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The Spider's Web: Light Heavyweights

Elliot Worsell, UFC - Fighters often decide to move up through the weight divisions for a variety of reasons. They may have simply outgrown their old division. They could be looking to relax the belt buckle and enjoy a few added pounds. They might have suffered a defeat and are looking to relocate and move forward. There may be a particular fight in the heavier division that appeals to them.

In the end, though, sometimes a fighter just moves up because he can. Because he’s that great. Anderson Silva is one such fighter.

By Elliot Worsell

Fighters often decide to move up through the weight divisions for a variety of reasons. They may have simply outgrown their old division. They could be looking to relax the belt buckle and enjoy a few added pounds. They might have suffered a defeat and are looking to relocate and move forward. There may be a particular fight in the heavier division that appeals to them.

In the end, though, sometimes a fighter just moves up because he can. Because he’s that great. Anderson Silva is one such fighter.

Unbeaten as UFC middleweight champion, Silva now teases fans with occasional cameo appearances in the 205-pound light heavyweight division. As yet undecided where his future lies, Silva is content to defend his title at 185 and defend his pride at 205. So far, so good.

Silva the middleweight has been two parts destructive and one part frustrating in his dominance of the 185-pound class. He looked otherworldly in wins over Chris Leben, Rich Franklin, Nate Marquardt and Dan Henderson, and then more recently looked bored to tears in sleepwalking to victory against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote. Nonetheless, even when Silva disappoints, the Curitiba-born striker still claims every second of every round as his.

Up at light heavyweight, Silva has, thus far, cut a far more fearsome and decisive figure. Though his six-pack may not be as defined, Silva’s large frame has allowed him to slide into the 205-pound division with devastating effect. He goes into fights with larger light heavyweights aware that he can no longer play games. Subsequently, Silva has crushed both Forrest Griffin and James Irvin in one round apiece. Ominously, ‘The Spider’ is yet to see the second round as a light heavyweight.

The 205-pound division represents uncharted and unconquered territory for the dominant Silva, 25-4. He’s raided the middleweight division and smoked out the best it has to offer. However, bigger challenges – literally and figuratively - remain 20-pounds up. For one, there’s a champion not called Anderson Silva. There is then a flurry of hungry contenders and former champions eager to scrap their way to a shot.

Silva, as a 205-pounder, is just another contender – albeit one with a middleweight strap to his name and some of the most dangerous Muay Thai in the game. It’s a situation that seems to energise Silva. He likes it this way. As a middleweight, Silva at times appears almost bored of being a champion. He seems fed up of beating a conveyer belt of number one-ranked contenders.

While there will always be talented challengers to face in the middleweight pack, one has to question whether talent alone will ever be enough against a 185-pound Silva. After all, talent versus talent has so far wound up with countless fighters being kneed and kicked into oblivion when facing Silva. Quite simply, there are very few more naturally gifted fighters than the Brazilian.

However, when analysing Silva at 205-pounds, the talent-factor is just one intangible that plays out in any prospective matchup. Unlike at middleweight, we also deal in size with Silva at 205-pounds. So used to being the bigger and rangier man as middleweight champion, Silva will throw away those perks should he pursue a run at light heavyweight. That, at least, gives us food for thought and gives the 205-pound contenders a prayer.

Below are five light heavyweights who could provide Silva with a rude awakening in his pursuit of a suitable challenge:

Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua

Reputation: Still on cloud nine following his knockout win over Chuck Liddell, Rua now looks to establish himself as the best 205-pounder on the planet. Formerly recognised as numero uno during his time in PRIDE, Rua is determined to create a similar reputation in the UFC. With PRIDE wins over Quinton Jackson, Alistair Overeem, Ricardo Arona and Kevin Randleman, there are few doubting Rua’s talents.

Risk: Significant. At 27 years of age, Rua remains a relatively young buck of the 205-pound division and the more accustomed he becomes to competing in the Octagon the worse it will be for future opponents. Add into the equation the fact he’s now fully healed from injury and ‘Shogun’ cuts a fearsome figure.

Reward: Expected to get the next shot at Lyoto Machida’s light heavyweight title, Rua could be tied up for the remainder of the year. However, an all-Brazil battle with Silva would be monumental, and one which would pair two premier Muay Thai practitioners and Chute Boxe graduates against each other.

Both dangerous on the ground and standing, Silva versus ‘Shogun’ would be a battle for the ages. A win for Anderson would instantly become one of the standout moments in a glittering career.

Rashad Evans

Reputation: A rapid right hand, athleticism and wrestling ability provide most Rashad Evans opponents with a tough style to figure out. Previously content to outwrestle his foe to the ground, Evans’ dramatically improved striking now allows him to destroy foes without getting his shorts dirty.

