3.05.2008

State of the U[fc]NION (#1)

I consider myself an avid fight fan, so from time to time I'll be letting you know what I think about the state of Mixed Martial Arts, particularly the UFC. This recurring column will likely address everything from weight classes to sponsors, developments in the sport to changing legislation, who I like to who I hate.

Having attended UFC 82 this past weekend and watched Anderson Silva dismantle Dan Henderson, my friends and I (along with thousands of MMA fans everywhere) were wondering who would could seriously challenge Anderson Silva. So here, I'll be addressing the state of the UFC Middleweight Division:

Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva (21-4)
- Most recently defeated Dan Henderson at UFC 82 via rear naked choke in round 2.
- 3 successful title defenses in the UFC.
- Previously defeated (in the UFC): Rich Franklin (x2), Nate Marquardt, Travis Lutter (non-title fight), and Chris Leben (pre-championship fight).

Anderson Silva is arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Some people feel this title belongs to Fedor Emelianenko, others feel it's Georges St. Pierre. However, Fedor hasn't had a truly challenging match in almost three years and GSP choked hard in his first title defense. GSP has since rebounded and holds in the interim Welterweight UFC title, but even if he wins the unification match, I don't think his skill level or sheer dominance will match Silva's.

Anderson Silva started with Chute Boxe, a famed Brazilian Fight Team and Training Camp. He later left to form Muay Thai Dream Team and currently fights under their flag.

Silva is a devastating striker - his fists, feet and elbows are abnormally quick, and he hits very hard (just ask Rich Franklin). 12 of his 21 wins are by KO or TKO. However, Silva also has a good submission game. 4 of his 21 wins are by submission.

Regardless of how good he may look on paper, he looks even better in the cage. Out of the 9 rounds he has fought in the UFC, only 3 (arguably) have not gone his way - but even in those three rounds, he was never in serious danger, and was never injured, merely slown down. In his first fight in the UFC (Chris Leben), he had a 100% striking rate. Granted, the fight only lasted 49 seconds, but Silva threw a flurry of punches, kicks and knees like you wouldn't believe. But still - 100% - how many other combat fighters can boast of that same statistic? Not many. Silva has taken the best the UFC (and Pride) had to offer and brushed them all aside. He destroyed Rich Franklin in their first fight, and nearly did the same in their second. He submitted Travis Lutter, a proclaimed submission "master,"; he took apart Nate Marquardt inside of one round with strikes when everyone thought Marquardt would be able to take Silva down and end the fight on the ground; and most recently, he submitted Dan Henderson, the former Pride Middleweight AND Light Heavyweight champion, a man who had only been stopped in a fight twice in his whole career. Silva is quick enough to actually dodge punches in the ring, he always comes into fights with a brilliant gameplan, and he can knock people out with both hands, both elbows, both feet and both knees.

But enough about the past - what about the future? That's the question MMA fans everywhere are asking.

There really aren't any true challengers for Silva left in the middleweight division. Yushin Okami (22-4) is most likely the #1 contender now, and a quick review of the two fighters' records will show that Okami holds a win over Silva. However, it was a disqualification due to an illegal kick - so essentially, Silva beat himself in that one.

Okami has a decent all around game - he has won by KO/TKO/submission and decision. Better yet, only 1 of his losses was a KO, the other 3 were decisions. So Okami hasn't been stopped much. Seems like a decent match-up...unfortunately, that's really all it is...a decent match-up. No one feels that Okami is truly ready to compete with Silva, even with wins in the UFC over Evan Tanner, Jason MacDonald, Mike Swick, Rory Singer, and Kalib Starnes.

I don't think anyone doubts that Okami might be able to frustrate Silva for a bit, maybe an entire round, but Silva's overall edge in skill level would eventually overtake Okami.

Perhaps Rich Franklin could try to make the third time the charm, but Franklin has been TKO'd twice, and unless he came into the fight with a new gameplan, it would happen again. And while the UFC middleweight division does have a lot of talent, none of the fighters are on Silva's level.

So - what's left? Looking outside the organization, two fighters stand out - Paulo Filho and Matt Lindland. Filho is 16-0 and is the current WEC Middleweight champion. He has good submissions and knock out power, and has never been stopped. However, this discussion stops here because Filho and Silva train together and both fighters have publicly stated they would not fight each other under any circumstances. So....we're left with Matt Lindland.

Lindland (20-5) has been around for over ten years and has fought some of the best the sport has to offer: Ricardo Almeida, Pat Militech, Phil Baroni, Tony Fryklund, Murilo Bustamante, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, and Fedor. However, he took Rampage (the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion) to a split decision, and when he fought Fedor, was two weight classes above his natural weight.

At the outset, I feel I have to state that Lindland has tried to get back in the UFC ever since he was fired for wearing the logo of a non-approved sponsor to a weigh-in, and Dana White has stated that Lindland will never get back in. In spite of this, I still think it's more likely Lindland would fight Silva (as opposed to Filho).

Lindland is simply a solid fighter - like I've said about other fighters in this article, he has KO power and a good submission game. He also has a strong chin, and most importantly, experience. Even in his losses, he learned something, and he now imparts that knowledge to numerous fighters on his International Fight League (IFL) team. I think that these factors combined with Lindland's desire to get his name back out there after disappointing losses to Rampage and Fedor would give him enough motivation to be truly prepared for Silva, and he would stand a great chance of forcing Silva out of his comfort zone.

However, there isn't much that is outside of Silva's comfort zone. Silva is also quicker than Lindland. But I think the combo of a deeper experience in Lindland versus a dominant reign in Silva would make for a great match.

The only other likely possibility is of someone, Silva or otherwise, changing weight classes. Vanderlei Silva has talked of dropping to Middleweight, but since he and Silva trained together for a very long time, that fight would likely not happen. Otherwise, people have speculated on Silva moving up (to Light Heavyweight) or down (to Welterweight), or someone like Matt Hughes or GSP moving up to Middleweight.

I think Silva would more likely move up than down. He fights at Middleweight (185) but walks around at about 205. A drop to 170 could be dangerous for his health and overall strength.

However, a move up to Light Heavyweight means fighting guys like Rampage, who fight at 205, but walk around at more like 225. I think there would be a distinct strength disadvantage for Silva. However, I do think Silva is much quicker than Rampage, and it would be interesting to see how Silva's precision striking would compare to Rampage's power punching.

Now someone like Hughes or GSP could move up to Middleweight, but I think both fighters would be sacrificing speed, and that's something they couldn't afford to lose against Silva. Hughes definitely has more experience, but GSP seems to be fighting better now - and he took out Hughes with a 2nd round armbar in their last fight. In spite of that, GSP lost his first title defense in a bad way, to Matt Serra. Like everybody else, I questioned his "mental toughness" after this, because he seemed to be overwhelmed like he did in his first fight with Hughes. Even if he were able to overcome all of those issues, I still don't think he could compete with Silva. He'd lose speed and strength going up in weight, and moving up just for Silva to prove a point would be a bad move.

So - that's it for now. If the UFC doesn't bring back Lindland, or if Franklin doesn't completely change up his fight game, Silva's going to be on top of the Middleweight division for a long time.

- Preview.

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