Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Last night (Nov. 19) in the co-main event of UFC 139, Wanderlei Silva picked up only his second win in the past three and a half years. His other win -- a unanimous over Michael Bisping at UFC 110 -- left a little to be desired. His first proper fight at middleweight after a storied career at 205-pounds, "The Axe Murderer" seemed more gunshy, the result of three devastating knockout losses in almost as many fights.
The Brazilian was more reserved in his stand-up -- although he did manage to stun "The Count" twice throughout the fight -- but still picked up the victory. His next fight wouldn't well nearly as well for the feared striker. It didn't even take Chris Leben half a minute to put Silva to sleep and like that, the word "retirement" suddenly became firmly entangled with the Brazilian's immediate future.
Fortunately for fight fans around the world -- and unfortunately for Cung Le -- he brushed those suggestions off and stepped in for an injured Vitor Belfort to take on the former Strikeforce middleweight champion. It was a bout that saw Silva return to the the controlled chaos style he mastered in Japan and used to rule over Pride Fighting Championships (Pride) for five years.
But what good fight isn't without at least a little bit of controversy? The main event -- a 25 minute battle for the age between Dan Henderson and Mauricio Rua -- had its fair share as a result of the judges' decision. Some felt -- and have the Fight Metric data to back them up -- that "Shogun" should have won the fight. Others thought a draw would have been the right call.
So where the contention lie in Silva's bout?
Read on to find out.
As soon as the referee pried Silva -- whose body language more accurately mirrored that of predator in the wild killing its prey than that of a normal human -- Joe Rogan was quick to proclaim that the stoppage was incredibly early. His sentiments were echoed by Ariel Helwani on Twitter who simply said, "Very bad stoppage."
Before we get into that, let's take a look at the fight that led to that moment.
It started off as every Le bout does, with the Sanshou expert keeping enough distance between him and his opponent to throw each and every spinning strike imaginable. It worked for a while as Silva was unable to get in close to neutralize Le's preferred method of offense and when the former Pride star began bleeding heading towards the end of the opening round, it appeared as if it would be a long -- or worse yet, a short -- night for "The Axe Murderer."
But as the seconds ticked away towards the first break, the Brazilian finally began to find openings in his opponent's striking game. As the round closed out, Silva had achieved blood for blood when he busted Le open during several violent exchanges that excitedly felt like we were watching Pride's 203-pound kingpin from 2004.
When the first five minutes had finally expired, I texted a friend and told him that Le was in for a war and wouldn't know how to handle it. My friend responded that the Vietnamese-American didn't seem to enjoy the last 90 seconds and that was exactly the kind of fight where Silva thrives. The "warzone," he aptly described it as.
Cung Le is an exceptional mixed martial artist, that can't be denied. From a technical standpoint, there's no doubt he's head and shoulders above the wide, looping hook-throwing Silva. But let's not bulljive. Le is an actor, he's no fighter. At least, he's not a fighter in the sense that "The Axe Murderer" is. For goodness sake, Silva's nickname is "The Axe Murderer!" His resume of violence is such that the only moniker that suited him was that of a homicidal maniac.
This is the same man who decimated Kazushi Sakuraba three times, breaking his collar bone the second time they fought and knocking him out cold the final time. This is the fighter who staggered Keith Jardine with punches and held him by the throat -- a move known as a "rape choke" -- to keep his head still while he pummeled him into unconsciousness. This is the warrior who literally had Quinton Jackson on the ropes -- the American dazed and hurt -- and smiled like a demented Cheshire cat before landing the killing blow.
Wanderlei Silva is the closest thing mixed martial arts (MMA) will ever get to violence personified. So when the fight seemed to be heading towards a dirty, ugly scrap, there shouldn't have been a single doubt in anyone's mind that the Brazilian would wreck Le in the most savage way possible. It's what "The Axe Murderer" does best.
The end -- and the cries of "foul" from Rogan and Helwani -- came near the end of the second round after Silva completely obliterated his opponent's nose with a knee and left the Sanshou practitioner hopelessly clinging onto a single leg takedown attempt on a fully sprawled Silva. The Brazilian rained down strikes on his opponent -- who wasn't knocked out but was definitely done -- until the referee stopped the fight.
It was the takedown -- and I use the following term lightly -- attempt that was the sticking point for those decrying the stoppage as early. But it was the work of a desperate man, fully foiled by his opponent who had defended it perfectly. "The Axe Murderer" was completely sprawled out and there's nothing to convince me that even a fully energized Le would have been able to end up securing the takedown, much less a Le who had just absorbed the beating of a lifetime.
No protests came from the former Strikeforce champion or from his corner. The stoppage was entirely justified and saved him from further abuse. MMA is a sport and Le stepped inside the Octagon for a sporting contest. Instead, he found himself in a fight. That's what Silva is familiar with, that's what he does best.
And I, for one, am ecstatic he'll get to continue.