UFC 168 Preview – Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman

Sometimes … sometimes it is nice to have your faith rewarded. I remember having a conversion with Inside Fights EIC Shawn M Smith on the way home from UFC on Fox 2 and the awfulness of Weidman/Maia came up. It was an ugly, ugly fight but one thing popped into my mind while watching it. It stuck in my craw and I repeated it every time anyone asked me about Weidman.

“Chris Weidman is going to be the man that stops Anderson Silva’s reign on top of the middleweight division.”

Shawn and I spoke of it as I drove home from the United Center and I remember that very moment when Weidman connected in the 2nd for the finish. Now, five months after that singular moment in MMA history, we get a rematch of that fight in the UFC’s final card of 2013. After what’s been a fairly historic year in terms of fight quality is going to be concluded with what could be the most anticipated immediate rematch in UFC history.

Fight Breakdown – We’ve seen this fight before and we know how it went the first time. Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva played submission chasing on the ground before Silva got caught for the first time in a storied career by Weidman’s power boxing game. Neither fighter has fought since UFC 162, as well, and thus for the last nine months or so both fighters have done nothing but train for the same opponent. Thus this fight boils down to one key: adjustments.

The one thing Silva has had the luxury of in his UFC career has been a thorough lack of rematches. Only two fighters have fought him twice (Chael Sonnen, Rich Franklin) and he finished all four fights between the two. But the one thing he’s done in both rematches has been adjusting to his opponents. It’s the one thing he doesn’t get credit for because he’s never had to take on the same opponent twice for the bulk of his career.

Against Franklin he went to the clinch immediately, much faster than he did in the first fight, and his entire game plan was designed around Franklin’s clear weakness in that department. The second finish of Franklin was more brutal then the first because Franklin somehow managed to survive the first. Anderson did more damage, and landed better shots, but Franklin somehow managed to survive.

Against Sonnen he clearly worked on his takedown defense against the unrelenting pressure of Sonnen. He was able to tie up Sonnen off his back, preventing him from being to grind on top, and even in mount Sonnen had a hard time getting a lot of offense in. Compare the first round of their first fight to the second; Silva takes a significantly less portion of damage off his back and Sonnen expends a lot more energy to improve position. Sonnen wasn’t gassed in the second … but he made him work his arms a lot more. Sonnen didn’t have that explosive pull the second round and Silva was able to win the fight from there.

Silva’s adjustments are always interesting because normally his opponents adjust to him, not the other way around. That’ll be the key to this fight. What does Anderson change up to fluster Weidman this fight?

Weidman’s game plan in all of his fights is pretty simple: he goes for the finish but doesn’t leave himself open to get caught. He’s aggressive but not foolish, using his top game to go for the finish and not to accumulate riding time. Weidman is a high level wrestler but he’s not a grinder. He doesn’t look to take the decision; he’s looking to end it early and has done so by KO and by submission.

What we know from the first fight is that Weidman found all of his success by doing two things: keeping his cool and going for the finish as often as he could. It’s the one thing we didn’t expect from Weidman, as most figured he’d go for a Sonnen-esque 25 minute grind session and keep him at bay. Weidman instead came out, looking to finish from the first round on, and caught Silva in the second.

The other thing to consider here is that Weidman has faced Silva before and won’t be intimidated by him. That’s the one thing with Silva’s opponents going in; a lot of times they try to do something out of their skill set because of the reputation of the former champion. Weidman’s been in the cage with him once and won’t be scared of the moment. I was part of an interview scrum with him before the UFC on Fox in Chicago and you could feel the confidence from him. This wasn’t bluster masquerading as bravado, like Brendan Schaub, or simple fight promotion. This was real and palpable; Weidman felt in his heart all he needed was a shot and he could dethrone the king.

It’s something you can’t talk yourself into or buy from someone; it’s a championship mindset. And now, coming off a win where he starched Silva, he’ll walk into that cage knowing he can win as opposed to merely expecting to.

Why it matters – It’s for a UFC title, which normally is enough in and of itself, but the stakes are huge for both men beyond this.

Silva won’t get a 3rd shot at the UFC middleweight title if he loses to Weidman, especially if he gets finished, without going on another big winning streak. He’ll get a shot at the 205 pound title well before this one; Silva is fighting to stay relevant at middleweight or else he’ll be in the same spot as Chael Sonnen. His legacy as the greatest is secure; if he can’t win now he’ll still be a big time fighter … but not one fighting for a title in the main event regularly.

Weidman has a much simpler stake beyond merely retaining his title: silencing the doubters. Everyone talks of Silva losing because of something, not because Weidman hit the former champ so hard the lights went out.

Prediction – Weidman by submission

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