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UFC 101 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Nike’s two-year old Witness integrated marketing campaign celebrates the coming of age of a man who many believe has a shot to be the greatest basketball player in the history of the sport—LeBron James.

The UFC should consider a similar campaign for Silva. Every time the UFC Middleweight Champion steps into the Octagon, we are all witnesses to the greatest fighter in the world, possibly the greatest fighter in the history of the game.
By Michael DiSanto

WE ARE ALL WITNESSES

Nike’s two-year old Witness integrated marketing campaign celebrates the coming of age of a man who many believe has a shot to be the greatest basketball player in the history of the sport—LeBron James.

The UFC should consider a similar campaign for Silva. Every time the UFC Middleweight Champion steps into the Octagon, we are all witnesses to the greatest fighter in the world, possibly the greatest fighter in the history of the game.

Saturday’s bout erased any doubt, not that any existed among rational fight fans, as to who is the pound-for-pound king. With all due respect to Georges St-Pierre, Lyoto Machida, and Miguel Torres (who was upset Sunday night by Brian Bowles), Silva is in a class all by himself.

His first-round knockout win over Forrest Griffin improved his UFC record to a perfect 10-0, the longest winning streak in history by two. That means no other fighter, not even the legendary Royce Gracie, has enjoyed a better streak inside the Octagon. But what makes Silva’s streak even more impressive is the level of competition that he has faced during the perfect start to his UFC career. His list of victims includes fellow pound-for-pound great and former 183-lb and 205-lb PRIDE champion Dan Henderson, former 185-lb champion Rich Franklin (twice), seven-time King of Pancrase and perennial top contender Nathan Marquardt, and former 205-lb champion Griffin. And he finished each of those men, erasing any doubt as to who is the better fighter.

In my opinion, the recent win over Griffin was Silva’s most impressive to date. Watch the tape again. Silva knocked him out with a right jab thrown while retreating—A JAB! That is almost unfathomable against an elite, durable fighter like Griffin. But that is exactly what happened.

It certainly helped matters that Griffin inexplicably decided to rush the champion while throwing arm punches with his chin sticking out. I have no idea why MMA fighters do that—Griffin isn’t the only one guilty of that indiscretion. Unless the attacker has the hand and foot speed of a 20-year-old Vitor Belfort, it makes no sense. Griffin has neither, thus he left the Wachovia Center with a second consecutive loss on his record and one heck of a headache.

To be fair to Griffin, the fight was probably over long before the knockout. It was obvious from the first exchange that Silva’s superior speed, technical precision and punching power were going to be too much for Griffin, so it was just a matter of time before he ran into a knockout blow.

Yes, I fully realize that I picked Griffin to score a stunning upset at UFC 101. To quote my good friend and editor Thomas Gerbasi, I get paid to pick ’em, not to pick ’em correctly.

Honestly, I cannot identify a single fighter in any division from 170 lbs to 205 lbs who would be a rightful betting favorite over Silva, including his good friend and reigning 205-lb champion Lyoto Machida. Silva is that good, undoubtedly the best in the game at the moment.

He already holds the records for consecutive wins, consecutive wins to start a UFC career and successful consecutive middleweight title defenses. He currently shares with former long-time welterweight champion Matt Hughes and former 205-pound boss Tito Ortiz the record for successful consecutive title defenses in any division. Thus, one more successful middleweight defense and he will own that record by himself.

If he is able to capture 205-lb gold, Silva will become the third fighter in UFC history to win championships in two weight divisions. If he accomplishes that feat while he is the reigning 185-lb champion, he will stand alone in history as the first to rule two UFC divisions simultaneously.

Anderson Silva isn’t just another in a long line of great UFC fighters. When his career wraps up, he may very well be regarded as the greatest to ever step foot inside the Octagon.

Forget the NBA. UFC fans, WE are all witnesses.

WHO IS NEXT FOR SILVA?

At the post-fight presser, UFC President Dana White remarked that Henderson is “probably next” for Silva at 185 lbs. Henderson is certainly a deserving challenger. In fact, I firmly believe that the two-time Olympic wrestler currently presents the most dangerous middleweight challenge for Silva.

Henderson’s wrestling ability opens the possibility of him taking down Silva and grinding out a five-round decision. He also has enough dynamite in his hands to turn out the champion’s lights with a single shot, as he showed against Michael Bisping. The problem, though, is Silva already owns a submission win over Henderson back at UFC 82, so it may be a fight that doesn’t provide much motivation for him. And when a fighter lacks motivation, upsets go from improbable to plausible.

