It may not have been the most relevant fight on the UFC 139 card last night (November 19, 2011), but former world champions Wanderlei Silva and Cung Le fought like they had a a title on the line in a bout filled with unorthodox striking techniques and a plethora of violence.
Le, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, was entering the fight after over 16 months away from the cage due to movie commitments. He answered questions about hesitancy and ring rust by coming out strong, but when Silva finally ramped up the aggression, he was completely overwhelmed.
In fact, the Wanderlei Silva in round two looked vaguely like the Wanderlei of old.
So what mistake dampened Cung Le's homecoming party? And what in the world is next for both fighters?
From the beginning it was obviously that Wanderlei Silva had completely changed up his gameplan. Instead of charging in stubbornly and throwing with reckless abandon, he hopped around on his toes and stayed back. While this kept him from getting hit with counters that he couldn't see coming, it also played right into Cung Le's kicking style.
As Le gained confidence with his kicks, he also began to throw his hands more.
Watch the beautiful set up to the spinning back fist attack to the right. Pay attention to how Le begins with the side kick.
Just as Wanderlei thinks he has the kick timed and completely exposes himself to throw a huge counter right hook, Le spins backwards into him with a clubbing fist that has quite a bit of torque behind it.
The blow staggered "The Axe Murderer" but did not finish him as Silva quickly bounced back to his feet.
A key mistake Le made here is he didn't swarm Silva when he had him wounded. Instead, he went for a flashy spinning wheel kick, an attack that is not very accurate even when thrown by experts. If he'd just run in with punches, he might have been able to accumulate some serious damage but instead he let Silva off the hook.
Silva bounced back at the end of round one with an aggressive flurry of strikes that forced Le to back off, even perhaps winning him the round on some scorecards.
Another key mistake Le made was that he was very flat on his feet by the midway point of round one. This made it very difficult to get out of the way once Silva finally started turning on the heat.
And that he did, cracking Le with a big right hand that dropped the Vietnamese-American. Once he smelled blood, Silva didn't let up a bit.
He punished Le with elbows and knees in the clinch, but a massive knee delivered directly to the face from the Muay Thai plum was what sealed the deal as well as shattered the movie star's nose.
Le tried to hang on for dear life by shooting in for a single leg takedown, but when "The Axe Murderer" stuffed it and began dropping unblocked hammer fists, it was time to put a stop to the madness.
Wanderlei Silva (at least for one night) was back!
For Cung Le, he put up a hell of a fight, even threatening to score a finish on a couple of occasions, but Wanderlei Silva's experience and tenacity once the fight got up close was just too much for him and he was overwhelmed. For his effort, he took home a $70,000 "Fight of the Night" bonus. At 39 years old, and with plenty of movie prospects still in his future, I wouldn't be surprised if he takes his bonus and goes back to making films. Besides, it's probably not worth the downtime from the broken nose he received.
For Wanderlei Silva, this was a solid showing. He was much more patient, waited to feel Le out and then exploded once he felt he wasn't in danger. Sure, this allowed Le to nail him with several kicks to the body, but it was much better for his long term health than if he had waded in and eaten several punches to the skull.
While I would be elated if he chose this opportunity to retire on a high note, I'm also a realist and understand that Silva will not step away from MMA until he damn well is ready. If and when he comes back, some interesting fights would be Demian Maia, Jason Miller (win or lose to Bisping) or rising prospect Chris Wiedman. It's obvious that Wanderlei would much rather choose to go out on his own terms.
So what did you think, Maniacs?
Were you impressed with Wanderlei Silva's mini-resurgence against Cung Le last night? Do you think this is the last time we ever see Le compete in the Octagon?
For complete UFC 139: "Shogun vs. Henderson" results, including blow-by-blow, fight-by-fight coverage of the entire pay-per-view (PPV) event as well as immediate post-fight reaction click here, here and here.
All gifs by Zombie Prophet via IronForgesIron.com.