This Saturday night (Dec. 28, 2013) the most anticipated Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout of the year will go down when middleweight champion Chris Weidman faces former titleholder Anderson Silva in the pay-per-view (PPV) main event of UFC 168 from MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The fight is a rematch of their first bout at UFC 162 in July, where Weidman shocked the world by flooring a showboating Silva with a left hook that changed the course of mixed martial arts (MMA) forever.
Silva was thought to be invincible despite his advancing age, but Weidman proved that any man could be defeated. Now, "All American" will look to solidify his title reign by defeating Silva for a second time.
Weidman's victory sent the inevitable windfall of media speculation crashing down on Silva, with many speculating that he was perhaps done with MMA. He continues to be linked to a boxing match with decorated pugilist Roy Jones Jr., so that may have caused him to foolishly overlook Weidman.
However, the embattled former champion was quick to sign up for an immediate rematch and insists that "he's back." While that remains to be seen, one thing is certain: Weidman is the real deal regardless of Silva's motivation or focus.
He beat the man who many consider to be the greatest MMA fighter of all time, and he did so in the midst of losing his house to Hurricane Sandy after being on the sidelines with shoulder surgery. Talk about having the deck stacked against you. Weidman is as tough as they come, and while he's not nearly as flashy or polarizing as Silva, his fighting ability can't be denied.
This fight is truly going to show us how much Silva has left in the tank. It's an unpredictable bout that could provide a variety of exciting outcomes, so let's take a look at the keys to victory for Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva II:
Record: 33-5 overall, 16-1 UFC
Key Wins: Vitor Belfort (UFC 126), Chael Sonnen (UFC 117, UFC 148), Dan Henderson (UFC 82), Rich Franklin (UFC 77, UFC 82), Forrest Griffin (UFC 101), Chris Leben (UFC Ultimate Fight Night 5)
Key Losses: Chris Weidman (UFC 162), Ryo Chonan (Pride Shockwave 2004)
Keys to Victory: It's no secret that Silva's counterstriking is otherworldly. Mixing lightning fast reflexes with scary knockout power, Silva is arguably the greatest striker to ever fight in UFC. He used this skill set to rack up an incredible 16-fight win streak inside the Octagon, finishing an alarming nine UFC title bouts.
Silva also possesses black belts in both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, proving that his mat skills are close to his amazing striking abilities. He submitted two highly decorated wrestlers in Henderson and Sonnen and can definitely surprise anyone who thinks the key to beating him is wrestling.
However, holes in his well-rounded skill set aren't what left him staring up at the lights at UFC 162.
Silva has shown an extreme tendency to taunt his opponents, fighting with his hands at his sides while he dances around the Octagon just outside of danger. It's what has differentiated him from other fighters. It also plays a big part of his loose fighting style, potentially luring opponents into a false sense of security so he can nail them with a fight-ending counterpunch.
But against Weidman, "Spider" took it one step too far. In fact, he took it so far that many viewers of the first fight didn't know if Silva was truly knocked out or just clowning around until referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight.
Because of that, a major factor of a Silva win is going to be taking Weidman seriously. Perhaps Silva has slowed down a step or two. Still fighting the best at 38 years old, that's to be expected. We can go back and forth about his long list of skills and accomplishments, but the only thing that matters right now is this one bout.
Silva may be done being UFC champion mentally or he may still be focused on boxing Jones Jr. Either way, he's got to show up to UFC 168 with renewed motivation if he wants any chance at dethroning Weidman.
The undefeated champ is one of the hungriest young fighters to step into the Octagon in recent years. The belt will have to be ripped from his iron grip and it's still up in the air if Silva truly wants to do that or not.
Weidman is going to look for an array of takedowns, so Silva's excellent takedown defense will have to be as sharp as it's ever been. He also can't get cocky and leave his hands down while standing directly in front of Weidman. We all saw how that worked out the first time.
"Spider" obviously has all the skills to make Weidman look silly. It's on him to prove that at UFC 168.
Record: 10-0 overall, 6-0 UFC
Key Wins: Anderson Silva (UFC 162), Mark Munoz (UFC on FUEL TV 4), Demian Maia (UFC on FOX 2)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Weidman has been a freight train tearing through top-level MMA opposition ever since he made his promotional debut against Alessio Sakara at UFC on Versus 3.
Weidman is one of the most well-rounded combatants in a division populated by thunderous strikers. He brings an NCAA Division I All-American wrestling pedigree to the table and his submission game has advanced at an alarming rate. He won the ADCC East Coast trials with under one year of formal Brazilian jiu-jitsu training under his belt.
Weidman's striking is also progressing to new heights under head coach Ray Longo. No one gave "All American" much of a chance on the feet against Silva, but he silenced the critics with one punch. This time around, however, it may play out a bit differently.
Weidman and his team are smart enough to know that Silva's main strengths lie in the striking department even though they beat him there the first time. Weidman went got an early takedown against Silva to land some ground and pound at UFC 162. He'll probably look to do the same at UFC 168.
If he can put Silva's back on the ground he'll be able to use his size and strength to do damage from top position. He'll need to stay weary of Silva's sneaky submission skills but he can also go for a hold of his own.
Weidman appeared to be only slightly frustrated by Silva's antics in the first fight. He did a good job of not letting them control his emotions. All told, Weidman's calm and collected demeanor, coupled with his unwavering confidence, could be more crucial than any tangible skill set he brings to the Octagon.
There are no questions remaining about Weidman's motivation, focus, and intent. If he can keep his wits about him and implement his gameplan, the start of long title reign for "All American" could be at hand this Saturday night.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that it may be the most highly anticipated rematch in UFC history. Is it the biggest fight in UFC history? No. Is it one of the more unpredictable title bouts to come along in recent years?
The reasoning behind that lies in the quizzical nature of Silva's behavior. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Silva show up focused and sharp to regain his belt with one of the highlight reel finishes we had become accustomed to seeing him unleash in every one of his fights.
On the other hand, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him show up cocky and arrogant again and put too much faith in the speed of his hands. He's done it before, we just never noticed it because his gifts outweighed his opponents' talent by a big margin.
That won't fly against a young and motivated champion like Weidman.
There's also still that lingering doubt that Weidman truly won the first fight on his own. Of course he did, but many refuse to let go of the belief that Silva lost the bout more than Weidman won it. That may be true in a sense, but the bottom line is Weidman got the job done with one of the biggest knockouts in UFC history. Weidman and his team don't expect Silva to show up with a different mindset at all.
They expect Silva to go back to the tactics that earned him his fame, and they may be right in that assumption.
Silva may even be able to get the belt back using that strategy. It's far from safe, but it's his style. The best course of action for Silva will be to implement a bit of that flash to lull Weidman into his comfort zone. It won't be easy because they'll be expecting it, but Silva never comes to the cage looking to fight by the book. Doing so just wouldn't work for him despite being safer.
This fight rests on Silva's mental preparedness. If he's truly back like he says, we could see the vintage "Spider" in rare form. A fully motivated Silva is nigh unstoppable, but the same could arguably be said about the surging "All American."
This is a tough one to predict, and that is rarely said about a fight involving Silva. We are in for a spectacle this Saturday night. The longtime champ could return to his throne at UFC 168, or he could take a substantial hit to his illustrious body of work.
Silva knows that this fight is for his legacy. Is that enough for him to take Weidman seriously?
Anderson Silva will attempt to get his gold back at UFC 168 against a tough-as-nails champion in Chris Weidman. The bout will depend on which version of "Spider" shows up. Give us your predictions for the blockbuster bout below!