Long-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight roost-ruler, Anderson Silva, will attempt to defend his 185-pound throne against rising contender, Chris Weidman, a critical match up set to take place this Saturday night (July 6, 2013) at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Silva has unarguably had the most successful UFC career of any mixed martial arts (MMA) competitor ever. Silva has yet to taste defeat inside the Octagon, defending his title an astounding 11 times. However, as with every top combat sports athlete, there is always a younger fighter working his way up to take it all from the king.
In this case, that prospect would be Weidman. And like every challenger who came before him, Silva will do his best to exploit his weakness and stop his ascension. But at 38 years old, does Silva still have the skill to dominate another fierce opponent?
Let's take a closer look:
Silva, a southpaw, has blended together multiple striking arts such as Muay Thai, boxing, Taekwondo and Capoeira, eventually becoming one of the most renowned strikers in the sport's history. Arguably the greatest kickboxer in MMA, Silva routinely stuns audiences with brilliantly violent techniques.
Anyone who has watched multiple "Spider" fights can pick up on the fact that he's a counter striker. In fact, Silva almost exclusively counters, rarely leading with anything other than kicks from a distance. Silva's M.O. has always been to bait his opponent in, wait for him to over-commit or leave a defensive gap, and then capitalize with a stinging counter punch.
To counter so effectively, Silva became of master of distance control. Silva is a tall, lanky fighter and uses this to his advantage by constantly forcing his opponent to fight at the edge of his own kicking range. This is crucial because from this distance, only the Brazilian can land effective strikes. This frustrates his opponents, and they'll eventually attempt to close the distance. Once they do, "The Spider" strikes. If they refuse to engage, Silva will out point his opponent from the outside and win a dull decision, like he did against Thales Leites.
Silva relies on this game plan heavily, so his ability to bait his opponent is fundamental to his success. Outside of Forrest Griffin and Chris Leben, most opponents won't just charge the counter striker. Therefore, Silva's ability to out-land and frustrate his opponent at range is incredibly important.
To do this, Silva has developed a nasty kicking game. He's capable of throwing kicks at any height and excels at blasting his opponent out of their stance with a hard leg kick. Silva keeps his opponent guessing by throwing a large variety of kicks, often at unusual angles.
Silva is very good at landing head kicks. One of his favorite techniques is to reach and grab his opponents hand, before dragging it down as he goes high with a kick. Using this trick, Silva was able to land devastating head kicks on Chris Leben and Yushin Okami.
The front kick became a common move over night thanks to "The Spider." At UFC 126, Silva was facing a fellow counter striker in Vitor Belfort, who was famous for brutally swarming his opponent with fast combinations. Silva stood at range as "The Phenom" stared him down, before suddenly whipping his foot straight up into Belfort's chin.
Another of Silva's favorite range techniques is the flying knee. If Silva's opponent refuses to engage or is ducking down for a takedown, Silva will charge him with a leaping knee. Like the rest of his attacks, Silva is very accurate with his flying knees. Silva finished Carlos Newton with a flying knee in Pride FC and has used this technique multiple times in his UFC career.
Once his opponent takes the bait, Silva will respond with laser-like straight punches. Silva's accuracy is impeccable, and he often catches his opponent in the middle of their combinations. Additionally, Silva likes to duck under punches, before coming up with nasty right hook.
One of Silva's more unique punches is the anchor punch. Coined by boxing legend Muhammad Ali, the anchor punch is often used after an evaded punch, often a jab, and comes over the top of the next punch in the combination. Since most MMA fighters at least attempt to begin combinations with the jab, this is a very useful tool for a counter striker such as Silva.
Silva has one of the most destructive Muay Thai clinches in the world. He often finishes his counter punches by reaching around his opponent's head and tying him up, preventing any retaliation. Once he's there, 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 second to none and a large reason why he's so dangerous from the clinch.
Silva's knees to the body are both potent and vital to his game. They often serve the purpose of opening up his opponent's head to knees, but they're also very damaging strikes. This is because Silva is very accurate with his placement. Instead of just throwing knees as hard as he can, Silva often targets the solar plexus.
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, he not only can't breathe there, he also can't move. Both Stephan Bonnar and Chael Sonnen found out how effective knees to the solar plexus are first hand, although Sonnen wasn't hit from the clinch.
The final shelf of Silva's deep arsenal contains his elbow strikes. Silva doesn't throw elbows frequently or with any particular set ups, which makes them very unpredictable. While most elbows are landed from the clinch, Silva prefers to throw them from the boxing range, stepping in and putting all of his weight behind them. He used an over-the-top elbow to rock Sonnen and an absurd upward elbow to separate Tony Fryklund from his senses.
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. Weidman likes to throw low kicks but doesn't keep his hands up, which sets him up for a devastating counter.
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.
To further solidify his defense, Silva is excellent at rolling with punches. This means that he turns his head as his opponent punches him, which drastically reduces the impact.
