Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight kingpin, Anderson Silva, looks to even the score against grappling phenom, Chris Weidman, at UFC 168 this Saturday night (Dec. 28, 2013) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Silva ran the middleweight division for about seven years, taking out some of the best fighters in the world, seemingly with ease. Arguably the greatest mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter of all time, many wondered if "The Spider" would ever taste defeat inside the Octagon.
Last July, that question was answered.
After surviving an early grappling exchange with his opponent, Silva seemed in control of the bout, stuffing takedowns and avoiding strikes. However, he wasn't landing many punches of his own, preferring to dance and fool around. Silva was trying to force Weidman to throw riskier punches but was instead caught with a powerful left hook. The king fell, but can he reclaim his throne?
Let's find out.
Silva has done a masterful job of taking techniques from multiple striking arts and blending them into a coherent attack. By mixing Muay Thai, boxing, Tae Kwon Do, and even Capoeira, Silva created a violently unique style of kickboxing, likely making him the best striker in the sport's young history.
For all of his ability, Silva's approach is fairly predictable. The Brazilian routinely stands just outside of his opponent's boxing range and lands kicks, biding his time until his opponent attacks. When his foe responds with punches, often attempting to lunge in, Silva will avoid the punch then counter with a combination of his own.
When Silva is countering, he's extremely precise and never over-extends himself. By remaining in perfect position to counter at all times, Silva can capitalize on more opportunities. An abundance of opportunities allows him to patiently wait for a perfect moment to strike, rather than trying to force the finish.
In order to effectively counter, Silva has to control the distance. If his opponent can easily close in and throw punches, Silva's focus would have to turn to defense rather than countering. To prevent this, Silva has capitalized on his lanky stature and developed a dangerous kicking game. With his kicks, Silva frustrates his opponent while winning on the judges' scorecard, forcing them to make a move. Should they refuse to engage, Silva will continue to win rounds from the outside, resulting in a dull but clear victory.
Silva has a wide variety of kicks at his disposal. He often begins his kickboxing assault with roundhouse kicks to the leg, before expanding with side kicks, teeps, and oblique kicks. While these kicks alone rarely finish his opponent, they effectively frustrate, damage, and possibly limit his opponent's movement.
That's not to say Silva cannot finish foes with a single kick. When Silva faced Belfort, he was forced to rely on his kicking advantage to overcome Belfort's boxing ability, which is very dangerous to even experienced counter fighters. As Belfort, who is also a counter striker, waited for Silva to attack, "The Spider" shot his foot up into Belfort's jaw, knocking "The Phenom" out cold. This was not the first front kick Silva threw in his career, but it was undoubtedly the most effective and made front kicks a very popular technique.
Silva can also use his kicks when on the offensive. After landing a hard counter punch, Silva will often continue attacking his opponent. As his foe stumbles and tries to recover, Silva does an excellent job mixing kicks into his combination. Even if the kick doesn't land clean on his opponent's chin, it knocks him around and opens up more chances for the knockout strike to land.
If Silva's opponent absolutely refuses to attempt to close the distance, Silva may attempt a flying knee. He'll also go to the flying knee if his opponent repeatedly feints with level drops. Because he doesn't just throw the flying knee at random -- his opponent is either in a defensive shell or at risk due to takedown feints -- it's very accurate. The most famous flying knee in Silva's career is his finish of Carlos Newton, although he has used it in his UFC career, as well.
Once his opponent decides to engage, Silva will evade their strike and attack with laser-like punches. Silva's accuracy is impeccable, and he often catches his opponent as they are still throwing their combination. Silva's ability to strike off a slip or duck-under is incredibly impressive; he almost always returns a hard punch after dodging.
Silva is a master of countering the jab, utilizing the "anchor punch," a term created by Muhammad Ali. While slipping the jab, Silva will throw his own jab from the waist. Because he slips while throwing, his punch almost always lands more cleanly. In addition to taking out talented jab-based strikers like Yushin Okami with this technique, most fighters begin their combinations with the jab, meaning they are also vulnerable to this counter.
Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami at UFC 134 (via Ultimate Fighting Championship)
After hurting his foe, Silva will sometimes look to finish with the double collar tie. There are few fighters in the world with a more dangerous Muay Thai plum than Silva, a fact he first proved against Rich Franklin. Once he secures the clinch, he'll muscle his opponent into the fence and then systematically destroy them with knees to the head and body. Silva's ability to control posture from the clinch is excellent and a large reason he's so dangerous from the clinch.
Rather than directly targeting his opponent's skull, Silva breaks down his opponent with knees to the body, forcing them to lower their defenses. He throws these knees to the body with vicious intent and aims for the solar plexus, rather than attacking at random.
When a fighter gets hit in the solar plexus, it makes it difficult to breathe; basically, he gets the wind knocked out of him. However, when Silva hits his opponent, it doesn't make it difficult to breathe, it paralyzes them. Both Stephan Bonnar and Chael Sonnen found out how effective knees to the solar plexus are first hand, as they were incapable of defense after getting cracked by a Silva knee.
Another excellent way Silva uses his knees from the clinch is to offset his opponent's aggression. When Okami tried to pin Silva against the cage, the Brazilian patiently looked to escape from his grasp. As he looked for opportunities to circle out of the clinch, he would create space and then land hard knees to Okami's body. Eventually, these knees weakened Okami's grip enough that Silva could return to the center of the Octagon, where he would soon finish "Thunder."
The final weapon in Silva's possession is the elbow. Silva's use of elbows is interesting, as they're infrequent and rarely from within the clinch. Instead, Silva likes to throw stepping elbow strikes, often from odd angles. Stepping in with an elbow makes them easier to counter, a weakness offset by their unpredictability. but also increases their impact.
One interesting thing about Silva's striking game is that he loves to counter his opponent's leg kicks. Forrest Griffin, Chael Sonnen, and James Irvin all received brutal payback for attempting to kick the former Chute Boxe fighter.
Thanks to his head movement and footwork, Silva is one of the least hit fighters in MMA. Since he stays just outside of his opponent's range, he's able to react to their attacks earlier and dodge most of them. Silva is feared by many fighters, and their hesitation also helps him slip punches and kicks. Finally, his ability to roll with his opponent's punches is excellent, which reduces the force shots land with.
Despite all the incredible things Silva has done, he's still just a man, and fighters have flaws. Weidman was able to capitalize on Silva's head movement and run him into the left hook. All fighters who rely on low hand position and head movement are at risk and will likely pay for it eventually, but some, like Silva, are able to achieve great things because of it first.
Despite his Judo black belt, Silva's intention is never to take his foe to the mat. While wrestling may be the weakest area of Silva's game, he is not a bad wrestler. It would have been impossible for him to hold onto the belt for such a long time if his wrestling wasn't up to par.
Silva may not attempt takedowns very often, but he can hit them. For example, he managed to reverse one of Dan Henderson's clinch throws, an impressive accomplishment considering "Hendo's" credentials. More recently, he managed to double leg Chael Sonnen in the first round of their bout, although he could not control him.
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 (via Ultimate Fighting Championship)
Most of the time Silva gets on top of his opponent, it's because he dropped him. When Silva is on top, his ground striking is similar to his stand-up, accurate and powerful. He likes to stand over his opponent and pick his shots, rather than hastily throwing as many punches as possible. Silva's ground striking finished Yushin Okami and led to to his finish of Forrest Griffin.
For a striker like Silva, his ability to stay standing is much more important than trying to take the fight to the mat. The best part of his takedown defense is his distance control. Since his opponents have such a hard time closing the distance with strikes, they're forced to shoot from a far distance, allowing Silva to easily step out of the way.
