The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Absolutely Zero Buys

Hell of a main event to UFC 97, eh? There’s certainly other things to talk about from that card- the end of the Iceman and the resurgence of the Shogun for one- but with the night ending on one of the weirdest and most baffling notes since, well, the last Anderson Silva fight, it’s hard to think about much else. For those who missed it, Silva “defeated” Thales Leites via unanimous decision following a hideous fight almost entirely devoid of action or apparent interest and effort from either participant. Silva threw few strikes other than leg kicks, and refused to engage on the ground; Leites, who seemed scared for much of the fight, refused to strike and had no backup plan once his takedowns were stuffed. The result was a mess of a fight in which Leites mostly fell over and played possum trying to entice Silva to the ground, while Silva danced and shook his shoulders and tried wacky taunting strikes while doing his level best not to press Leites at all. There’s a lot to talk about from this one.

The immediate reaction of most fans, judging from the usual sites, was to try and affix blame for the putrid quality of the encounter. In general most seem to blame Leites more than Silva, though both men seem to be getting a share of it and rightfully so. Leites was obviously terrified of a standing encounter with Silva and lost all confidence once his takedowns didn’t work, retreating towards a frankly embarrassing pattern of falling over and hoping Silva would spontaneously decide to roll with him. For a fighter with only one loss on his record to come so undone in a world title match is uncommon, and while I always hate to judge a fighter too harshly since I’m not the one catching punches, difficult to understand or respect. The name of the game is prize fighting and money; Leites, by putting on such an awful performance, has moved himself in many fans’ eyes from a relatively less known fighter with youth and a good record, to a known quantity who’s clearly not world title level and whose defining performance is trying to survive at all costs in his big chance. If he had gone out there throwing hard shots and trying to win an exciting fight after he found out he couldn’t take Silva down, even a loss for him would have almost certainly meant more dollars in the long term; but after this performance, can you see UFC being too eager to book him in serious high-profile fights again? He won’t be cut, but he’s probably one more loss away from heading out the same door Fabricio Werdum did. Financially and competitively this was a bad night for him.

Silva, meanwhile, does not skate on this; no man walking around calling himself the best in the world should expect to after twice showing up looking bored with his own main events. People claiming that this was all Leites’ fault ignore this being the second straight fight (against radically different opponents) in which the Spider has looked like anything but the man whose run of dominance got him labeled the pound for pound king. Both the Cote fight and this one revealed a Silva more interested in dancing, taunting and throwing ridiculous soccer back-heel kicks than in actually finishing a fight, whose work rate and desire seem a fraction of what they were only a year or two ago. It’s hard to say why; Silva and Leites are both Brazilian and have trained at the same BJJ school at times, and there’s been rumors of “let’s take it easy on each other” deals between fighters in such positions before. But that wouldn’t explain the Cote fight. There’s speculations that Silva is staging some sort of protest over the quality of his opponents or demonstrating how bored he is with his own easy dominance, but given that he could easily advocate publicly for a move to 205 or for a showdown with GSP (which would both be huge money and thus viable from the UFC perspective) it’s hard to credit that as the sole reason. And as with Leites, this isn’t just a question of whether Silva somehow “owes it to the fans” to try and finish fights or not- the Spider has never been a big PPV draw, and as great as he’s been from a competitive standpoint he’s certainly not ever going to become a huge draw by having bad fights which he doesn’t take seriously. He also left money on the table last night and he and his managers and agents have to realize that.

My own hunch as to what’s behind this is that if you’re a boxing fan as well, you’ve seen this story before when Roy Jones was the star: a great fighter, long unchallenged and reaching his mid to late 30’s (Silva is 34 now; Jones was 34 when he went through this) bulks up to a higher weight (Jones to heavyweight, Silva to a 205 where he looked huge) for a new challenge, has difficulty coming back down (Jones has long claimed he was weight-drained back at 175; Silva has not looked good in his two fights back at 185 and weighed in at an odd 182 for Leites) and looks unimpressive at his old weight. Jones’ story ended when he ran into a very good Antonio Tarver and got destroyed; Silva probably doesn’t have an equivalent opponent in the UFC right now who’s unafraid of him and willing to press him standing, and so may coast on a bit longer depending on who gets brought in from outside. The parallel is strong enough to justify a speculation that part of the issue of late for Silva is simply physical decline- he’s not as young as he once was and is almost certainly past his athletic peak, he’s asked for a lot from his body in the last year or two, and now doesn’t seem to have the explosiveness and power he once had. “What’s wrong with Anderson Silva” may be the early stages of what’s wrong now with Chuck Liddel- only time will tell, really. If you get a chance though, go back and watch this fight and look for all the things Silva once did regularly which he didn’t do in this fight- he never really attempted to lock in the Muay Thai clinch, threw very few punches, never pressed Leites when he retreated to the cage, never pressed his ground and pound even when Leites was turtling with his gloves over his face, threw very few high kicks. I certainly don’t blame Silva for not going to the ground with Leites, but when a fighter considered the best striker in the world leaves 3/4 of his arsenal at home for two consecutive fights, something’s up.

Side note: Incidentally, when a fight’s defining characteristic is that one fighter doesn’t use most of his skills even though the other guy is barely competing, that’s probably your cue to recognize that it isn’t an “unappreciated technical fight”.

More on this card later, probably.

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April 19, 2009 - Posted by | MMA

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