight division for all those years.
Maybe he did. Maybe he even did enough to dispatch young Weidman this weekend and reclaim his title, but you know what? I bet he discovered he didn’t like it as much anymore.
That’s why no matter how things go on Saturday night—triumphant victory or crushing loss—Silva’s calling it quits. Even though he has something like 75 fights left on his relatively fresh UFC contract, this will be it for him. He’ll go off and do whatever it is the "Greatest of All Time" does when his day is done.
Play dominos. Sip tiny cups of espresso. Every once in a while levitate, spin around in midair and kick some cocky young pup upside the head. Adjust his spectacles. Go back to reading his newspaper.
Jonathan Snowden: Are you telling me Anderson Silva would retire before giving fans the fight they really want? The one we've been demanding for years? The battle of will and skill unprecedented in the modern history of combat sports?
Roy Jones just broke into tears thinking about living in a world where he couldn't tease the media about a potential Silva fight. For that reason alone, thinking about Silva walking away from it all hurts more than a little.
Seriously, though—I think there's something to the tale Chad is spinning. I think Silva was getting bored. He did look listless and above it all. I think he was thinking about challenges outside of the cage, like a boxing match with Jones.
But the Weidman loss at UFC 162 didn't exacerbate those feelings. More likely, it cured them. I suspect Silva has been re-energized by his first loss in years. A retirement isn't imminent; rather, this is the opening stanza of Silva 2.0.
Snowden: So far in her nascent MMA career, former judo Olympian Ronda Rousey has been a one-trick pony. Normally, that's a bad thing, a sign that a fighter's time will soon come. The clock is ticking on one-trick ponies. In the UFC we all know and love, one-trick ponies simply don't make it.
But Ronda is no normal fighter. And it's a heck of a trick, an armbar from top control. Opponents know it’s coming. They train compulsively to stop it. And in each and every contest, Rousey still manages to land it with an effortless cool that has helped make her one of the UFC's most compelling fighters inside the cage.
Every fighter Rousey has ever stepped into the cage against has fallen to her unstoppable armbar. None have even made it out of the first round. Her armbar is Attila and his Huns. It's as predictable as the tides, as powerful as a locomotive. It's an avalanche en route to the bottom of a mountain—even when you see it coming, it's impossible to get out of the way.
What's interesting about a powerful technique is not just the way fighters utilize it to win bouts. It's the way they use it to open up other parts of their games. Think Georges St-Pierre, using the threat of the takedown to open up his striking game. Opponents have to respect his shot—and that allows him to pick them apart with his jab.
I predict Ronda makes a similar transition in this fight. Everyone, including her archrival Miesha Tate, will see the armbar coming. That's what will allow Rousey to show off a developing part of her game, a powerful punch that will send Tate to the land of dreams—and Rousey one step closer to the UFC Hall of Fame.
Dundas: The "Rowdy One" turning away from the armbar? Wow, that actually is quite a bold prediction.
Honestly, I wish I could tell you I agree with you, because that would be something to behold, but I just don’t see this one ending via knockout. Instead, I’m going to play it safer on two fronts.
First: Ronda by armbar.
I think this fight likely ends up looking a lot like their first outing, back in Strikeforce in March 2012. Tate makes it interesting for a round (maybe a round and a half), but eventually Rousey uses her preternatural judo skills to take things to the canvas, where the tap occurs in short order.
Second, I’m not going to make allusions to the UFC Hall of Fame while writing about a fighter whose best-case scenario has her ending the weekend with all of two wins in the Octagon.
Dundas: While Josh Barnett likely didn’t do quite enough during 2013 to be considered for anybody’s ubiquitous year-end awards, his return to the UFC has so far been as successful as it was unlikely.
Barnett’s first-round TKO of Frank Mir at UFC 164 in August reminded those who hadn’t followed his career of tramping around the independent circuit the past few years that he’s still a top-10 heavyweight. In fact, he only has one loss during nearly the last seven years, falling to Daniel Cormier in the final of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix in May of 2012.
And yeah, admittedly, there are a lot of Mighty Mo Siligas, Geronimo dos Santoses and Nandor Guelminos on Barnett’s record during that run, but his last few outings have shown he still has the goods to compete with the modern breed of 265-pound fighters.