Outside of Henderson, I truly believe that there are only two men with the ability to threaten Silva’s reign—Drew McFedries and Belfort. I’ve beaten the McFedries horse to death in the past, so I won’t rehash the argument, other than to remind fans that Silva should beat him nine out of 10 times. Nevertheless, someone with McFedries’ speed, power and sharpshooting ability always has a chance to win any standup contest.

Belfort presents an interesting matchup. After an up-and-down career at light heavyweight, Belfort decided to drop to middleweight, where he is as big and strong as any middleweight in the world. The results were nothing less than phenomenal, scoring back-to-back first-round knockout victories over former UFC contenders Matt Lindland and Terry Martin.

In each instance, Belfort needed only a single blow to end the bout. That is very different from the Belfort who competed at light heavy, where he was a very good puncher who overwhelmed opponents with hand speed. At middleweight, he is a devastating one-punch knockout guy. Add to the equation that Belfort is an elite BJJ black belt, and he starts to look a lot like Silva in the skills department. His upcoming catchweight bout (195 pounds) against Franklin will go a long way in evaluating Belfort as a future opponent for the champion.

Silva has many more options at light heavy than he does at middleweight. The winner of the venomous grudge match between Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Rashad Evans would be yet another awe-inspiring challenge for the middleweight champion. Both have enough power to stop him with a single punch and the wrestling ability to put him on the canvas and keep him there.

The ultimate challenge, of course, would be for Silva to face the winner of October’s proposed matchup between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua for Machida’s 205-lb title. The bout is no more dangerous than a bout versus the winner of Rampage-Evans, but the reward is much, much greater.

A win over either Rampage or Evans is similar to what Silva just accomplished by defeating Griffin—it places a win on his resume against a former 205-lb champion. Nothing more. Nothing less. By contrast, if he were to capture the 205-lb title, he would be forever remembered in history as the UFC’s first multi-division champion. Thus, this bout presents the appropriate risk-reward scenario for Silva.

Of course, there is that other possibility—a bout with reigning welterweight king and fellow pound-for-pound great Georges St-Pierre. That would fight would surely drum up tremendous fan interest, though I’m not sure that I would give GSP much of a chance. The size differential is simply too great for him to overcome, in my opinion. Silva’s length and ability to control the distance with strikes would nullify GSP’s wrestling, thereby forcing the Canadian superstar to stand and strike. That is a recipe for disaster because GSP does not come close to Silva in terms of hand speed, reach, technique or power. With that said, I’d either be sitting in the arena or glued to the television just like every other fight fan if that matchup were to ever take place.

At the end of the day, I have no idea what is next for Silva. But when he does return, fans will expect another spectacular performance like the one he put on last Saturday night.

PENN TIES PULVER, SETS SIGHTS ON NEW STANDARD FOR LIGHTWEIGHT GREATNESS

When BJ Penn forced Kenny Florian to tap due to a rear naked choke, he entered the UFC record books for the second time.

His first foray into UFC immortality occurred when he defeated Joe Stevenson to capture the 155-lb title at UFC 80. That gave the former 170-lb champion his second title in as many divisions, tying him with Randy Couture, who conducted separate reigns over the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions during his career.

Saturday’s win gave Penn two consecutive successful defenses of the 155-lb title, matching the feat previously accomplished by arch rival Jens Pulver at UFC 33 and UFC 35.

It is likely that Penn’s next bout will be another title defense against the first winner of The Ultimate Fighter, Diego Sanchez. Sanchez’s brash personality and willingness to engage in spiteful trash talking will surely motivate the laid back Hawaiian, so I imagine that the world will see the best BJ Penn who has ever stepped into the Octagon if that fight comes to fruition. A win over Sanchez will give Penn the separation he surely wants (though probably won’t publicly admit) from Pulver in the record books.

CORRECTION ABOUT FLORIAN’S PRE-FIGHT PREPARATIONS

I need to take a brief moment to correct an error in my Penn-Florian breakdown piece. I wrote that Mark DellaGrotte was Florian’s head trainer. That is not accurate. Keith Florian is, and always has been, his brother’s head trainer. KenFlo trains regularly with DellaGrotte, but Keith is the one who orchestrates the camp and comes up with the game plans for the fights.

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