Posted 12/30/2013 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC 168 Review

Sports don’t often make me feel sad. I felt sad when Mark Buehrle left the Chicago White Sox. I have a hard time watching a decrepit Muhammad Ali prepare and then fight Larry Holmes in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary. But it’s hard for sports to leave this curmudgeonly and jaded nearing-30-years-old man wistful and mopey. Sports are fun, at their best. At their worst, they are banal and arbitrary and nihilistic, easily avoided and forgotten.

When Anderson Silva fell down clutching his leg after a kick, I thought he tore a ligament in his knee or ankle, how it was a screwjob ending to such an important fight. Then I saw (and heard) him screaming. Then I saw the replay.

Silva throws a kick with his left leg at Chris Weidman’s lead left leg. Weidman lifts his leg to check it; Silva’s kick lands just below his knee. Silva’s shin breaks in half, his foot dangling like a genetic deformity. The replay angle opposite Silva shows the realization in his face as he draws his leg back to plant. He crumples to the mat, clutching at the break.

We come out of the replay, and a commission doctor is holding Silva’s leg, attempting to set the bone, one assumes. Referee Herb Dean clutches Silva, reassuring him that the doctor is taking care of his leg. Silva screams. And screams. And screams.

The screaming didn’t stop, apparently. Ariel Helwani tweeted:

Anderson is yelling at the top of his lungs on the stretcher backstage. I’ve never heard anything like that. A horrible sound. … I’m going to remember that Anderson scream forever. You try not to get emotional here but it was truly heart-breaking. A cruel end.

It wasn’t so much the injury or Silva’s reaction that got me. You watch sports long enough and you’ll sit through your fair share of horrific-looking injuries and the horrific screams that result.

For me, it was the subject of the injury, his place in his sport, and the point on his career arc. Silva snapping his leg throwing a kick is Washington Wizards Michael Jordan shredding his shoulder on a dunk or New York Rangers Wayne Gretzsky slamming into a goalpost and breaking his back. It’s an end to a career without poetry or grace, but the cold realities of the nature of sport and the frailty of the human body.

And it makes me sad. We’ve seen athletes like Bo Jackson and Sterling Sharpe have had careers taken away from them, but in their peaks. Jordan and Gretzky and Jerry Rice played on unfamiliar teams as lesser (though still good) versions of themselves. Outside of auto racing, I cannot recall an athlete of Silva’s caliber forced out of competition by such an intense, traumatic, and memorable injury as his.

* * *

-The injury leaves Chris Weidman with another sort-of unsatisfying finish, but he proved his worthiness, in any event. Weidman fought Anderson Silva for just over twelve-and-a-half minutes. At no point was he outclassed or embarrassed. The first round on Saturday night felt more Penn-Edgar II than St-Pierre-Serra II.

Silva’s decline was most apparent just over a minute into the first round. With Weidman pressing him against the fence, Silva wraps his arms around Weidman’s head. Silva made a lot of money for Rich Franklin’s plastic surgeon in this position. He’s brutal with knees here, but he also controls guys physically from the Thai plum, whipping them around, disrupting balance. Instead, Weidman comes over the top with a right that lands right on Silva’s ear and puts him on the mat.

Silva recovered and would wind up throwing a commendable volume of strikes from the bottom, but it became clear Silva was playing chess without his knights. He entered the fight a 3-2 favorite; post-knockdown he became a 2-1 underdog or worse. He wasn’t out of the fight and a fortunate event for Silva – a Weidman injury or laceration, for instance – could have swung the odds back in his favor. But it was the first time in Silva’s MMA career he was fighting as the true, objective underdog.

-The UFC’s orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Steven Sanders, successfully repaired Silva’s leg in an emergency operation following the fight. Amazingly, Silva’s only looking at 3-6 months of recovery time. That said, what brings him back at this point? UFC President Dana White claims he has more than enough money to retire on. You could probably sell a third fight with Weidman, but the new champion creates a fresh division with new/old challengers and that’s a lot to ask of Silva coming off such a traumatic injury.

-If we believe Dana White, Vitor Belfort is next up for Weidman. This is the “new new” Vitor Belfort. The scary one with the TRT and the kicks and the TRT. The thing is, up in the brain, it’s still Vitor Belfort, and Vitor Belfort and his brain can be beat with pressure. He, like Bob Sapp and Mirko Cro Cop and so many other bully fighters, can be beat simply by not backing down. Chris Weidman just needs to spend 5-8 minutes in the clinch or in top control and then Belfort quits mentally. Of eight fights that have gone past the second round, Belfort has one only two: decisions over Heath Herring in 2001 and James Zikic in 2007.

Oh, and it’s horseshit if Weidman has to fight Belfort in Brazil. Straight horseshit.

-Two thoughts on Ronda Rousey:

1) Until she finds a suitable foil, her legacy’s ceiling is Royce Gracie in the early years. All-time greats have great rivalries. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Roger Federer has/had Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Michael Jordan had Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas and Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler.

Rousey’s accomplishments are impressive, but it’s coming against overmatched competition. Rousey has a dominant judo game and a devastating finishing move, but her biggest advantage is sheer athleticism. Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche and Sarah Kaufman are skilled, talented fighters, but they aren’t great athletes. Brock Lesnar won the UFC heavyweight title similarly. He wasn’t the most talented fighter in the division; rather, he was bigger, stronger, and faster than the guys put in front of him. Then he ran into guys who could match him in skill and athleticism.

2) With St-Pierre “retired” and Silva likely looking at a full retirement, some people – and the UFC may play a part here – are pushing Rousey as the UFC’s top draw. You can make the case she’s the biggest star, but I’m not sure we can anoint her as top draw. She has headline a single pay-per-view that drew 450k buys, which is a great number, but a number aided by the historical nature of the event.

Jon Jones has eclipsed 450k buys in all but one of his fights, the single exception being his latest defense against an awfully underpromoted Alexander Gustafsson. There’s also Cain Velasquez who drew big with Brock Lesnar and in his rematch with Junior dos Santos, but who drew poorly in an overseas card in his headlining debut and challenger-by-default rematch against Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in May. The third dos Santos fight disappointed, as well, murking up the argument, but Velasquez is 1) the heavyweight champion and 2) going to continue to be marketed toward a fight-crazy Mexican/Mexican-American demographic.

-The UFC announced Rousey will next defend her title against Sara McMann at UFC 170. This has a few points of significance. 1) Rousey defends her title exactly 8 weeks after UFC 168, which might be the quickest turnaround for a major champion in MMA history. 2) It leaves Cat Zingano out in the cold, despite promises she was next in line for the winner of Rousey-Tate. 3) It allows the UFC to promote two medalists in the middle of the Winter Olympics.

I had some reservations at first, that the UFC was sacrificing McMann for a marketing money grab, but McMann’s 33 years old. She’s only seven fights into her career, but that’s only one fewer fight than Rousey. Ideally, you’d have Rousey fight Zingano (who is only 8-0 herself) and try to get McMann one or two fights in the interim, but it’s a move that makes sense with such a shallow talent pool and the Olympic angle.

-Travis Browne demolishes Josh Barnett, more than earns the three or four spot (I’m not sure what rankers are going to do with Daniel Cormier) in the heavyweight rankings, and I still just can’t find a reason to care about him. Is it his look? Is it the fact that dos Santos and especially Velasquez beat him handily? I don’t know. I’m sorry, Travis Browne, you’re just not for me.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter.  



Mike Fagan