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The Silva Lining: Henderson and Marquardt both seek a second shot

Elliot Worsell, UFC - The yellow tape around the perimeter of a crime scene usually gives indication that danger lies up ahead. Varying from place to place, it commonly spells out something along the lines of ‘Crime Scene – Do Not Enter’. The tape informs curious bystanders that something untoward has occurred - something bad and something that should never be revisited while experts try to figure out the damage.

By Elliot Worsell

The yellow tape around the perimeter of a crime scene usually gives indication that danger lies up ahead. Varying from place to place, it commonly spells out something along the lines of ‘Crime Scene – Do Not Enter’. The tape informs curious bystanders that something untoward has occurred - something bad and something that should never be revisited while experts try to figure out the damage.

Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva is currently wrapped in yellow tape. In amongst the tape is the UFC middleweight championship, the belt Silva snatched from Rich Franklin in October 2006.

Silva’s middleweight crime scene is a mess of humbled challengers and crushed dreams. The outlines of great fighters have been sketched on the Octagon canvas in ominous white chalk.

Two of the outlines, seemingly finished at the time of Silva’s crimes, have since got up and walked free of the crime scene. Not only that, Dan Henderson and Nate ‘The Great’ Marquardt have enjoyed a successful rehabilitation programme. They’ve miraculously healed up, learned from the experience and become better men as a result of Silva’s slaying.

Now, with a combined seven wins between them since facing Silva, Henderson and Marquardt are back to being eager bystanders again. They’re waiting outside the yellow tape looking in at the crime scene, keen to get a glimpse of the grisly mess. Though well aware of the peril that may await them, Henderson and Marquardt are prepared to retrace their steps and meet any demons head-on.

In order for one to appreciate the magnitude of Henderson and Marquardt’s travels, we must first remember just how clinically they were disposed of when first crossing paths with Silva.

First up was Marquardt in July 2007. Silva, buoyed by back-to-back wins over Franklin and Travis Lutter, was ordered to defend his UFC middleweight strap against Marquardt, 28 at the time and a well-rounded veteran with four straight UFC wins to his name.

Although Silva dissected Franklin with a clinical exhibition of striking, the Brazilian found Lutter an altogether trickier prospect. Though he eventually submitted the jiu-jitsu black belt in the second round, Silva wound up mounted and controlled for parts of the opening session. Lutter’s minor success on the ground figured to give Marquardt – a fellow black belt in jiu-jitsu – a semblance of hope heading into a title scrap with Silva, no slouch on the ground himself, of course.

Armed with the ability to stand and strike as well as grapple and submit, Marquardt approached his shot at Silva with all the necessary physical tools required to fix the job. Immaculately conditioned and incredibly strong for the weight, Marquardt appeared to be the kind of fighter to pose questions that neither Franklin nor Lutter ever got closer to asking.

Silva and Marquardt drew battle lines at UFC 73 and, at 4.50 of the very first round, all questions were answered by Silva, in both his Portuguese tongue and English. Such was the extent of the dominance that nothing was lost in translation. Marquardt knew his place, Silva knew his place and the fans knew ‘The Spider’s place – perched royally at the top of the middleweight pack.

Marquardt started the fight tentatively, eventually rushing into a barrage of Silva strikes, including a big left knee, which visibly shook him. The fight then hit the deck but, with Marquardt unable to do much damage or improve his position, the fighters were stood back up. A straight left cross from Silva soon landed and forced Marquardt to involuntarily drop to the canvas for a second time. As Marquardt instinctively grabbed for a single leg, Silva postured up and delivered a hailstorm of right-handed blows.

And just like that, Marquardt’s plans and dream were crushed. He barely even got started.

Fast-forward less than a year to March 2008, and Silva was in the mood for obliterating more dreams. Since destroying Marquardt inside a round, Silva had repeated the trick on Franklin, this time finishing the Cincinnati hero inside two rounds of a rematch.

Next up for Silva was Henderson, the former two-weight PRIDE champion and one of the most recognisable figures in mixed martial arts. Now settled in the middleweight division, Henderson had previously challenged Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson for his UFC light heavyweight title. ‘Hendo’ went the full five rounds with ‘Rampage’, a nod to his incredible durability, toughness and stamina.

While Jackson posed problems with his punching power and wrestling, Silva presented Henderson with an entirely different look. The American underdog realised that, despite the force generated from his own potent right hand, he was best served getting Silva to the ground as soon as possible. Very few continue to smile while standing and striking with Silva. The smile is often kicked or punched across their face.

Two minutes into their UFC 82 showdown and Henderson secured the clinch and subsequent takedown. Job done. Once grounded, Henderson hung out in half-guard and attempted to deliver blows to Silva’s head. A brief spell in side-control allowed Henderson better leverage for his shots and helped him walk away with the first round in his back pocket.

Never in serious danger on the ground, Silva, nevertheless, kept the fight standing for the majority of the second round. The Brazilian shook off clinches and attempts to pull guard from Henderson before landing a series of damaging left-kicks. Henderson sought safety on the ground and Silva ominously went with him. Moments later, Silva locked in a rear-naked choke and Henderson tapped.

Another victim rolled away and collected his thoughts as Silva wheeled away in celebration. In three years of Octagon dominance, that sight has become commonplace when Silva is around. Big boasts and big plans follow challengers into the Octagon and Silva quickly evaporates them with devilish strikes or slick jiu-jitsu.

