UFC 168: Weidman vs. Silva II — A Shocking Finish Confirms a New Era
Last night, at UFC 168: Weidman vs. Silva II, in his first title defense against the man from whom he wrested the belt on July 6th earlier this year, UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman retained his title when, in the second round, he checked a leg kick thrown by the long-reigning former champ, Anderson “The Spider” Silva, and Silva’s shin snapped in half on impact. It was a gruesome sight, made all the worse by the intense and obvious anguish Silva was in immediately after their shins made contact and he fell to the canvas attempting to hold the pieces together.
In my write-up of their first meeting, I detailed how it was that Weidman was able to finally best a man whose air of invincibility had reached legendary proportions, who had all but etched his likeness into the metaphorical mixed martial arts Mount Rushmore (adjacent, definitely, to a certain Sambo practitioner who went by the misleadingly immodest nickname, “The Last Emperor”):
“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.
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 fervor entering their rematch last night among fans and media alike was beyond palpable. Vegas odds makers, yet again, had Silva favored (coming in at -185 to Weidman’s +150) despite being the challenger, and rightfully so; he has set more records and reigned longer than any champion in UFC history. Even after last night’s events, his legacy will almost assuredly remain undiminished.
Silva’s legacy was something that had been increasingly brought into focus leading up to their second meeting, something which he’d been asked about countless times during a seven-day whirlwind tour that he, Weidman and UFC president Dana White had gone on back in late September to promote an event that White had promised would be “bigger than UFC 100” (the jury’s still out in regards to that). I was there to cover their visit to Miami and had the chance to interview everyone. The four main pieces I produced for MMA Owl showed three men in very different places in their careers.
White was a man on the verge of taking his company into uncharted territory, both literally and figuratively; the UFC was branching out their long-running reality competition, The Ultimate Fighter, into untapped markets such as China. To internationally facilitate those shows and a growing schedule of events that had Fox and its affiliated sports networks bursting at the seams, the premier combat sports organization needed to figure out a way to make everything easy and accessible for their insatiable fan base. Just this week, their plan was unveiled: UFC Fight Pass, a digital subscription service that promises to deliver a minimum of 10 exclusive live events per year, exclusive event preliminary fights, content created specifically for the service, the ability to watch every episode of The Ultimate Fighter, everywhere (it’s White’s vision that, eventually, The Ultimate Fighter will serve as a worldwide tournament that will see all the winners of their country’s respective shows face each other to determine who is the best in the world – a lofty ambition indeed), and access to a fight library larger than anything offered to fans before, ever.
Prior to his first fight with Silva, Chris Weidman and his family had been displaced from his Long Island, NY home following its devastation by Hurricane Sandy. He was on the last fight of his contract and had decided to hold out on renegotiating until after he met the pound-for-pound kingpin, something that was undeniably a risky move. And then he shocked the world, much like his mentor Matt Serra had years before against Georges St. Pierre. He was riding high, enjoying the perks the spotlight offered him and his family while resenting some of the drawbacks of his newfound fame, specifically the hangers-on that had come out of the proverbial woodwork.
Silva was as enigmatic as ever, alternating between playful and pensive. When I asked him about his legacy, comparing him to legendary baseball greats Joe DiMaggio and Roger Maris, he played down his accomplishments:
“Legends come and go,” he explained through his manager and translator Ed Soares. “Nothing that I’ve accomplished in mixed martial arts was anything that I focused on doing. I did everything – all the records I broke, all that – the most important thing was that I did it with love and I did it with dedication, and doing something I loved. So all those things didn’t really go through my mind.”
When I asked what changes he was making to his game to prevent what happened in their first fight from happening again, he offered simply:
“My mind is going to change.”
And, to his credit, there was no showboating last night. For the first time since his destructive UFC debut against middleweight gatekeeping bruiser Chris Leben (who almost assuredly also made his final appearance inside the Octagon last night, failing to answer the second bell after a lopsided first-round trouncing courtesy of Uriah Hall) and his twofold demolishing of Rich “Ace” Franklin, Silva’s hands were up high, his movement was crisp and his focus was keen. Even his walk to the cage was different; he knelt for an extended period of time – praying – before making his way out into the MGM Grand Gardens Arena in Las Vegas, NV.
But if doubts existed that Weidman indeed had Silva’s number during their last meeting, they were pushed further to the wayside when he delivered an even more dominant first round than he had in their first fight.
