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So dominant has been the figure of Anderson Silva over the past seven years in the UFC middleweight division that the question has long been not ‘Will he win?’ but ‘How will he win?’ Undefeated in all 16 of his UFC bouts and holder of multiple records including most knockouts, the Brazilian is widely recognised as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.
However, he has yet to meet the man dubbed his “nightmare matchup” - All-American wrestler Chris Weidman. Perhaps in their eagerness to see a super-fight involving Silva and Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre, certain sections of the media have been glossing over the fact the Spider faces arguably his toughest challenge in half a decade at UFC 162 in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
The widely-held presumption remains that Silva will add Weidman to his already unrivalled list of highlight-reel knockout victims. Since annihilating the hard-headed Chris Leben in 49 seconds seven years ago, the Brazilian has won another 15 fights without defeat. That includes a record-setting 10 defences of the middleweight belt he took from Rich Franklin in just his second UFC outing.
The manner with which he has destroyed the vast majority of opponents faced (boasting a record 14 UFC finishes) simply adds to the expectation. In his 16 UFC wins Silva – showing no signs of decline at the age of 38 - currently has 11 stoppages and three submissions. Just twice has he been taken the distance and only four times has he been taken beyond the second round.
Based on thsse statistics, plus his phenomenally fluid Muay Thai style, the betting on Silva leans towards a KO win for the champion at 4/6 with Paddy Power, with money to be made on a first round stoppage at 3/1, or second round finish at 4/1.
However, if you listen to Weidman - plus a seismic army of fellow fighters who believe Saturday night will finally bring about Silva’s downfall - those numbers will count for nothing come fight time. Weidman has the athleticism, the dominant wrestling skill-set and lethal submissions arsenal to do what nobody else in the UFC has been able to accomplish, thus far.
"If I don’t win this title, it’s a complete failure in my mind," he said. "I got in the sport for one reason, to be champion.”
Self-confidence in an undefeated fighter who is preparing for a title fight is nothing new. However, it is interesting to see Weidman’s self-belief being strongly backed by those in the know. Dan Henderson, Ronda Rousey, Georges St-Pierre and Chael Sonnen are just a few of a large number of top level fighters who believe Weidman’s wrestling will be the undoing of Silva. Welterweight champ St-Pierre even predicts “it won’t last that long”.
Weidman comes into the fight with a perfect 9-0 MMA record. He is, by his own admission, comparatively inexperienced having only made his debut in 2009 but his five fights in the UFC have seen the quality of opponent improve with every fight. That culminated in his highly impressive second round stoppage of the in-form Mark Munoz in July of last year. The win ultimately earned him this title shot.
If there’s one area where the great Anderson Silva is believed to be vulnerable it is wrestling and, more specifically, his takedown defence. While many opponents can’t get close enough or stay standing long enough with Silva to pose the question, Sonnen laid a blueprint at UFC 117 when he dominated for four rounds by sticking the champ on his back, only to fall short of the finish line when Silva produced a memorable last-gasp submission.
Weidman’s grappling is believed to be better than Sonnen’s and his submissions skills have been praised by the multiple Brazilian jiu jitsu world champion Roger Gracie in the build-up to this fight. High praise indeed.
If these top level fighters are right in their analysis of the fight then the bet to make is Weidman to win at 15/8. The unbeaten New Yorker is 6/1 with Paddy Power to win on points and 6/1 to win by submission. You can cover both bases by backing him to win by submission or on points at 7/2.
Few doubt Silva is the Greatest Of All Time. But every champion’s reign eventually has to end. Stylistically, nobody in the past five years has been better built to dethrone the king than Weidman. On Saturday these two men will share the same Octagon, but which one will walk out with the belt?