As Anderson “The Spider” Silva stood up after being knocked out for the first time in his professional MMA career, he looked every bit the 38 year old man he is. There was nothing mysterious about the outcome of his fight with Chris Weidman, nothing controversial. It was a left hook – which Silva feigned injury from (comically wobbling about like a cartoon character) – that started off a striking combination that followed with another left hook, a right hook, a right jab (almost, technically, a backfisted jab) and, finally, a powerful and crisp left hook that caught Silva leaning back, chin right up in the air, that floored the long-defending champion.
The following ground strikes – a right straight, left hook, right hook, left hook, right and left hook combination that referee Herb Dean caught a bit of while stepping in – were purely academic. The champ was out.
The king was dead. Long live the king.
Anderson Silva was so concerned with Weidman’s takedown and ground game – he is a 2-time Division 1 All-American collegiate wrestler – that he kept his hands at his waist during almost the entire fight. Credit Chael Sonnen with creating the template that opened that avenue. Most experts were convinced – as was I – that it would be on the ground where Silva was most vulnerable, where his toppling, if it ever did happen, would stem from.
During the fight, color commentator Joe Rogan was critical of Weidman’s gameplan: “
He’s not even attempting to take him down,” he said. “This is a huge mistake. Or not.”
The “or not” was due to how effective Weidman appeared during their first round. Although Silva had engaged in 28 more pro MMA bouts than the challenger, it appeared they were on even ground, skill-wise, from the sound of the beginning bell.
At the end of the first round, Silva appeared agitated. After giving Weidman a kiss on the cheek – almost as if blessing him before what he felt was inevitable unfurled, almost like he knew his time was limited – he couldn’t even sit on his corner’s stool. He was visibly, actively agitated. He knew his time was limited. He clapped at the challenger, taunting him airily, beckoning him back into the fray.
But it was all pomp upon circumstance. He was afraid. The “Spider” everyone was so in awe of, so fearful and self-defeatingly respectful of, was scared.
He hadn’t been punched like that before in the Octagon. Certainly, he’d been hit like that during practice, but that was practice. A fighter, ideally, gets getting punched like that out of the way during his camp, however tonight was the first time an opponent of his had connected with strikes during their fight in the Octagon and, instead of being fearful of a responsive attack, kept the pressure on and stood with him, forcing exchange after exchange.
Weidman had hurt him and most likely didn’t even know how bad.
During the one minute intermission between the only two rounds that took place, Weidman’s longtime striking coach Ray Longo – who was filling in for Weidman’s absent head coach Matt Serra (who himself knocked out Georges Saint Pierre in what is commonly considered the biggest upset in MMA history) – gave the challenger some water while his jui-jistu coach, Neil Melanson, spoke strategy into his left ear.
Across the cage, Silva recommenced his taunts to a deafening crowd.
The end came one minute and 51 seconds into the second round, following a front high kick – the strike that famously felled former champion and divisional contender Vitor Belfort – and leg kick combination from the defending champion, when Weidman connected with a lead left hook that crisply connected on Silva’s chin.
Silva responded with drunken boxing taunts, a facet of his game he so thoroughly incorporated into what he brought into the cage that night – and what he displayed so regularly in the limited time he had – that it seemed as if it was the only thing he’d been training.
Unfortunately, with drunken boxing you have to be able to hit your opponent. Otherwise, you just look like an asshole.
To reiterate, Weidman followed his initial left hook with another left – a repeat, same-side strike seldom thrown in MMA and something premier striking analyst Jack Slack, in his brilliant writing, keenly touched upon as a lacking element crucial to MMA striking growth – a right hook, a backfisted right jab and, finally (on the feet at least), a destructive left hook that sent Silva crashing to the canvas.
Ground strikes commenced.
“The Spider” was squashed.
Though on paper and in the record books Chris Weidman defeated Anderson Silva, it was Silva who truly beat himself, the victim of his own pugilistic hubris.
“He didn’t respect Weidman’s power,” said Rogan, “and Weidman cleaned his clock.”
During the post-fight interview, when asked whether or not Silva got into his head at all, Weidman revealed why he remained unfazed.
“Ray Longo, we brought in guys who tried that in fights with me, who do certain things during the camp to try to mess with my head,” he said. “I was ready for it, you know, it pisses me off when someone tries to do that with me and I knew, just little by little, I was going to creep on him and when he’s sleeping, I’m gonna get him.
“No one’s invincible. I didn’t want to say it during the camp, but I looked up to that guy for a long time.”
Strangely and appallingly, the attending crowd was unbelievably nasty in its booing towards Silva, who remained as humble as always during his post-fight interview. That he had just woken up from being knocked out cold and still had a better command of the English language than many native speakers I know is a testament to his intelligence and quest for growth. He emphasized his appreciation for what the UFC and the United States provided him.
“I changed my life and I changed the life of my family because I live in the United States,” he said. “Chris Weidman is the best tonight. Chris Weidman is the best. He’s the new champion. He has my respect, because Chris is the best now.
“I no fight more for the belt. I change my life now after this. I work for a long time – I have my belt for a long time. I relax now. I’m back for my family.”
At this junction, Rogan picked up on the possible implications of Silva’s words, and asked whether or not he was retiring.
“No, I have ten more fights,” he answered, before repeating, “I no fight more for the belt. I’m tired. I relax now. Chris is the new champion.”
Silva’s entourage, which included manager Ed Soares and longtime friend Pedro Rizzo, stood behind him, prepared to walk him back to the dressing room and – most likely – accompany him to the hospital for a post-fight checkup. Everyone in his camp wore “Anderson Knows” shirts, a Nike throwback to the 90s “Bo Knows” era.
Weidman, who had been watching intently from across the cage, walked over after the interview and the two embrace warmly, an absolute passing-of-the-torch moment. There was a supreme genuineness to it, nothing manufactured. After shaking hands, Anderson Silva smiled at Chris Weidman. It was both unbelievably beautiful and sad.
Ray Longo, the man responsible for equipping Weidman with the strikes that befell Silva, made sure to embrace the former champ as well before the opposing camps separate.
Ric Flair of pro wresting fame once put it as perfectly and succinctly as anyone ever could: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Not only did that occur last night on the biggest, most prestigious stage possible, but it was executed in emphatic fashion. The implications are clear: There is a new sheriff in town.
(Photograph courtesy of Jayne Kamin-Oncea – USA Today Sports)
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