Anderson Silva is considered one of the best fighters in the history of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). The black Brazilian has been middleweight champion since 2006, and had compiled a record of 16-0 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is the major leagues of MMA. The 38-year-old hadn’t lost since 2006, and that was a disqualification for an illegal blow in a match he was winning. Mr. Silva’s last real loss was in 2004.
All this came to an end Saturday night when white American Chris Weidman knocked Mr. Silva out cold in the second round to become the new UFC middleweight champion.
The build-up to the fight was intense, with several experts predicting an upset by Mr. Weidman. The 29-year-old was 9-0 but still a relative novice in MMA. Some were picking Mr. Weidman because he was an all-American wrestler in college. Wrestling is Mr. Silva’s Achilles’ heel, as Chael Sonnen demonstrated in a 2010 fight. Mr. Sonnen dominated the match by simply taking Mr. Silva down and pounding him. Mr. Silva salvaged a win with a triangle-choke submission in the closing minutes. But unlike Mr. Sonnen, Mr. Weidman is adept at avoiding submissions. He also hits very hard and is more well rounded than Mr. Sonnen, who is mostly just a very good wrestler.
Still, Mr. Silva was a 2-to-1 favorite to defend his title in Las Vegas. In addition to having more experience, Mr. Silva was thought to be a much better striker (kicks and punches) than Mr. Weidman. Also, the challenger had been out of action for almost a year and was recovering from shoulder surgery. He had defeated some good fighters, such as Demian Maia and Mark Munoz, but Mr. Silva had faced the better opponents.
I favored Mr. Weidman to win, as I thought he would take Mr. Silva down and pound him as Mr. Sonnen did three years ago. But Mr. Weidman also has a good submission game, meaning he would look for chokes and arm/leg locks to end the fight, as opposed to just smashing his opponent. But I was in the minority. A poll before the fight showed that roughly two-thirds of MMA fans thought Mr. Silva would win.
The pre-fight instructions from the referee were typical, but Silva did something I had never seen him do before. After the instructions, the referee tells the fighters to touch gloves. This is not mandatory and occasionally two fighters who really dislike each other refuse to do so. Silva is usually an affable and friendly sort, but when Mr. Weidman held out his glove Mr. Silva did not reciprocate. Instead he gave a slight bow. Perhaps he knew what was in store for him.
The fight started out as I thought it would, with Mr. Weidman quickly taking Mr. Silva down. He began punching the Brazilian with a force that made Mr.Silva’s head bounce off the canvass. Mr. Weidman did this for a while and then tried for a leg lock submission. The champion defended the move adeptly and this allowed him to pop back onto his feet.
Mr. Silva is a very hard striker, and certainly seemed on paper to have a huge edge when the fighters were standing. He began talking to and taunting Mr.Weidman and putting his hands down, daring Weidman to punch him. The American obliged and drilled him a few times—but also missed a few shots. Far from being hurt, the champion laughed and taunted the challenger all the more. The announcers wondered why Mr. Weidman was not trying to take Mr. Silva back down where he had the clear advantage.
The first round ended, and though Mr. Weidman clearly won, there was a sense that Mr. Silva might have survived Mr. Weidman’s best shot. Before the second round even started Mr. Silva was up from his stool yelling and gesticulating at Mr. Weidman. The American stayed cool and focused.
The second round began with Mr. Silva again taunting his opponent and daring him to throw a punch. Mr. Silva landed a few kicks and punches but with no real effect. Mr. Weidman was punching back and then attempted a takedown. Mr. Silva was able to thwart the takedown, and announcer Joe Rogan declared that this could spell trouble for Mr. Weidman.
Perhaps gaining confidence, Mr. Silva began taunting again. A punch from Mr. Weidman landed clean and the champion started to feign injury. He staggered back and wobbled his legs. But immediately Mr. Weidman landed a vicious follow up that knocked Mr. Silva out before he hit the canvass. A few shots to the unconscious opponent, and the referee stopped the fight. Chris Weidman had not only defeated Anderson Silva, but clearly knocked him out.
The sell-out crowd roared at the knockout and the announcers were amazed. While Mr. Weidman was given a decent chance to win by upset no one thought it would be so easy or that it would come by knockout.
A soft-spoken family man, Mr. Weidman celebrated with his parents, wife, and trainers in the ring and was respectful in victory. He praised Mr. Silva as one of the all-time greats of the sport and said he would gladly give him a rematch. Later at the press conference Mr. Weidman admitted that Mr. Silva’s antics had gotten to him:
“It pisses me off when someone does that to me and I knew sooner or later, I’d get him,” he said.
Mr. Silva was also gracious in defeat and admitted the better man had won. “Chris Weidman has my respect,” Mr. Silva said. “He’s the best. I did my best, but he’s the best.”
The Brazilian said he was not sure about wanting a rematch and who can blame him? Given the potential payday, there probably will be a rematch, but it is hard to see how it will end any differently.
Mr. Weidman’s win was important from a racial perspective. Anyone who follows sports knows how the media fawn over black athletes and exaggerate their accomplishments. Tiger Woods was the most acclaimed player in golf before he even won a major tournament. Websites such as Caste Football document the difficulties white athletes face because of the perception that blacks are better athletes. Convincing victories like Mr. Weidman’s help change that perception.
A victory by Mr. Silva would likely have cemented his place as the greatest MMA fighter of all time. With his decisive loss, many will now point to the retired Fedor Emelianenko or the still active Georges St. Pierre—both white—as the best ever.
Of course, a few more performances like that of Saturday night, and Chris Weidman’s name will start being mentioned along with these men. His impressive victory certainly made many white people proud.