Since devouring Henderson with a rear-naked choke, Silva’s grip on the middleweight division has only tightened. He’s shut down Thales Leites and Patrick Cote in title defences, and also travelled up to light heavyweight to demolish Forrest Griffin and James Irvin – just for the hell of it. Seemingly without a peer at 185-pounds, Silva has contemplated full-time employment as a light heavyweight and even a farfetched cameo at heavyweight.

While few middleweights appear fit for the task of dethroning Silva just yet, both Henderson and Marquardt want to revisit their nightmare one more time. Despite the setbacks suffered last time, these middleweights aren’t deluded or acting on a whim. Henderson and Marquardt are the two most in-form middleweights in the world and have both worked their way back to contention the old-fashioned, hard way – beating the competition.

If Anderson Silva wasn’t Anderson Silva, these two 185-pounders would probably be the best in the world.

Here’s a closer look at two fighters convinced they hold the key to unlocking Silva once and for all:

Dan Henderson

Form: A fan favourite wherever he fights, Henderson keeps on truckin’ at the ripe old age of 39. Though he enjoyed huge success in PRIDE as both a welterweight and middleweight titleholder, Henderson is now experiencing an Indian summer in the UFC.

Since losing to Silva in the first portion of ’08, Henderson has rebounded with three back-to-back wins. He negated the jiu-jitsu threat of Rousimar Palhares over three rounds, then squeezed out a close decision over Rich ‘Ace’ Franklin, before scoring one of the knockouts of 2009 against Brit hope Michael Bisping.

Tools: It goes without saying that Dan Henderson is pretty much synonymous with the art of Greco-Roman wrestling inside the Octagon. A former two-time Olympian, Henderson is as good as it gets when we’re talking about wrestling and top control.

However, that’s not to say he’ll automatically look to pick you up and dump you on your head. Blessed with dynamite in his fists and granite in his jaw, Henderson is also inherently dangerous on his feet, too.

Henderson’s toughness allows him to close gaps and take chances that less stubborn and durable fighters cannot afford to take. His stunning knockout of Bisping was a lesson in closing the distance and having faith in your right hand.

History with Silva: Submitted by Silva in March 2008, Henderson gave ‘The Spider’ one of his most taxing Octagon battles yet. Although the finishing choke was decisive, Silva looked anything but in the opening session, as he allowed Henderson to drag him south and control him on the ground. Henderson never troubled Silva to the extent that he may lose, but the hard-nosed American achieved something most others can only dream of – he stole a round from Silva.

The Silva lining: Given the reasonably competitive nature of their first encounter, Silva will be fully aware of the threat ‘Hendo’ presents in any possible rematch. Henderson hasn’t achieved all he’s achieved as a mixed martial artist and elite-level wrestler to just lie down for anybody. He also demonstrated an ability to take Silva down and control him, albeit briefly, in the pair’s first showdown. That alone gives Henderson possibilities that other middleweights simply don’t have with Silva.

Henderson’s sheer toughness and grit also afford him the option to at least pitch with Silva on their feet. The Brazilian will, of course, always enjoy the edge in speed, finesse and accuracy, but Henderson hits hard enough to knock out most should he land flush.

Nate Marquardt

Form: Every bit as dominant as Henderson of late, Marquardt has ripped through three middleweight contenders in succession, since losing a controversial and somewhat unfortunate decision to Thales Leites last June. More aggressive and determined than ever before, Marquardt now enters fights with the sole intention of finishing matters within the scheduled distance.

He holds recent stoppage wins over Demian Maia, Wilson Gouveia and Martin Kampmann and, perhaps even more importantly, has dazzled in each and every one of those performances. Marquardt hasn’t just been finishing opponents of late; he’s been doing it in style – as impressively as anyone inside the Octagon today. Marquardt’s one-punch blitzing of Maia, and multi-strike destruction of Gouveia stand as two of the most eye-catching finishes to any bout in 2009.

Tools: Anyone that doubts Marquardt’s vast arsenal of skills need only watch his third-round stoppage of Gouveia in February. Finishing his Brazilian foe with a flurry of unorthodox kicks and punches, Marquardt brought video game violence to the Octagon for one night only.

As well as being diverse on his feet with strikes, Marquardt also boasts top-level wrestling and jiu-jitsu. He is as well-rounded as anyone in mixed martial arts today and as physically strong as anyone in the middleweight division. Marquardt is one of the definitive examples of a mixed martial artist in the game today. He’s better than average in every single department.

History with Silva: Overwhelmed and bewildered, Marquardt was stopped inside a round by Silva in July 2007. A shock to both Nate and the world at the time, Marquardt has since explained how he wasn’t in the right frame of mind first time round.

“Silva didn’t fight Nate ‘The Great’ that night,” said Marquardt. “He fought me in more of a sparring mode. Now when I go out there I’m trying to hurt the opponent and take him out. Back then I was trying to win the fight but not looking to over commit. I was holding back. I’m never going to hold back again.”

The Silva lining: One refreshing thought for Marquardt is that, realistically, he can’t do any worse than first time round. As results have proven, Marquardt is a far better fighter than the one that challenged Silva in 2007.

Physically, the Colorado-based fighter has always been a perfect template. However, the mental side of things seemed to fluster him against Silva in 2007 and, one can only hope, Marquardt’s run of emphatic victories since have helped him overcome any demons. He appears as confident as he’s ever looked and, at 30 years of age, seems bang in his prime. If he hadn’t already been defeated by Silva, many would give him a decent chance of threatening the seemingly invincible champion.