The first time Chris Weidman fought Anderson Silva, it ended in controversy, public bickering and demands for an immediate rematch.
The second time there was merely sadness, and that queasy feeling in the pit of our stomachs that comes when very bad things happen to good people.
Weidman retained his middleweight title on Saturday at UFC 168, but only after his hotly anticipated rematch with Silva ended in a gruesome leg injury that may well close the greatest career in MMA history.
The finish came one minute and 16 seconds into the second round, when Weidman checked one of Silva’s whipping low kicks and the former champion suffered a badly broken left leg. Silva crumpled instantly to the mat, where UFC cameras lingered on cageside doctors attending him as he writhed and screamed in pain.
Weidman won again, and yet we still had no definitive answer as to who was the best 185-pound fighter in the world—a question that suddenly didn’t feel so important anymore.
As the scene unfolded, the only thing we could say for certain was that Silva faced a long, arduous recovery. At 38 years old and already coming off his first loss in 17 fights, fears were immediately raised that we’d seen the last of The Spider in the Octagon.
“First of all, I just want to say no matter what happened in this fight, he’s still known as the greatest of all time,” Weidman told color commentator Joe Rogan following the fight. “Lots of props to Anderson Silva. I wish him the best.”
If Silva can’t return, it will make a startling, unforeseen end to a 16-year career that was by turns sublime and occasionally frustrating. It will also stand as a stark reminder that a sport as taxing and at times brutal as MMA spares no quarter, even for its all-time greats.
The injury made for an unsettling outcome to the biggest rematch in UFC history and a bizarre climax to a pay-per-view card the company expected to be its best seller of the year.
Viewers who shelled out the inflated price of $59.95 for UFC 168 had already seen a couple of strange finishes. First, a very overweight Diego Brandao got crushed in a featherweight bout against Dustin Poirier. Then, longtime Octagon veteran Chris Leben likely ended his own career by conceding to Uriah Hall while on his stool between rounds.
Add to the mix a couple of quick finishes during the PPV card (which necessitated that the company re-air some prelim fights), and it was not at all the message the UFC wanted to send with its gala year-end show.
The last two eagerly awaited fights were supposed to clear the air after the earlier weirdness. Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate did their part in the co-main event, brawling through the three-round Fight of the Night before Rousey retained her women’s bantamweight title.
Silva and Weidman, though, was supposed to be the home run in the bottom of the ninth.
It has been nearly six months since Weidman took Silva’s title at UFC 162, via the sport’s most disputed knockout. Some fans and analysts dismissed it as a fluke when he caught a clowning Silva with a short left hook back in July, and the second fight was meant to serve as a referendum on the first.
We wanted resolution. We wanted to see what would happen if Silva played it straight. We wanted to know if Weidman was as good as the shiny gold belt around his waist said he was.
Now we’ll probably never know.
Just this: Through the first six minutes, the second fight had been all Weidman. The new champion hurt Silva with a short right hand from the clinch early in the first round. He came close to finishing the bout with a series of strikes on the ground before grinding out the rest of the stanza from inside Silva’s guard.
It seemed like shades of their first meeting when Silva came out a bit more game in the second. He caught Weidman with a pair of low kicks in the first minute and fired off a couple of mean-looking straight lefts.
It was on the third low kick that disaster struck. Weidman checked the kick and caught it on his knee. As Silva stepped back and tried to plant his foot on the mat, he collapsed in obvious pain, and referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight.
Silva left the arena on a stretcher and went straight to the hospital. At the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White said he expected the former champ would have surgery within the hour.
“I don’t want to count him out,” White said, “but I don’t want to count him in, either. That’s not what’s important right now. The important thing is that he gets the surgery and we go from there.”
For his part, Weidman knows that his second straight win over Silva will again spur the doubters, but he said while he felt bad for his opponent, it was no accident that he started checking those kicks.
“That was the No. 1 thing I got hit with in the first fight, so I did work a lot against guys with good kicks, working on checking them a lot,” he told Rogan. “I did actually think, if he’s going to go that hard on kicks like he usually does and I catch one on my knee, it could really hurt him. But it’s still crazy how that happened.”