UFC: Breaking Down the Reasons Why Cung Le Is the Man to Beat Anderson Silva
As the saying goes: “You can’t please everyone all the time,” so too comes the certainty that styles make fights, and if Anderson Silva knows anything about the sport, it’s how to spot a fight that could be a barnburner.
While everyone has been screaming about Silva and his belief that fighting Chris Weidman isn’t really the best move for his career, they are being far too hasty in discounting Cung Le, the man Silva and his management said they were interested in for Silva’s next fight.
Truth be told, Cung Le is a very tough fight for Silva and could be the one to defeat the current pound-for-pound king in his supposed realm of greatest advantage: on the feet.
Weidman shouldn’t be discounted and I am not advocating any such thing, but July (the month Weidman has said he wants to fight Silva) is a long time to wait.
Le, on the other hand, is coming off a quick victory over Rich Franklin which in turn means he’s relatively healthy and available—two things Weidman is not.
Perhaps we would do well to try and look at things from Silva’s point of view, if such a thing is possible.
Silva has defeated dangerous fighters with a good (or great, depending on opinion) wrestling core, but he’s never faced a man who can claim with any kind of legitimacy to be his equal in a striking contest.
In facing a man like Le, Silva would be boldly going where he has never gone before; at this point in Silva’s career, after having done so much, it’s no surprise he wants to find the Frazier to his Ali, the Pacquiao to his Mayweather.
We often bemoan fighters for not seeking out serious challenges, but we should give credit to Silva for seeing the one challenge most have not, and in doing so recognizing that such a fight could end up being one of the greatest ever because of the danger.
In Cung Le, Silva could very well find his foil and more because Le is not only his equal in some areas, but his better...
The Kicking Attack
There are few people in the sport who can claim any kind of advantage over Silva in the arena of striking, but off hand, Le is by far the superior fighter when it comes to using kicks.
Silva is no slouch in this department, to be sure, but striking with kicks is Le’s specialty and he’s the best in the division in this regard and probably in the sport as a whole.
His kicks are fast, accurate and terribly powerful, coming from all angles and ranges, rarely needing any kind of set up.
Silva is the kind of fighter who loves to test himself, and overcoming the striking prowess of Le would be a huge feather in his cap.
But to do it, he’s going to have to find a way to neutralize those kicks, or else he could get seriously hurt.
As good as Le is with all facets of striking, Silva looks to have the superior knee strikes, especially when he has the Thai clinch locked up.
It is hard to think of anyone else in the sport having better knees from that position than Silva; once he locks it up he’s simply devastating, attacking the head or body.
Outside the Thai clinch, Silva has proven that his knee strikes are equally brutal at range and perhaps the only other fighter with better knees is Jose Aldo.
If Silva can get Le against the cage and lock him up, he wouldn’t need very long to pull the shorter man's head down into the kind of knees that end fights quickly, breaking bones along the way.
If these two men ever find themselves squaring off with fists alone, we’d soon learn that if there is an advantage enjoyed by either man, it’s so slight that splitting hairs would be easier.
Both fighters are excellent with their hands and their styles of boxing play to their frames.
Silva, with his long frame, can deliver straight punches like no one else in the sport, and he’s got a lot of power behind them. While he’s never really displayed any kind of serious commitment to the jab, it’s still in his arsenal of weapons and all of his strikes are delivered with excellent timing.
Le is a more compact puncher as befits his form, able to throw very accurate hooks and straights, and his punches benefit from the same desirable quality of timing as Silva’s.
Silva, being somewhat unorthodox in his boxing style, rarely tries anything risky with his punching, which aids him in maintaining a good defense.
This is in contrast to Le, who has very solid fundamentals yet throws shockingly accurate spinning back-fists that can leave him open to counters.
This area is really too close to call.
Anderson Silva is a man of many talents and among them is throwing some of the best elbows in the business.
Be it a straight, horizontal elbow across the face or the point of the elbow, delivered like a backhand, Silva can do it all with the kind of accuracy that diminishes the need for the application of excessive power, and that is a very rare thing.