Stunning wins over Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell have established Evans as a key player in the 205-pound division. The rate of his improvement suggests Evans will only get better in the coming months and years.

Risk: One only needs to ask Griffin and Liddell if Evans carries enough potency in his fists to defeat Silva. If Evans lands, you’ll know about it. He carries speed and explosiveness with his punches and it’s this hand-speed that bewildered both Griffin and Liddell.

While Chuck and Forrest presented Evans with relatively straightforward equations, Machida turned the tables on Evans in May and stopped the ex-champion in two rounds. One imagines Silva would follow a similar blueprint, remaining elusive and awkward and not allowing Rashad an opening to unload his bombs.

Reward: Beating Evans would be a huge scalp for Silva, irrespective of the fact Machida got there first. Evans has only suffered one loss in his pro career and boasts wins over Liddell, Griffin and Michael Bisping. He’s young and in his prime as a leading light heavyweight.

Evans must first defeat Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in his next fight, but further on down the road he could emerge as a genuine star of the division. If he can add ‘Rampage’ to his list of big-name conquers, a fight with Silva could become huge.

Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson

Reputation: A dynamic puncher with TNT in either fist, Jackson can knock out any 205-pounder in the world if he lands flush. Seemingly content to stalk and slug these days, Jackson is hell-bent on finishing opponents before the final claxon.

A veteran of nearly 40 fights – including numerous wars – Jackson brings experience and toughness to the table. He’s faced the best and beaten most of them.

Risk: The risk is substantial if Silva gets sloppy while standing up with Jackson. There’s little doubt that Silva, like most other light heavyweights, would crumble should he cop a Jackson right hand or left hook square on the jaw.

On the flipside, Jackson’s determination to simply stand and bang makes him a predictable puzzle for a multi-faceted craftsman like Silva. ‘The Spider’ wouldn’t have to go looking for Jackson and he wouldn’t have to strip his style down piece-by-piece. Also, the Muay Thai clinic demonstrated by Wanderlei Silva on ‘Rampage’ through two fights in PRIDE would no doubt be prevalent in the thought-process of Anderson.

Reward: Big reward. Jackson is a big name with a big right hand and a big reputation. He’s a character. He knows how to fight and he knows how to play the game. He also hasn’t been stopped for over four years, since losing to Rua in PRIDE.

Should ‘Rampage’ defeat Evans and re-emerge at the top tier, a win for Silva over Jackson could be huge.

Tito Ortiz

Reputation: Now back in the saddle and raring to go, Ortiz’s determination and will to win is a danger in itself. A tough, hard-working grinder with vicious ground-and-pound, Ortiz is a former champion with the kind of mentality that can only be born from holding the coveted UFC title. He’s been where Silva’s been and he’s been involved in more landmark, pressure-cooker fights than most.

Risk: Depending on how Ortiz returns to the Octagon towards the end of the year, ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ could pose difficulties for Silva with his sheer size and wrestling. A huge 205-pounder with bundles of core strength and power, Ortiz would be a tough proposition for anyone when he initiates his takedowns and ground-and-pound.

Reward: Whatever one might think about Ortiz, the man generates interest. A master of self-promotion, Ortiz has grown as a star in tandem with the rise of mixed martial arts. He’s a known face and carries star appeal. Silva, for all his brilliant talents, is still in search of battles that mean something to the wider public. Wins over the likes of Franklin, Henderson and Griffin resonate at large, and a win over Ortiz would work the same way. People would care.

Lyoto Machida

Reputation: With his MMA-laced karate, combined with mind-blowing elusiveness, Machida is a threat to everyone within the light heavyweight division. The current UFC 205-pound champion has befuddled Rashad Evans, Thiago Silva and Tito Ortiz in his last three bouts and seems to be getting more spiteful from fight-to-fight.

Machida is no longer just humiliating opponents – he’s finishing them now, too. That’s a scary thought for the remainder of the 205-pound division.

Risk: If Silva is to be believed, the risk is zero, because the fight will never happen. Silva and Machida are close friends and ‘The Spider’ has reportedly point-blank refused to entertain the idea of fighting his friend.

However, if one day a falling out occurred and Silva and Machida became enemies, the risk for Anderson would be major. Widely considered one of the most awkward and gifted mixed martial artists in the world today, Machida going up against Silva would be a battle of two Brazilian Rubic’s cubes. Someone would have to get figured out.

Reward: Immense. In terms of legacy, at least. Silva may not enjoy beating his friend so much, but a win over Machida would crown Silva as the best light heavyweight on the planet, as well as solidify his position as pound-for-pound number one. That feat, added to what he’s already achieved as a 185-pounder, would put ‘The Spider’ in a new echelon of greatness.