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UFC 208: Silva v Brunson Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Vegas 12’s Anderson Silva

One of the best ever, Anderson Silva, will make the walk a final time opposite fellow knockout artist, Uriah Hall, this Saturday (Oct. 31, 2020) at UFC Vegas 12 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Is this really the last dance? Who knows ...

After years of expressing desire to fight for far longer and crossover into boxing, SIlva has pretty suddenly changed his tune. Now, he seems pretty certain that this long-delayed bout with Hall will be his last. Whether or not that turns out to be the truth — mixed martial arts (MMA) retirements are notoriously fickle — let’s take one more trip down Memory Lane to analyze the skills of an all-time great.


Much of the mystery that clouded Silva’s prime years has since cleared up, a result of SIlva himself slowing with age and the sport catching up. Still, the Brazilian is a masterful counter striker with a great deal of trickery up his sleeves.

For the most part, Silva really needs opponents to attack him for his game to work. Utilizing dangerous outside kicks, occasional straight punches, and even taunts, Silva attempts to get his opponent to attack him. Then, Silva accurately and viciously picks him apart with counter shots.

Perhaps the most notably change over the last few years besides the sad ones associated with Father Time is Silva’s willingness to lead. Rather, he’s been forced to lead, since opponents now understand how he relies on countering. Still, against an incredible striker in Israel Adesanya, Silva stuck his opponent with some hard jabs, and when Silva did aggressively press forward with feints, his opponent was forced on the defensive.

UFC 234 Adesanya v Silva Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

While Silva is looking for the counter, he’s quite a patient fighter. He keeps himself in position to counter at all times and then waits for his moment. By staying calm and not trying to immediately counter each of his opponent’s strikes, Silva’s accuracy stays high, and he allows his opponent to gain a bit of confidence.

To effectively counter, Silva has to control the distance. If his opponent is getting inside his boxing range on a consistent basis, then Silva’s counter punches will not work particularly well. Instead, Silva looks to mark up his opponent with dangerous kicks (GIF). Ideally, this forces his opponent to either try to close the distance and risk his counters, or lose rounds without trying.

Silva has quite a large arsenal of kicks that he fluidly mixes into his game. Whether it’s the usual roundhouse kicks, side kicks, teeps or oblique kicks, Silva is frequently looking to damage his opponent from the outside.

Though Silva’s kicks are largely a motivator, intended to make his opponent engage, they can also finish the fight in sudden fashion. For example, Silva’s brutal front kick to the jaw of Vitor Belfort was an excellent solution to the duel of counter punchers (GIF). That strike is also a great example of Silva’s ability to read an opponent’s posture and reactions — that special sixth-sense that special kickboxers develop after however many years of perfecting their art..

It may not be relevant to Silva’s counter-striking game plan, but Silva will mix his kicks into combinations when he goes on the offensive. It’s fairly rare, but Silva is quite good at slipping a hard kick into the middle of his punch combos.

Silva made a career off capitalizing on opponents chasing after him. Even years later, offensive boxing in MMA is rarely that complex. It’s typically predictable, the same combinations thrown at one speed, one hand alternated with the other. Against a man with eyes like Silva, that’s not enough (GIF).

Specifically, Silva loves to counter his opponent’s jab. Again, most fighters trying to close distance will begin their combination with the jab, and SIlva knows this. As his opponent extends the jab, Silva will slip outside and stick a simultaneous jab, allowing his foe to step into the strike while his own head is off the center line (GIF).

Finally, Silva has a very deadly clinch game. It may not have served him well in his bouts with Weidman, but Silva’s double-collar tie terrorized foes in the early days of his title reign. After securing the grip, Silva breaks his opponent’s posture and easily muscles him around. From there, Silva can deliver devastating knees into his opponent, while his foe is trapped in “The Spider’s” vice grip.

UFC 64: Unstoppable Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

From inside the clinch, Silva does an excellent job at mixing his targets (GIF). While delivering crushing knees to the solar plexus, Silva will suddenly yank his opponent around and aim for the general face area. Most of the time, Silva simply digs into whatever his opponent is not defending.

Speaking of, Silva does a really great job at targeting his opponent’s solar plexus with knees outside the clinch as well. Against both Stephan Bonnar and Chael Sonnen, Silva absolutely pasted his foes with brutal knees aimed at a specific target. For both men — legitimately tough fighters — it left them curled up on the ground, struggling to breathe.

Defensively, Silva has always relied on head movement and control of distance to keep him safe. As his reactions have slowed, those strategies are less effective, but again, he deserves some credit for surviving three rounds with Adesanya. He’s no longer a defensive wizard with an iron chin, but that does not mean “The Spider” is easy to put away.


Silva generally has very little interest in taking his opponent to the mat. It may be the weakest area of his game, but Silva is by no means a bad wrestler.

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. A bit more recently, he managed to double-leg Chael Sonnen in the first round of their bout, although he could not control him.

UFC 148: Silva v Sonnen II Photo by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Though he may not look for it using takedowns, Silva’s top game is excellent. He stands above his opponent with strong posture and really picks his shots, allowing him to fire straight punches with precision. Not only does Silva rarely miss, but he’s usually landing directly on his opponent’s chin.

For the most part, Silva relies on his distance control in order to keep the bout standing. Since he’s constantly keeping his opponent at the end of his kicks and remains very aware when they move in, it’s pretty difficult to get within takedown range.

Towards the end of his career, it became more apparent that the combination of quality boxing and a powerful double leg can severely threaten Silva’s ability to remain upright. Those two weapons together ultimately proving to be a game changer in the Weidman fights, and even someone like Derek Brunson was able to find success scoring takedowns once he learned about the importance of patience against a killer counter striker.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Silva has been training under the Nogueira brothers for decades and earned his black belt under them in 2006. It’s not seen all that often, but Silva has a dangerous guard game that can threaten even talented grapplers.

For the most part, Silva looks to stall from his back. By tying up his opponent’s arms with overhooks or grape-vining their legs with his own lanky limbs, Silva is often able to prevent his opponent from advancing or doing damage. If he’s successful, it’s only a matter of time until the referee stands them back up.

UFC 67 Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Alternatively, Silva will mix in submission attempts from his full guard. He often looks for the kimura, but the Brazilian has only finished the triangle choke. His set up to this choke is nothing extraordinary, as Silva simply controls one hand and tries to stuff the other through his legs. Once the position is locked in, Silva uses his long legs to squeeze as he pulls down on the head (GIF).

From the top, Silva has only ever secured the rear-naked choke. There’s not a whole lot of technique to analyze there, but it’s worth mentioning that Silva has a very tight body triangle, which he’ll also use to control his foe in guard. Again, Silva’s long legs aid him here, as he constricts his foe’s breathing while hunting for the choke (GIF).

UFC 117: Anderson Silva v Chael Sonnen Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

It’s not exactly jiu-jitsu, but Silva’s ability to strike from his back is historically prety special. Looking all the way back to his fight against Travis Lutter, Silva nearly knocked his opponent out with an upkick. Eventually, he trapped his injured foe in a triangle, only to deliver more heavy strikes. More recently, Silva used upkicks to discourage Weidman’s attempts to pass.


Anderson Silva is a special athlete with a unique set of dangerous skills. Even as age has made him more human, Silva is still attempting strikes and strategies that few kickboxers inside the Octagon have the experience or creativity to attempt. It doesn’t really matter for his legacy if he wins or loses; Silva’s place in MMA history is already written.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 12 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ 7 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 12: “Silva vs. Hall” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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