While Le is no novice at the art of the elbow strike, he’s opted to develop other areas of his striking game, and that leaves Silva looking like a prodigy by comparison.
As a former Sanshou champion, Le is incredibly proficient in several kinds of takedowns, to such a degree that it would be very hard for Silva to keep from getting his legs swept or kicked out from underneath him.
The takedown style of men like Le is versatile and explosive, and the usual staging point of these takedowns is during striking exchanges.
This is one way Le could pile up points and win rounds against Silva, even if he doesn’t end up doing any real damage.
While Silva does have a takedown game, it is not nearly the level of a man as experienced as Le; when you consider that Le trains to stop takedowns with the likes of Cain Velasquez, the idea of Silva scoring takedowns becomes remote.
It may have that damnable aspect of point-fighting, but if Le gets his rhythm and manages to figure out Silva’s timing, the crowd (and the judges) is going to find the sight of Silva flying through the air too shocking to ignore.
This is one of the easier calls in such a proposed bout, for obvious reasons.
Silva is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and he’s been able to call upon those skills when the pressure is on and the title is but moments away from becoming the property of someone else.
While Le is no doubt schooled in the game of submissions, if the two men become embroiled in a prolonged struggle on the mat, Le is going to be the man treading water while Silva is going to be the shark.
This is hard to quantify for some very simple reasons.
Neither man is really a wrestler; they are both strikers who train wrestling simply because they must in order to get the fight back to where they want it: on the feet.
The time Silva spends training grappling is mainly in the world of submissions, which is no surprise given the men he trains with and their love of jiu-jitsu.
Le was a wrestler in college and trains with some incredible wrestlers, and he has proven that he can stuff takedowns with a higher degree of accuracy than Silva.
Given his time on the mat as a wrestler himself and his time training with men like Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, the advantage belongs to Le.
As one of the more prized attributes a fighter can possess, speed often trumps power and even technique if the fighter in question knows how to use it.
When you look at Silva and Le, both men are clearly faster than the average man, but not so much faster than each other that one would seem to have an advantage over the other.
Many of Silva’s strikes fly straight and true and that is one of the reasons I could vote for Silva being the faster man: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, thus the shorter the trip, the faster you get there.
But Le is also fast due to a kind of economy of motion and as a compact fighter, many of his attacks seem to explode out of a kind of kinetic chain of motion, especially his kicks and spinning back-fists.
Until we see them firing their best at each other in the cage, this one is too close to call.
If there is a holy trinity in the fight game, it has to be speed, power and chin.
Possessing one of the three is a blessing, two of the three a miracle, and three of three nothing short of divine influence; in the case of Silva vs. Le, the latter possesses the edge in power.
Silva is a stunning striker, but much of his ability to stop his opponents comes from incredible accuracy, timing and multiple strikes that seem to touch all the right areas like the point of a needle.
He can stop a fight with a single shot of his knees or a kick, but more often than not, he’s simply going to overwhelm his opponents with very hard, accurate shots that are simply too much to handle.
Le, while highly accurate, is capable of delivering a kind of blunt-force trauma with his shots that can blow all the lights out on the front porch with a single blow, be it from his fists or kicks.
When it comes to pure knockout power, the advantage goes to Le, but given how devastating Silva can be with his striking, it is a slight advantage only.
Much can be said about a fighter’s career before entering into the world of MMA, and Cung Le does have an undefeated record as a Kickboxer/Sanshou champion of 17–0.
But many call into question the validity of Le’s previous career because of the quality of opposition; the same cannot be said of Anderson Silva.
Silva has defeated some of the best the sport has to offer, and his record in the UFC is simply stellar.
Even if you combine Le’s Kickboxing and MMA careers together, Silva has still fought more times against greater opposition.
When you add to that all the time Silva has spent defending his UFC title and mantle as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, it is crystal clear that he is vastly more experienced than Le.
Perhaps few in the sport have acquired as great a mastery of range as Anderson Silva.
