Ever since he arrived into the UFC it’s been foretold that Chris Weidman would wind up challenging for the UFC middleweight championship. With the success Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen had against Anderson Silva with their high level wrestling Weidman’s grappling game has been looked to as potentially the thing that could pry the title away from Silva. After destroying Mark Munoz on a FUEL TV card in the aftermath of Silva’s defeat of Chael Sonnen, Weidman returns nearly a year later to challenge the Brazilian for the title.
Fight Breakdown – Both guys have pretty simple games.
Silva likes to counter strike, staying on the outside and waiting to land a big strike. He thrives when opponents get over-aggressive, countering with the most precise striking game in the decision. His game works off of finesse and precision; he’s tough to hit, has a great chin and has game-changing power in his hands and feet. Silva’s got elite level Muay Thai for MMA, thriving when able to use the Plumb, and his whole game revolves around his striking.
He doesn’t go to the ground unless he scores a knockdown, or is taken down, and when he does his game is simple: throw bombs. He has a killer instinct on top, posturing up and throwing strikes, and only goes for submissions off his back when he’s not trying to get back up. Silva’s got high level BJJ on the ground but he uses it to either get back standing or go for submissions.
Silva’s entire game is designed to go for the kill; there’s a reason why Silva has only gone to decision twice since entering the UFC.
His game plan is going to be simple going into the fight. He needs to keep Weidman away from him, use his striking game to tee off and keep the fight standing. Silva has a clear edge on his feet and keeping away from Weidman is going to be what he does. He needs to get Weidman coming in aggressive and catch him there. Silva has a profound edge on the feet and won’t be looking to make this a ground battle. Off his back he’ll look to sweep or set up a scramble. Silva isn’t going to be content to lay in guard, on his back, with someone like Weidman.
Weidman has gone from being a wrestling centered fighter who was remarkably raw into a better rounded fighter over his UFC career. His wrestling is how he wins and he combines a successful takedown game with a deadly submission game to be lethal on the ground. His ground game is good enough that completely gassed he was able to repeatedly pass Damian Meia’s guard, no easy feat, and with minimal BJJ training he qualified and competed fairly competitively at Abu Dhabi. He had Andre Galvao, one of the best in the world at BJJ, in a lot of bad spots in a loss.
Weidman has progressed on the ground in the same way Jon Jones has progressed on his feet. It doesn’t hurt that he’s trained under Matt Serra, who always had tremendous offensive submission skills. Serra’s influence has rubbed off on Weidman in his ground game; Weidman’s not content to just lay in guard and chill, grinding out the round. He’s aggressive, looking to grab a submission or advance position. He’ll want to take Silva down and keep him there, where he has the advantage.
The key to this fight will be the single leg takedown. A staple of amateur wrestling, Weidman has shown he can be taken anyone down with it and Silva is susceptible to it fairly regularly. It’ll be there for him, especially with Silva’s leg kicking style, and Silva’s takedown defense is strongest the more inside of him you get. Sonnen was able to drag him down by working from the inside out; he may have started with a double leg but watch his footwork; he was always moving to the side or using drags from the outside.
Weidman’s key is to follow the game plan that Sonnen and Henderson used for success; where they both faltered he has to succeed. And he has the talent; he has enough offensive grappling to keep Silva defense and his ability to chain submissions and stay out of danger can be a major problem for Silva.
Why It Matters – It’s for the middleweight title, which is usually more than enough, but for both guys it’s a different motivation.
Silva has done everything he’s ever wanted in his career. He sees the end of his career sooner than later, as well, and now it’s trying to see how much longer he can ride the wave as being the best middleweight in the world. That’s what people missed when he discussed his motivation coming into this fight; Silva’s career is near the finish and Silva is looking to just have fun, make money and retire undefeated in the UFC with the belt. Weidman represents the last great challenge for Silva; a win here and there’s nothing else he needs to do at middleweight.
Weidman has been super confident coming into the fight and I can see why. Having been a part of a media scrum with him I will tell you this: it’s not him hyping a fight. Weidman is crazy confident and is coming into this fight knowing he can win. It’s something a lot of Silva’s opponents didn’t have: the mental state of mind to do so. This isn’t Chael Sonnen appealing to the mouth breathing, low information type who regurgitated his line about wrapping his legs around your neck for two seconds. This is a fighter who’s been a gamer; Weidman’s whole wrestling career based on this general concept.
He never was an elite wrestler during both years he wrestled at the Division 1 level; NCAA tournament time he barnstormed through the tourney and wound up placing. He’s beaten some tough outs at middleweight on short notice, too, and Weidman has finished guys every time he’s had a camp. His ability to improve between fights has been similar to Jon Jones as well; his striking has gotten significantly better and while he may not be able to win a kick boxing match he should be able to look adequate opposite Silva until he can get close enough to get the takedown.
A win here and he shocks the world.
Prediction – This comes with some explanation. I’ve been saying this since last summer but I think we see the upset here. My gut tells me he’s in the same spot Cain Velasquez was before the Lesnar fight; without the resume but the eyeball test tells you more. This is going to be an absolute war and I won’t be shocked if Silva trashes him, and does so early, because I’ve been calling him the best fighter of all time well before it became popular to do so. Weidman via submission, round 4
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