Silva, a Judo black belt, is often criticized for a perceived weakness in his wrestling. However, Silva is actually a very good wrestler. It is still the weakest area of his game, seeing as all of his other skills are elite, but Silva would not be unbeaten if his wrestling was weak.
While Silva rarely attempts takedowns, he can do them. In fact, he managed to takedown both Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson, two world-class wrestlers. Against "Hendo," he reversed one of Henderson's clinch takedown, which is an impressive feat considering his Greco-Roman background. In the first round of his first fight with Sonnen, Silva responded to Sonnen's aggression with a powerful double leg takedown, although he was unable to control him.
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 standup, 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 Silva, his takedown defense is a much more important skill. His biggest asset when it comes to defending distance is his use of distance. As I mentioned earlier, Silva forces his opponents to approach him. This is crucial for his takedown defense.
Silva sets up his kicks well, meaning it isn't easy to catch them and use that as a takedown. This forces his opponent to either shoot from a large distance, which is very difficult, or attempt to punch their way in, which can get them knocked out. The .GIF below is an example of Okami failing to complete a takedown, because he failed to close the distance before shooting.
One excellent wrestling technique Silva has in his arsenal is the switch. When he fought Nate Marquardt, Silva was soundly out-boxing "The Great" for most of the first round. Then, Marquardt shot in for a single leg takedown, and Silva threaded his arms around Marquardt's leg, giving him his own single leg takedown. This maneuver is known as a switch, and Silva finished Marquardt with ground and pound moments after hitting it.
Silva may not be an All-American wrestler, but he's far from incompetent. Only Sonnen had success controlling Silva on the ground for an extended period of time, but even he was finished eventually. Grinding Silva may seem like a foolproof plan, but he's so dangerous that it's nearly impossible.
Silva earned his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under the Nogueira brothers in 2006. While he may not be as skilled as his masters, he is a smart grappler who is dangerous with a few signature moves.
Most of the time Silva is on his back, his focus is to prevent his opponent from passing or doing damage. When this is his goal, Silva will get at least one underhook and use it to control his opponent's posture. Squeezing with his full guard, Silva is able to contain his opponent and await a referee stand up, or an opportunity to get to the fence and attempt a wall walk.
While Silva has attempted other moves, such as the kimura, the only submission he's finished from his guard is the triangle choke. Silva's setup for this move is far from complex, 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 has only ever finished his opponent with the rear naked choke. Against Dan Henderson, Silva capitalized on the Olympians fading cardio and loose half guard to step around to the turtle position. Then, he flattened "Hendo" with punches and climbed onto his back. Quickly transitioning to a body triangle, Silva squeezed Henderson and looked for an opening, before rapping up his neck for a Gable grip rear naked choke finish.
When Silva is hunting for submissions from his back, he's excellent at doing damage. He manages to land solid punches from his back and throws violent upkicks. Although it was illegal, Silva destroyed Okami with an upkick in their first fight, and knocked Travis Lutter into a triangle with one. Afterwards, Silva mangled Lutter with elbows from the triangle, forcing him to submit.
Although two of Silva's four losses are via submissions, submission defense is not "The Spider's" weakness. One of the submissions was as flukey as it gets, a flying scissor heel hook, and both took place nearly a decade ago.
Silva is famous for being one of the most accurate fighters in the sport's history. He rarely misses punches or kicks, waiting for an opening to strike rather than forcing his way through his opponent. By always waiting for his opponent to over-commit and cutting an angle, Silva is able to pick his shots.
Complimenting Silva's incredible accuracy is his impeccable killer instinct. When Anderson hurts his opponents, he swarms on them, blasting them with punches and kicks from all angles until they are unconscious or succumb to a choke. Silva rarely misses an opportunity to finish his foes, almost always ending the fight or doing serious damage when he rocks his opposition. While he's lost rounds before, it's his ability to finish in dramatic fashion that has kept him atop the middleweight division for years.
Best chance for success
Silva has fought better wrestlers and better submission grapplers, but he's yet to face one as talented at mixing the two as Weidman. However, Silva already has a perfect game plan for the New York native, he just needs to tweak it a bit.
As always, Silva should focus on hurting Weidman with kicks early. Weidman has shown that he's willing to take a kick or punch in order to return fire, so Silva should take advantage of this. Since Silva hits much harder, he will get the better of Weidman anytime they go tit for tat.
While he's at range, Silva should attempt to punish Weidman for any leg kicks. Weidman doesn't properly protect himself as he kicks, or set them up particularly well, so he'll be a sitting duck for Silva's counters. This is an easy and low risk way for Silva to throw power punches, as Weidman can't attempt takedowns on one leg.
Finally, Silva should expand on his combinations. Weidman often retreats straight backwards, like many other young fighters, so Silva can capitalize on this by herding Weidman into the fence with punches and kicks. Once he's there, Silva can lock up a clinch and tear Weidman apart with knees.
Will Silva dissect another top contender, or will Weidman prove he's championship material?
We'll find out on Saturday.
For a closer look and "Complete Fighter Breakdown" of Weidman be sure to click here.