The man that is referred to as the greatest Mixed Martial Artist of all times says that he got out of control. The man with the most consecutive UFC wins and only one loss inside the Octagon, which cost him his title, says the reason he lost is the same reason he always won. The man who dances and frustrates his opponents with his hands down, hit-me-if-you-can type of trash talking body language took it one step too far and lost control of his own game. Thus came Chris Weidman's relentless fists for one more solid if not final blow. But did he chose to lose control or did Weidman's athleticism and superior striking force him to alter his own timing and go to the well once too often? The debate will continue until, at the very least, this Saturday night's rematch at UFC 168 which takes place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Let's take a closer look at how this 2nd, and possibly epic, title fight will break down.
Chris "The All American" Weidman (10-0) vs. Anderson "The Spider" Silva (33-5)
Silva takes nothing away from Weidman's performance and win at UFC 162 last July, acknowledging he was the better fighter that night. Like any athlete or team, he has reflected on his own mistakes and what he needs to do differently the second time round. He is perhaps the greatest "in fight" showman in MMA history. I use the term "in fight" since he doesn't talk trash before the fight, but instead starts the mental meltdown of his opponents at the weigh-in and then continues on during and throughout the fight. The dancing, playing, nonchalant, hands down, no defense tactics have allowed him to beat many of his opponents mentally before the counterpunching and kicking ever start to take their toll. 20 times that toll has been taken on opponents in the form of a knockout. If you watched the progression and rise of Anderson Silva, then certainly you can say that unique and playful violent style has evolved. One might say too that he's taken it too far. Perhaps after the Stephan Bonnar fight, Silva himself believed he was invincible. In that fight, he taunted the bigger and arguably stronger Bonnar by standing flat-footed against the cage, hands at his side, repeatedly challenging "The American Psycho' to knock him out. Bonnar couldn't even hit him, and then seemingly at will, Silva unleashed a single brutal and fight ending knee. I watched that fight in surreal admiration and remember thinking at that moment, he did everything wrong, didn't get touched, and won on his terms in spectacular style. I also remember thinking how often can he do that? That was two fights and light years ago. Now the former champion has to contemplate if his style can still garner a victory against a younger and possibly just plain better fighter.
To hear Weidman's camp speak of that first fight, it was no fluke and in fact it was all part of the game plan. If Silva had his hands low, then box with him, put him against the cage, let him get the double under hooks to prevent the takedown, and then lean; the philosophy being that while Silva was fending off the wrestler's takedowns with those double under hooks, his arms would tire and lose their snap. Did it work? Weidman's the champ and Silva got knocked out. You don't go 10-0 and walk through everyone that the UFC puts in front of you by luck. Regardless of the outcome of this Saturday's bout, Weidman is for real and here to stay for a long time. He did what he needed to do and what no one else before him was able to do. The fact that a lot of people aren't giving him full credit will serve as all the motivation needed to retain his championship.
The Pick: Like my dad used to say, "Dance with what brung ya." In the case of Spider Sliva, this means that, yes, he will still fight with the same taunting, dancing, hit-me-if-you-can style. It is who he is and how he knows success. Look for him to engage in the counterstriking sooner and with more success. That's when Weidman will take the fight to the ground and use his prowess in wrestling. Silva will have to defend takedown attempts with counterstrikes and he'll also need to get back up when taken down without taking much damage. The story of this fight will lie in that part of the chess match and that's how Anderson wins this one and becomes the UFC Middleweight Champion once again. He'll get taken down, but won't stay there and he'll effectively do damage in takedown defense while choosing the right times to frustrate his opponent with his signature hands down defense.
The X Factor: This fight is really too close to call. Weidman needs no X-Factor as he has the boxing, speed, power, and wrestling to beat anyone in the division. For him to win this time though, it will happen on the ground, at least to wear out Silva. He won't want to stand and trade with The Spider if the former champ is his usual self, so that's where you'll see the power and takedown speed of the All-American. If Weidman is able to keep Silva on his back, then he's in control, especially as the fight goes into the latter rounds. At that point, it could be another KO for the current champ.
"Roudy" Ronda Rousey (7-0) vs. Mesha "Cupcake" Tate (13-4)
So we all know the story here. These two fought for the StrikeForce Bantamweight Title back in March of 2012, with Rousey winning by (you guessed it) armbar. Since then, Rousey has become the face of women's MMA and the UFC's next highly marketable and well-packaged superstar. Well, that was up until these two bitter rivals squared off to coach last season's Ultimate Fighter Reality show. Suddenly, the viewing audience was shown a more hostile, unpolished, and even malicious side of Rousey. Moreover, Tate's brand took a huge positive swing as she came across as the more professional and polished athlete. What does that mean? Nothing! Rousey is a fighter and the fact that she acts tough, is mean, and has malice in her soul is most likely why she's champion. This ain't the WPGA.
Truth is, the show made for a great billing and build up of what may just be an overmatched fight. In Tate's last fight, she was manhandled by Cat Zigano and TKO'd in the 3rd. If Zagano doesn't get hurt, then Tate's not even on this card, much less the cover of EA Sport's UFC video game.
The Pick: Rousey's just a better athlete and her striking is going to be much improved. Look for her to work angles long enough in the standup to garner a takedown and then win by submission. It may not be an armbar, but it will be over with a tap out by the second round.
The X Factor: Rousey clearly got inside Tate's head the first time they fought, and subsequently, Cupcake admittedly fought on emotion. That's a luxury you're seldom afforded in the fight game. If Tate can stay relaxed and make Rousey exchange in the standup while avoiding getting taken down, then she has a solid chance of winning. This is especially true if Tate keeps the fight standing into the latter rounds. Rousey's never been out of the first round, so what happens in the champ's head if she can't win by armbar in round 1 or 2 has yet to be determined.
And for the rest of the nights action:
- Travis "Happa Browne (15-1-1) knocks out out Josh "The War Machine" Barnett (33-6)
- Jim Miller (22-4) beats Fabricion "Morango" Camoes (14-7-1)
- Dustin "The Diamond" Poirier (14-3) stays on the winning track against Diego Brandao (22-8)
- Chris "The Crippler" Leben (22-10) stops his 3-fight losing streak against Uriah "Prime Time" Hall (8-4)
- In the battle of American Top Team versus the Blackzillions, Gleison Tibau (37-9) beats Michael "The Menace" Johnson for ATT bragging rights in the state of Florida.
- Dennis Siver (21-9) knocks out out Manny "The Anvil" Gamburyan (16-8) to begin a new win streak.
- Siyar Bahadorzada (21-5-1) beats John "Doomsday" Howard (21-8)