In the moments that preceded Chris Weidman's historic left hook at UFC 162, Anderson Silva casually squared his hips, left his hands idly by his waist and leaned about as far back as his center of balance would allow him.
Though millions of his devotees yearned to believe otherwise, Silva had lost control to the first contender who could properly capitalize on it, and the iconic moment that followed served to prove it.
Silva has crafted his entire aura on what amounts to a disregard for anything akin to orthodox fight mechanics. He dropped to his knees, begging Demian Maia to strike him. He planted both feet and slipped Rich Franklin's shots with an otherworldly ease.
Why should his fight at UFC 162, against a fighter with fewer than 10 fights to his name, have been any different?
But that's just the thing, isn't it?
It was different in the only significant way—Weidman brilliantly doubled up on the jab, loaded the left hand and threw it with reckless abandon, aiming for Silva's chin at the very instant his torso could lean no further.
As Silva's body tumbled helplessly to the canvas, a chaos spread through the arena, reverberated in the minds of viewers at large and still hasn't subsided five months later as we await the rematch during UFC 168's main event.
In spite of Weidman's focused approach, thumping punches on the canvas and a submission attempt to boot, the mythical middleweight kingpin's showboating was relentless for the duration of the bout.
For the former champion, there was no return on his usual investment—the tricks of his trade weren't exposing Weidman as he'd expected.
Silva had seemingly entered the bout with a predetermined mindset to clown an undeserving contender, and he ended up paying dearly for it.
In spite of such a brutal loss—and no matter the outcome of his second chance on Saturday night—Silva's achievements in the sport of mixed martial arts are beyond reproach. His list of accolades, ranked up over the course of a half-decade title reign, are so tremendous that it would take a bit of arrogance to expect a critique of his tactics to have any meaningful effect.
Yet with all due respect to that mystique surrounding Silva, there's no reason to deny the obvious—no reason to disregard the fact that Silva fought Weidman with air of undeniable disdain, and more importantly, failed to alter that behavior throughout the bout.
Weidman's thunderous left hand was preceded by moments that were far more revealing. Silva slapped his legs, yelled provocations across the Octagon, willingly backed into the fence and pretended to get rocked by shots that landed cleanly. He did it all—up until the shot that sent both him and his title reign crashing down.
Silva breached the confines of his signature bait-and-counter approach to victory—he ceded all control to Weidman, and worse yet, he didn't seem to particularly care about any of it as the fight progressed.
Yet control, or at least the willingness to con his opponents into believing they possess it, is the former champion's claim to fame.
Silva's laser-guided striking, brutal clinch game and top-tier athleticism are firmly rooted in the premise that he unleashes them in controlled bursts, tempering the onslaught long enough for the opponent to believe that attacking is a wise decision.
Stephan Bonnar believed he was in control until the very instant that Silva's knee slammed into his solar plexus. Forrest Griffin, prior to missing a salvo of straight punches and eating a counter right hand, also believed he was in control.
In both bouts, Silva gambled and toyed with a notion we had all considered but one of which he was certain: He could push the threshold without breaching it.
He also has the ability to clearly redefine that threshold based on the merits of his opponent.
Case in point, it's important to remember that his fight against Vitor Belfort was, save for some early distance gauging, free of any antics. In Silva's playbook, Belfort's hands were lethal enough to warrant his utmost attention—to require his steadfast dedication from opening bell to fight-ending front kick.
Yet after a storied history of properly sizing up opponents in the early moments of every fight, Silva failed to do so when he squared off against Weidman. Perhaps his record was too scant, or worse yet, perhaps Silva had become so enchanted with own antics that he never thought to take the "All-American" seriously.
The same showboating that left him unscathed against hesitant fighters like Thales Leites was his undoing against a more steadfast Weidman.
Not for a moment did Silva manage to pick up on that.
As he whimsically bounced around the Octagon, the tide of control shifted in Weidman's favor. Silva failed to see that his sleight-of-hand efforts weren't working—the contender pressed forward, throwing shots only where necessary.
Weidman deserves praise for properly executing a game plan, even when confronted with a man previously regarded as nigh invincible.
He demonstrated that no one ought to be playing games in the Octagon. He didn't tinge Silva's legacy or significance to the sport at large, but he certainly made his claim to the middleweight throne by brutally stopping the pound-for-pound king.
Silva was ousted by a potent combination of his own disregard for danger, a willingness to overstep the figurative boundaries and the final series of blows delivered by a hungry younger fighter.
He lost control of the bout, his opponent and himself when it mattered most.
On Saturday night, The Spider can be certain of what should have been clear all along—Weidman is a more-than-worthy adversary, and given the right opportunity, he has both the desire and ability take out whichever version of Silva shows up at UFC 168.
Prior to their first bout, champion and challenger weren't necessarily on even ground. But now, in the wake of such a pronounced defeat, Silva can lay to rest any doubts of Weidman's worth.
Few would argue that a sizable portion of this fight rests on Silva's approach.
Will he enter the affair with appropriate diligence, or will he once again tempt fate by clowning around at any expense? Worse yet for the former champion, will it even matter if Weidman pursues him full force?
For these questions to have a favorable answer for Silva, he'll need to control himself at all points during the fight, meting out his physical and mental manipulations with utmost care.
In the "Countdown to UFC 168," Silva earnestly explains that, "When you lose control of something which you had under control for so many years, ever since you started practicing a martial art, you have to stop and review what you are doing right and wrong."
If he's to be victorious in the rematch, he'll have to embrace that message wholeheartedly.
He'll need to fight Weidman as an adversary worthy of his very best effort and his absolute focus—and hopefully one who has rekindled his unique approach to staying in control when it matters most.
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