Browne certainly fits that bill, as the 6'7", Greg Jackson-trained monster figures to be bigger, younger, more athletic and better rounded. Still, Barnett has that wicked top-game submission arsenal, and at some point during the first round, he’s going to manage to drag Browne to the mat.
From there, he’ll lock on some crazy concession hold heretofore unseen anywhere besides those Erik Paulson catch wrestling videos you can call up on YouTube. Or, heck, maybe he’ll just settle for a good old-fashioned rear-naked choke.
Whatever the methodology, Barnett takes this one via first-round tappage. Bolt Thrower T-shirts for everyone!
Snowden: Randy Couture fought at a very high level well into his 40s. At a time when most men are growing an impressive belly and losing most of their hair, Couture managed only the latter.
Couture's success was great for his legion of fans—but it has also led to unrealistic expectations. Longtime MMA fans are starting to learn some hard truths about their favorite musclebound giants. First and foremost?
There is only one Randy Couture.
The great Fedor Emelianenko, a fighter so far ahead of his time it seemed he'd never falter, let alone fall, toppled against Fabricio Werdum and "Bigfoot" Silva. He's now a retired Russian hero, rocking ugly sweaters, eating ice cream cones and razzing polar bears.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the chocolate to Fedor's vanilla, has turned into the kind of fighter fans dread watching. "Big Nog" forces fans to cross their fingers and simply hope that he walks out of the cage on his own power. Winning and losing is immaterial; we just want to see him survive one more night.
Frank Mir, their UFC equivalent, has lost three in a row. One more and he's bound for a very tough talk in Dana White's office about his future as a professional athlete.
You'll note the only name missing from his generation's heavyweight four horsemen is that of Josh Barnett. Sixteen years ago, Barnett walked into the ring for the first time. Now 36, it's illogical to suspect Barnett will do what his peers could not—stay relevant as their age crept even with their jean size.
Barnett is already walking the same path Nogueira, Fedor and Mir have already trod. He just doesn't know it yet. Travis Browne, however, will be there to kindly help him on his way. Look for a brutal knockout at UFC 168, with Josh Barnett staring up at the lights and contemplating, perhaps for the first time, what he's going to do with the rest of his life.
Snowden: There's something about The Ultimate Fighter that can cause folks to straight-up lose their minds.
Take otherwise rational UFC president Dana White. He's seen thousands of fights, evaluated thousands of fighters and generally hit the mark. The man, like him or not, knows what he's doing.
And yet, in the moment, trapped in the TUF bubble, White once called Phillipe Nover the next Anderson Silva.
Nover's UFC record, you ask? Zero and three. The next Anderson didn't manage to have his hand raised a single time in a professional fight inside the Octagon. It was an early example of reality television's power to manipulate—even to manipulate those who are part of the process, like White.
That's why Chael Sonnen should have known better than to say Uriah Hall was not just a potential future star, but that the young man could beat Anderson Silva right then and there. White, too, bought into the hype, telling the press Hall was the real deal and ready for a stiff challenge. That he would win his season of The Ultimate Fighter was all but written in stone.
Kelvin Gastelum, of course, had something to say about that. John Howard, brought in to be an easy mark, also upset Hall. A cursory glance at Hall's record tells us that he's never won a fight against an opponent with his own Wikipedia page. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it isn't anything good.
It's now or never for Hall. A third consecutive loss would likely lead to his ouster from the promotion that so wants to love him. They've given Hall Chris Leben, once a middleweight gatekeeper, now a plodding gatekeeper auditioning for a future as a Walking Dead extra. It seems clear Hall isn't going to live up to the hype—but the UFC is looking to give him his moment. For once, I predict he's going to reach out and grab it.
Dundas: If Hall knocks out Leben this weekend with some kind of crazy spinning kick—thereby proving he won’t give up so easily on his own potential and also completing a kind of weird TUF cycle of life—a small piece of me will die.
But, yeah, I can totally buy it. You’re right about Leben. On a personal level, I like the dude a great deal, but the longer he sticks around the Octagon, the clearer it becomes that after the first two minutes of every fight he’s just going to slog around the mat throwing ponderous left hands.
Once every few bouts, somebody might stumble into one of them, but the regularity is gradually decreasing over time. If Hall spends even 10 minutes game-planning for this matchup, he should have that figured out, in which case, I’m not sure how Leben beats him.
Long story short, now that you’ve made me think this through, you’ve already ruined my weekend. Thanks, Snowden.