Photo by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
Jon Fitch put an emphatic end to Erick Silva's meteoric rise in the welterweight division at UFC 153, grinding and pounding the Brazilian like never before. It was the kind of beating that could ultimately make Silva a better fighter long-term.
Erick Silva didn't get the win Saturday night (Oct. 13, 2012) against Jon Fitch at UFC 153 from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, dropping a grueling three-round decision where he absorbed a frightful thumping over the final stanza.
But, what Silva displayed was the kind of game-bred mentality you always look for in gifted fighters, if for no other reason than to valiantly search for a flaw that makes them seem human.
That's because Silva, in three blitzkrieg-style Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) performances, had exhibited such overwhelming offensive skills. And like many fast-and-furious prospects who preceded him, our inclination is to wonder what will happen when he starts taking punishment, because he sure as heck can deliver it.
We learned a lot about Rory MacDonald in his thrilling, third-round kncokout loss to Carlos Condit, where "Ares" gave "The Natural Born Killer" fits only to tire in the final moments and lose in an epic stoppage defeat. Obviously gifted, that kind of toughness goes a long way and means a guy isn't a front-runner.
Since then, MacDonald has been sheer bliss to watch, steamrolling three consecutive opponents -- including Nate Diaz -- and now faces legend B.J. Penn on Dec. 8, 2012. The heart and resilience he showed in the Condit defeat is the reason I've been high on him since that night, where he came out of nowhere and nearly upset the former World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) champion.
Silva passed his test with flying colors.
Desperately gassed and mounted for most of the final five minutes, he soaked up a relentless string of Fitch's shots, at times writhing and barely moving, yet with enough flicker of gameness to keep the bout from being stopped (and a hat tip goes to ref Marc Goddard, who wisely did not panic during the extended barrage, noting that Silva was still aware).
There's a certain switch that goes on once a fighter has gained some experience in a long, taxing bout, and it's an invaluable one. Once that barrier has been breached, they have a better idea of how long the ride lasts, at least in terms of their own conditioning.
Silva's penchant for aggressive, high-energy starts makes him one of the most exciting guys in the game, but as he continues to face elite competition, you can't help but wonder how he can rebound and finish once his initial onslaught doesn't settle matters. His ability to constantly force Fitch, an outstanding grappler, to adjust on the ground in the first two rounds, was impressive. He also showed a ton of cage and positional awareness, wresting himself out of Fitch's threatening armbar submission near the end of the second round.
Silva's defeat may hang heavy over his head. He obviously came into the fight with a ton of confidence. But in a way, this was the best thing to happen for him.
You can't smash everyone in an opening-moments storm, and conditioning and adjustments are a big part of expending energy en route to victory. Fitch didn't have any of the "wow" moments in this bout. He didn't throw crazy kicks, nor carry an air of disdain, as Silva did. He simply played a better game of percentages and relied on his toughness and experience to bring the fight to a point where conditioning took over.
That's the mark of a real veteran.
Given time and some more tough fights, don't be surprised to see Silva gain some of that kind of tactical wisdom, and emerge as a title contender in the next year or two.