Both men arrived in peak shape; they were lean and well-conditioned. Following 35 seconds of tentative striking from both combatants, Weidman shot for a single leg, backing Silva against the cage. Suddenly, they were in the clinch – among the most terrifying areas for a fighter to be with Silva – and then Weidman connected with a solid right hook to Silva’s temple that dropped him to the mat. “The All-American” pursued him to the ground, throwing ground strikes with ill-intention. Silva established a closed guard, attempting to banish the moths from his mind, but Weidman was unrelenting, applying “the can opener,” an underutilized spinal lock technique (referred to in Judo as the kubi-hishigi) which forces the opponent on the bottom to uncross his feet, opening his guard and allowing for the topside fighter to either pass into a more advantageous ground position or to posture up for heavier strikes.
Weidman chose the latter, dropping bomb after bomb on the reeling 38-year-old. When they were separated at the end of the fight’s first stanza, Silva looked dejected while the champion showed none of the fatigue he displayed in their previous meeting.
There was a single technique which caught Weidman off guard in their first fight – Silva’s leg kicks. He admitted as such on numerous occasions, and I, along with everyone else paying attention in the MMA world, was interested in seeing how he planned on addressing the issue in their rematch (he’d brought Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, a UFC welterweight prospect and former karate champion, to help him prepare for the rematch). When Silva began chopping at his legs, would he try to catch the kick and take Silva to the ground, similar to what Cain Velasquez did to Bigfoot Silva? Would he try to avoid them, stepping out of their way altogether, a la Machida?
Weidman instead used a basic Muay Thai defense that Silva himself was all too versed in: he lifted his leg up, keeping both his leg and his foot locked at 90 degrees, and checked the incoming kick. The first time he did it, Silva’s right leg appeared no worse for the wear. But when the southpaw challenger attempted the strike again to the champion’s lead left leg, this time with his own left, his shin snapped an inch or two above his ankle.
Referee Herb Dean, who had presided over their first fight, recognized what had happened immediately and stepped in to call the fight at 1:16 into the second round. There were no follow up ground strikes this time from the champion. Upon seeing his opponent’s intense suffering, he circled away, taking a celebratory lap around the cage before returning to check on Silva, who writhed in screaming agony.
At 6:02 a.m. this morning, the UFC issued this press release:
“Following Saturday evening’s UFC 168 main event, former champion Anderson Silva was taken to a local Las Vegas hospital where he underwent surgery to repair a broken left leg. The successful surgery, performed by Dr. Steven Sanders, the UFC’s Orthopedic Surgeon, inserted an intramedullary rod into Anderson’s left tibia. The broken fibula was stabilized and does not require a separate surgery. Anderson will remain in the hospital for a short while, but no additional surgery is scheduled at this time. Recovery time for such injuries may vary between three and six months.
“Anderson is deeply touched by the outpouring of support from his fans and the entire MMA community. There has been no immediate decision about his future, and he would kindly ask for privacy at this time as he deals with his injury and prepares to return home to recover.”
Despite once more stopping the consensus G.O.A.T. in devastating fashion, Weidman’s claim to the middleweight throne may still be considered dubious by a contingency of the MMA masses. Many attribute his first win to Silva’s overt hubris, arguing that he gave the fight away by offensively offering little more than a few leg kicks between a comical series of in-cage antics. Likewise, there will be a great deal of naysayers who will contest this recent fight’s outcome, chalking it up to a freak accident.
And perhaps their arguments are valid, but the outcome remains the same: “The All-American” Chris Weidman remains undefeated at 11-0, he is still the UFC middleweight champion, and we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg in regards to what we can expect in the first new middleweight era in almost eight years.
As a fan, I am saddened by how Silva fell from grace. Despite never truly embracing his role alongside Georges St. Pierre as the UFC’s marquee fighter moving the company and the sport into their modern era, he remains, regardless, a beacon for what can be achieved in mixed martial arts – and, really, any walk of life – when greatness is truly striven for. Remember, this was a man who was on the verge of retirement before his friend, UFC and Pride heavyweight legend Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira, convinced him to give it one more try.
And he most certainly did just that, carving out a legacy in the process that today allows him to stand above all others as the greatest fighter of all time: Anderson “The Spider” Silva.
In the other bouts on UFC 168’s main card, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey retained her women’s bantamweight strap once more by armbar against a very game Miesha “Cupcake” Tate, who became Rousey’s first opponent to escape round one; Travis “Hapa” Browne utterly starched longtime heavyweight badass Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett, elbowing him into a first-round TKO after an ill-advised single-leg takedown attempt by Barnett agains the cage; perennial lightweight contender Jim Miller slapped an armbar of his own on an overmatched Fabricio Camoes and, in main card’s opener, a super-aggressive Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier (yes, that’s a Saved by the Bell reference) kicked an overweight and overwhelmed Diego Brandao’s ass from pillar to post en route to a late first round TKO. That’s right, folks – every fight on the main card was a finish.
What a way to end the year.
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