Another tool in Silva's wrestling arsenal is the switch, which led to his finish of Nate Marquardt. After out-striking Marquardt for most of the first round, "Great" shot in for a single leg takedown. Silva bounced around on his foot for a moment before reaching in between Marquardt's leg for his own single leg takedown. Silva hit the switch perfectly, leaving Marquardt vulnerable on his back, where he was quickly finished.
Silva's takedown defense, while good, is not perfect. Of course, Chael Sonnen nearly stole Silva's belt by controlling him with takedowns for the majority of five rounds, repeatedly taking him down with sheer aggression. More recently, Weidman landed some solid ground and pound on Silva early in the first round with a deep double leg, although Silva stuffed his next couple attempts.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
A black belt under the Nogueira brothers since 2006, Silva has a dangerous ground game that can threaten even experienced grapplers. It's not particularly complex, but Silva's grappling has been quite effective.
When Silva is put on his back, he generally tries to stall until the ref stands him up. He often secures an overhook and then controls his opponent's other arm with his forearm, preventing ground striking and guard passes. He also likes to transition to a body triangle from the bottom, which severely limits his opponent's ability to posture. If his opponent gets half guard, Silva will use the lock down to control them. Eventually, the referee will stand them back up into Silva's world.
Silva has attempted a few submissions from his back, such as the kimura, but has only finished his triangle choke. Thanks to his long legs, Silva's triangle is very tight. Silva's setup for this move is pretty basic, as he simply controls one of their arms and waits for an opportunity to feed it between his legs. Most fighters are wary of such attacks and will break the grip before attacking with their free hand, but Silva managed to tap out Sonnen with just moments left in the fight using this technique.
From the top position, Silva relies solely on the rear naked choke, where he'll use the body triangle to squeeze on his opponent. However, instead of for controlling posture, the body triangle serves as a secure way to control his opponent and limit their breathing. Once he sees an opening, Silva will look to slide his arm under the neck, like he did to Dan Henderson.
Silva mixes striking with grappling very well, even from his back. In addition to vicious up-kicks, Silva can throw hard punches off of his back, which he did frequently to discourage Chris Weidman's guard passing attempts. Against Travis Lutter, Silva showed how dangerous striking from the guard can be. After rocking Lutter with an up-kick, "The Serial Killer" fell into a triangle. Silva had difficulty finishing the crafty black belt with the choke, so he elbowed him in the face until Lutter couldn't take it anymore.
Finally, Silva's submission defense is not a weakness. He may have two submission losses on his record, but the most recent was 2004. He once again proved this against Weidman, successfully escaping a leg lock duel with the talented grappler. That's not to say that Weidman cannot submit him, as Weidman is an incredibly talented grappler, only that it a submission would be because of Weidman's immense skill, not because of a hole in Silva's game.
Best chance for success
There are many contrasting opinions about who was winning the first bout before the knockout, but I believe Silva was successfully frustrating and damaging Weidman for the majority of the stand up. Of course, Weidman did put Silva to sleep, which obviously trumps all else, but Silva was having success before that.
One of the most successful techniques Silva was landing was his leg kick, both inside and outside. Weidman didn't check a single one, and Silva was successfully lifting Weidman's leg into the air with kicks just before he got clipped. Not only will those leg kicks slow Weidman down, he'll lose some of his knockout power and wrestling ability. If Silva is a bit wary of engaging Weidman, a leg kick beat down is a viable option for the Brazilian.
The idea that Silva needs to stop dropping his hands is silly. Silva has kept his hands low for most of his career, and it worked out pretty damn well. One knockout loss is not a signal to completely change his style, as that rarely works out well for the fighter. If you don't believe me, go look up Miguel Torres' record since his loss and subsequent style switch against Brian Bowles.
Instead, Silva needs to avoid acting the fool inside the Octagon. Low hands from his striking stance, where he can quickly circle or slip, is fine, but doing a flat-footed little dance and posturing at Weidman is a phenomenal way to get knocked out again.
Can Silva reclaim his belt, or will Weidman prove he is the best middleweight in the world?