Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) No. 1 Heavyweight contender, Antonio Silva, is set to take on current division champion, Cain Velasquez, in the main event of UFC 160, a pay-per-view (PPV) event that takes place this Saturday (May 25, 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It's been a long road to world title opportunity for the often underestimated "Bigfoot." The massive Brazilian ended his Strikeforce career poorly, losing to Daniel Cormier violently in the first round. A similar mauling at the hands of Velasquez in his Octagon debut ruined any hype he still had and jeopardized his future with the world's leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion.
In what many expected to be a continuation of his downfall, Silva was matched up with then-undefeated prospect Travis Browne. "Hapa" had made a name for himself by destroying his opponents in the first round and looked to do the same against Silva.
Instead, the Black House-trained fighter knocked him out in short order.
Next up was a critical match up against Alistair Overeem. "The Demolition Man" was making his return after pissing hot for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), and Silva was his sacrificial lamb. However, Silva flipped the script on Overeem -- and the UFC -- destroying the former K-1 champion with punches in the third round.
Against Velasquez, Silva will again look to upset a dangerous opponent. But does he have the MMA ability to do so?
Let's take a closer look:
One of the biggest and most powerful strikers at heavyweight, Silva has a dangerous stand up game. While he is capable of knocking out any man in the division, his defensive flaws hold him back.
Likely because of his karate background, Silva has decent kicks. He frequently opens fights with low kicks, which ultimately led to his demise against Velasquez in their first encounter, but also mixes in body kicks and the occasional front kick.
Silva relies heavily on the jab and one-two combination. Once he gets more comfortable, he'll begin to attack with hooks. "Bigfoot" does very well when he is throwing several punches simply because no one wants to trade for an extended amount of time with such a heavy-handed monster.
In his last two fights, Silva has proven just how dangerous he is once his opponent is pinned along the fence. "Bigfoot" will then unleash vicious combinations of hooks, uppercuts and overhands. After he eliminates his opponents' ability to move backward, the Brazilian does his best to line up his right hand. In his two most recent victories, Silva was able to force his opponents to back into the cage before finishing them off with violent punches.
In addition, Silva is quite dangerous from the clinch, where he utilizes his massive strength and easily controls his opponents before breaking them down with heavy knees and uppercuts. If the Brazilian can't get a takedown, which is normally his goal from the clinch, he'll step back and hammer away with hooks.
Silva's reach has allowed him to successfully counter strike. When Silva's opponent pressures him with strikes, he'll retreat a bit before stopping and whipping a straight right hand toward his opponents' chins. Against Fabricio Werdum, Silva managed to do exactly this, dropping the jiu-jitsu master as he looked for the clinch.
Unfortunately, Silva's defense is downright porous. Put simply, he fights tall, has a huge head and refuses to move it. Add in the fact that he's one of the slower heavyweights in the top level of the sport and suddenly his multiple knockout losses make sense.
In other words, Silva is very easy to hit, especially with looping punches, which is an awful trait for a heavyweight.
A black belt in Judo, Silva does his best work from the clinch. While he does occasionally hit trips and throws, most of the time he looks to land punches before dropping down for a single- or double-leg takedown.
While Silva's single leg seems smoother and more technical than his double, he goes for the latter more often. "Bigfoot's" double leg isn't complex, he simply yanks his opponent away from the cage and attempts to drag him to the mat.
When he doesn't have his opponents against the cage, the quality of his takedowns suffer. Silva can still muscle them most of the time, but his drive isn't very good. His biggest problem is that he will attempt to takedown his opponent from his knees. Pushing with one's knees doesn't create nearly as much force as pushing with legs and explains the reason Silva isn't able to dominate more fighters with his wrestling.
There are very few fighters who are more deadly than Silva from the top position. Silva is quick to assume a dominant position and it's nearly impossible to detach him once he settles in.
From the mount position, Silva will immediately get good posture. His huge frame isn't easy to contain, so he's free to attack with whatever he likes. This often means controlling his opponents' necks with one hand, known as the "rape choke," while using his free hand to throw hammer fists and hooks.
Silva, a jiu-jitsu black belt, is skilled from on top and from the bottom. Throughout his career, he's trained with some of the best jiu-jitsu for MMA teams in the world such as American Top Team, Team Nogueira and Imperial Athletics.
While Silva generally prefers to mangle his opponents with big punches, he will hunt for chokes. Often capitalizing on his opponents' attempts to escape his ground-and-pound, Silva will wait for them to scramble before locking onto the neck.
One of Silva's favorite techniques is the anaconda choke. While he hasn't finished it yet, he has repeatedly used it to sweep his opponents and gain dominant positions. This is a great move for "Bigfoot," as his long arms allow him to lock his arms even if the choke isn't fully in, meaning it can be used as a sweep even if he can't finish it.
As I mentioned above, Silva is a solid guard passer. Most of the time, he just pressures his opponent from the top position until he cannot hold onto guard anymore.
While Silva doesn't threaten with submissions from his back, he does attempt sweeps. As is standard for Team Nogueira-trained fighters, Silva likes to use half guard for sweeps. He'll either get an underhook and use it come up for a takedown or attempt to roll under his opponent for a deep half sweep.
Finally, Silva's jiu-jitsu defense is solid. Werdum, the most decorated grappler in the division, took his back and had top positions multiple times, but Silva managed to safely return to his feet each time.
Clearly, the most defining feature of Silva's MMA game is his absurd strength. Silva cuts from around 285 pounds, meaning he is often nearly 40 pounds heavier than his opponents on fight nights. The man is a giant. Aside from his jiu-jitsu, most of Silva's game is quite basic and wouldn't be nearly as effective without the ability to force moves.
For example, look back at his fight with Fedor Emelianenko. While he was obviously in the decline of his career, the Russian was still a dangerous fighter and better in every area than Silva. However, Silva's massive size advantage made all of that irrelevant. He was able to manhandle the Sambo master, pounding him until the doctor stopped the fight between the second and third rounds.
Best chance for success
The No. 1 rule for Silva is simple: Do not throw a single kick.
Outside of that, Silva needs to focus on stalking Velasquez. However, he can't simply move forward and allow "Brown Pride" to find his range, which would open up Velasquez's counter strikes and eventual takedowns. Instead, he needs to constantly work his jab and cross. These long range strikes should allow him to maintain his balance while doing damage.
As Silva pressures, he needs to cut off the Octagon. Velasquez does not want to end up pinned against the cage with a leviathan winging haymakers at his chin. If he let's the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) standout circle away, then Silva will end up with his back to the cage, where Velasquez will be able to easily take him down.
Velasquez will inevitably shoot for a takedown. When he does, Silva needs to make him pay by locking in a headlock or anaconda and hanging on his neck. Even if he doesn't get a sweep or submission, this will make Velasquez hesitant when it comes to shooting. If Silva does manage to get on top, then he's in an excellent position to brutalize the champion.
Will Silva upset his third opponent in a row or will Velasquez defend his title for the first time in his new term atop the division?