Posted 12/25/2013 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC 168 Preview, Part I

Anderson Silva was clapping when the camera cut to him. Minutes earlier, Silva had been knocked out by Chris Weidman, ending his sixteen-fight UFC winning streak and six-year middleweight title reign. Joe Rogan had just finished up his interview with Weidman and now turned toward the now-former champion. When asked how he felt after the loss, Anderson replied:

I work hard for this fight. I respect my fans and UFC, the fans here tonight. I respect USA because my dream is working. I changed the life of my family. I need to say thank you for Lorenzo, Fertitta brothers, Dana White, Joe Silva. Chris Weidman, tonight, is the best. He’s the new champion. Chris has my respect, because Chris is the best now. Chris is the best. I work hard, but Chris win. Hey, people, God bless you, all the people tonight. Thank you America for changing my life. Changing my [unintelligible]. I work hard. Chris is the new champion. That’s it.

And on the prospects of a rematch:

Uh, no. Chris is the champion now. [Unintelligible.] All the people tonight need to respect Chris. Chris is the best. That’s it. I finish my working. I don’t fight more for the belt. I change my life now because I work hard for a long time, I have the belt for a long time. I’m tired. I relax now. I’m back for my family. Chris is new champion. That’s it.

So, that’s retirement, huh?

No. I have ten more fights, but I don’t fight more for the belt. I’m tired. I fight for a long time. My legacy for the belt is finished tonight. Chris is the new champion.

It’s the same oddball rambling we heard last month from Georges St-Pierre. The circumstances were different and the message wasn’t exactly the same, but both men wanted nothing to do with title fights in the immediate aftermath. Their respective belts had become One Rings, giving them immense power at the cost of diminished souls.

Now we find ourselves with St-Pierre voluntarily giving up his title and stepping away from the sport, while Silva fights for the belt he forsake six months ago. What changed? Silva spoke his words with greater conviction than St-Pierre (who sounded like a guy talking to his BFF about breaking up with girlfriend and making sure she couldn’t hear even though she isn’t in the same room). It’s hard to believe that those words dissipated in the moment.

Was it money? Was it not wanting to go out on his back? Is he fighting for a belt he doesn’t want?

-Handicapping this fight comes down to two things: 1) Silva’s position on the age curve and 2) Silva’s motivation.

At 38, Silva’s an old man in MMA. He’s an old man for a style that relies on quickness and reflexes. He’s an old man fighting for titles. But he hasn’t looked old. Outside of the knockdown/knock out, Silva looked as good as ever against Weidman. Had he not toyed around, we might be talking about TUEs and TRT and Vitor Belfort is the devil.

He hasn’t looked old, but he’s still a 38-year-old man. A 38-year-old man who suffered the first knockout of his near-40-fight career. How does he react to that, if at all? Will he be more cautious? Or tentative? Will he second guess himself? Or will he brush it off as a fluke and trust himself and his skills?

And does he even want it? Despite distancing himself from the belt, Silva talked as if his motivation to continue fighting hadn’t waned. Conceivably, he could win the belt and retire. That reconciles his past statements with his current future. He gets to avenge his only UFC loss, retire with the belt, and make a boat load of money.

What if he wants to continue fighting, sans championship circus? The UFC would probably let him vacate only if he moved up to 205 pounds, but there the Jones superfight looms. And it’s not as if the circus goes away. Silva’s one of a handful of reliable draws the company can promote at the moment. The UFC will push him in main events. He’ll hear question after question about how many fights he’s got left in him, about his career choices, about his post-fighting plans. Perhaps, without the responsibility of the belt, Silva can leverage his standing with the company to reduce his burden of promotional duties.

Or maybe he’s decided he wants none of it and is content to pick up a $5 million check and walk away.

-Notes from the first fight:

1) Weidman gassed after the failed kneebar. This wasn’t heavyweight, hands-on-the-knees gassing, but Weidman visibly tired after losing the submission and giving up top position with two minutes to go in round one. I suspect the dreaded adrenaline dump and don’t expect a repeat in the rematch.

2) Weidman cannot stand with Silva, knockout be damned.

3) Silva’s clowning worked. Joe Rogan noted that you “can’t play around in the Octagon.” Disregard half of Silva’s UFC ledger. What Rogan failed to understand in the moment is that Silva’s antics goaded Weidman into his game. (It also helped that he lacked the energy to shoot takedowns effectively.)

4) Dear Chris Weidman, no more kneebars at the halfway point of the round. Add to that list: armbars from mount, dropping for guillotines, etc. Do not sacrifice position for a submission unless the round end nears.

-On April 19, 2008, Georges St-Pierre brutalized Matt Serra for nearly ten minutes en route to avenging his knockout loss and regaining his welterweight title.

Two years later on August 28, 2010, Frankie Edgar defeated B.J. Penn in more emphatic fashion than their initial fight four months prior, retaining his lightweight title in the process.

On Saturday night, we’ll find out if Chris Weidman’s reign is more Frankie Edgar or more Matt Serra.




Mike Fagan