Yes, there is a kind of math in the combative sports and in that regard Silva is a Rhodes Scholar of MMA; he’s faced all different kinds of fighters from various countries and he’s been able to figure out the range far sooner than most and use that knowledge to either end the fight or win it handily.
Le is very good at figuring out range as well, thanks in no small part to his kicking game and how he can use those strikes as range-finders, but in the end, he still stacks up as the student to Silva’s professor.
The lesson could be quite painful for Le if he’s not careful about choosing his battles and playing to his strengths at all times.
Perhaps a byproduct of his mastery of range, Silva is perhaps the finest defensive fighter in the sport today.
Hitting Silva while he is standing still, chin open and arms at his sides has proven to be very difficult as he not only knows the range so well, but can also read body language expertly and saves energy by moving to avoid by an inch rather than a foot, keeping himself in perfect position to counter.
Le, as great a striker as he is, cannot claim anything of the sort. His style of evasion seems to depend on him moving his entire body out of harm's way, and in his fight with Wanderlei Silva, that cost him when he ran out of room and got caught against the cage.
Would Anderson Silva be able to do that against someone with as versatile and dangerous an offense as Le?
That seems to be the question, and there is no real way of knowing until they fight, but based on past performances, Silva holds a serious advantage here.
There are many things that are hard to quantify when it comes to accessing the strengths and weaknesses of a fighter and perhaps the hardest is that mythic quality of having a granite chin, save for men like Andrei Arlovski, who seem to be cursed with jaws so fragile they break from any shot.
The obvious considerations are: Has either fighter been knocked out?
Cung Le has been knocked out once and then stopped once due to an accumulation of serious punishment at the hands of Wanderlei Silva, although some think the stoppage was premature.
Silva, on the other hand, while never having been knocked out in his career, was knocked down on more than one occasion by the light-punching Chael Sonnen.
Arguments could be made for both men; for Le, he was caught off guard by Scott Smith and then short-changed by the referee against Wanderlei Silva.
For Silva, the argument could be made that his rib injury, coupled with his preoccupation for defending against Sonnen’s capable takedown game, left him badly off balance and unfairly susceptible to being knocked down.
For the purpose of this analysis, a second question comes to mind: “Could either man end up being knocked out by the other?”
Given the skills and attributes of both fighters, the answer is obviously yes, and therefore I consider them even.
While many would say that anyone who trains with Cain Velasquez would have to acquire great conditioning—if by nothing else than simple proxy—in the fight game, nothing answers the question of conditioning quite like history.
And history has shown us that Silva can go the distance, fighting hard all along the way, and still pull out the victory.
Some believe in giving credit for the unseen, where I tend to draw the line at giving nothing more than the benefit of the doubt.
So in that spirit, Le gets the benefit of said doubt, but Silva gets the advantage.
No, I didn’t make the title to mislead anyone, I simply wrote it in accordance to the one thing that I rely upon above all else: styles make fights, especially considering how old both men are.
In all likelihood this is going to be the kind of fight fans and detractors of Anderson Silva have been waiting for: a brutal stand up war that sees both men battered and probably bloodied.
But at the end of the day, I believe Cung Le has the better chance of winning because he is better at using his long-range weapons than Silva is (which is saying a lot); throwing fast, nasty kicks to his head, body and legs, which will force Silva to come in close, engaging in the kind of shoebox brawls that won’t allow him to use his best weapons—straight punches and kicks.
Inside, unless he locks up a Thai clinch with ease every time, he’ll end up hooking with a hooker, which is never a good thing.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he has to worry about losing points every time Le kicks his legs out from under him, and the closer Silva gets, the easier that is going to be for Le.
I honestly believe Le is equal to Silva in boxing and speed and has the edge in KO power, wrestling, takedowns and kicks, and that means a lot in this clash of styles.
Given how all the pressure is going to be on Anderson Silva, unless the champ finishes Le early by working elbows and knees in the Thai clinch, he’s going to find that most of his advantages do him little good in Le’s wheelhouse.
Prediction: Le via unanimous decision