Former Pride FC Middleweight (205 pounds) champion, Wanderlei Silva, is set to take on decorated United States Marine Corps (USMC) military veteran, Brian Stann, in the main event of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on FUEL TV 8 this Saturday (March 2, 2013) at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
After a dominant run in Pride FC, where he ruled the middleweight roost for seven years, "The Axe Murder" would be absorbed into the UFC in 2007, making his Octagon debut opposite another former champion, Chuck Liddell. And even though he lost, Silva put up a "Fight of the Year"-worthy performance. Soon after, when a handful of follow-up Light Heavyweight bouts didn't go his way, Silva decided to cut 20 pounds and compete at Middleweight.
Since shedding a few pounds, Silva has had continued to experience mixed results.
Although he disfigured former Strikeforce champ Cung Le and beat brash Brit Michael Bisping, he also lost a decision to Rich Franklin and was knocked out in less than one minute by Chris Leben. At this point, it's hard to determine if Silva is still a dangerous opponent or if it's time for him to hang up the gloves.
Against the power punching "All American," Silva will look to prove that he still has the skills to beat the best in the world.
But does he?
Silva has a ferocious reputation as one of the nastiest, most aggressive fighters in the history of mixed martial arts (MMA). Epitomizing the Chute Boxe style, Silva was downright feared during his hellish heyday. Although he completely deserves the acclaim, he possesses a technical striking arsenal that would be smart to use more often.
Despite the fame of his looping hooks, Silva can be a technical striker. When "The Axe Murderer" holds in his fury, he relies much more on his straight punches.. Silva will throw a crisp jab and follow it with a powerful straight right hand. He also mixes leg kicks into his combinations rather than just throwing them with out any setup as he sometimes does.
However, Silva rarely fights cautiously. He greatly prefers to charge at his opponents and whip hooks at them, sacrificing speed for power by throwing in looping arcs. When Silva hits an opponent with one of these long, deadly strikes, they go down.
While Silva's hooks are quite powerful and are more than capable of finishing the fight, their real purpose is to open up a Muay Thai clinch. Regardless of whether or not Silva's hook lands, his hands end up near his opponent's face and he latches on. Once Silva gets the clinch, he wastes no time, attacking his opponent with knees to the head almost immediately.
One of Silva's most effective kneeing techniques has been to grab an arm-in guillotine and attack with knees to the head. This is a fairly common technique, but Silva gets more power than most behind his knees. Although the maneuver was even more effective in Pride FC where knees to the head of a grounded opponent were legal, Silva still can do some serious damage with it.
In addition to his violent punches and knees, Silva has a powerful kicking attack. "The Axe Murderer" rarely sets up his kicks very well, but he puts a serious amount of power behind them.
When Silva throws his looping hooks, he leaves himself open to counters, particularly straight punches. The most famous example of this is his fight with Vitor Belfort, who landed a flurry of straight punches in response to Silva's charge, knocking him out in less than one minute.
Silva has never had a wrestling-centered attack, but he occasionally mixes takedowns into his advances. "The Axe Murderer" really leans on his takedown game when the striking isn't going his way, like in his fight against Mark Hunt and the first fight against Mirko Flipovic.
When Silva wants to take the fight to the ground, he'll either attempt to catch a leg kick and kick out the remaining leg, or he'll seek the Muay Thai clinch and trip from there. Both are Muay Thai techniques, and his trip from the clinch is especially effective, as his opponent's main focus is to avoid knees, not the takedown.
In addition to his Muay Thai style takedowns, Silva has a powerful double leg takedown. Silva is a strong fighter and can drive through his takedowns pretty well. The most famous of Silva's takedowns is his spike of Kazushi Sakuraba. Silva countered a guillotine attempt by bending over and picking up "The Gracie Hunter" and slamming him on his head, which broke Sakuraba's shoulder.
Once Silva is on top of his opponent -- via takedown or knockdown -- he is quite destructive. Silva will rain down punches and hammer fists, willing to put himself off balance to land a big shot. They are banned in the UFC, but in Pride FC, Silva terrorized his opponents with soccer kicks and stomps.
Silva has been knocking out guys for nearly two decades ... and his opponents know it. More often than not, their plan is to take down Silva, so the Brazilian has had to develop takedown defense.
While Silva does all the basics right, the thing that makes his takedown defense unique is his use of the Muay Thai and knees to deter takedown attempts. Whenever an opponent shoots on Silva, he'll get his hands around their neck and pull them into the Thai plumb. Eating a few of "The Axe Murderer's" knees makes his opponents think twice about their takedown attempts or abandon them all together.
Silva received his black belt in 2003 and is still improving, especially since he's been training with jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia. Although he only has one submission victory, Silva has always had a dangerous positional game and solid fundamentals.
When Silva is fighting from his guard he prefers a full guard and likes to go for arm bars and triangles. Most of the time Silva threatens with a submission from his back, he's just trying to distract his opponent and get back to his feet. When he's on his back, Silva is very good at avoiding damage, as he constantly maintains grips on his opponents hands and controls his opponent's posture.
One of Silva's favorite moves is the arm-in guillotine. He goes for it often, using it to sprawl, land knees, or try to finish the choke. While the more technical way to finish the arm-in guillotine is to lean into the choke, if the fighter on the bottom has a deep grip and powerful squeeze, leaning backward is just as effective.
When Silva is on top, his objectives are to pass guard and do damage. Silva's aggressive ground and pound stuns his opponent, and while they are dazed, he will quickly rip past they guard before landing more punches. Once Silva gets to a dominant position, his control is excellent, and the fight is likely going to end very soon.
The defining quality of Silva's career will be the ruthless way he attacked his opponents. Silva attacked his opponents with such violence that he was given the name "The Axe Murderer" (he didn't name himself). Silva's habit of charging forward with flurries of endless hooks have become almost as legendary as the fighter himself.
Chute Boxe is notorious for its brutal techniques, and Silva was its symbol. When Silva hurt his opponent, he swarmed like few others, diving at them with all his might. If they fell down, Silva would stomp and kick his opponent until they were unconscious.
Despite the fact that Silva's ferocity made him a MMA icon, it has taken its toll. Silva battled the greatest fighters in the world for more than a decade, and his style wasn't at all conservative. Silva's battles with guys like "CroCop," Dan Henderson and Hunt, among others, were incredibly damaging for both parties.
And it's clear that those scraps have caused him to slow considerably in the twilight of his career.
Best chance for success
While my recommended gameplan for Silva will get a bit more complicated, the main idea of it is do not, under any circumstances, brawl with Brian Stann. Silva needs to ignore his love of looping hooks, at least until he hurts the "All American."
Brawling with Stann is a bad idea for any fighter, he hits too hard to screw around with. Instead Silva should work his straight punches and leg kicks, much like he did against Bisping. Unlike his fight with Bisping, another big part of Silva's game plan should be the clinch.
Bisping was a solid wrestler, so avoiding the clinch made some sense, but Stann is not. Stann may hit hard from the clinch, but none of Stann's punches can match the power behind a few of "The Axe Murder's" knees. Knees from the clinch also present Silva's greatest chance at a knockout victory, as too many of them can fell even the sturdiest chin.
Additionally, Silva should attempt takedowns early and often. Silva needs to shoot for doubles, catch leg kicks and do whatever is necessary to get to the fight to the ground. Again, Stann is not a great wrestler, and Silva has a substantial jiu-jitsu advantage once the fight hits the mat. It might not be the war some fans desire, but a quick submission is the easiest way to win.
Does Silva have the skills to crush another top opponent or will Stann end his career with a single punch?
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Stann be sure to click here.