In modern MMA, there are good fighters, really good fighters, and elite, world-class champions.
And then there’s Anderson Silva.
I don’t need to recount “The Spider’s” accomplishments for you – but I will anyways, because they’re so astounding that even typing them out makes me feel a little crazy.
16 straight wins inside the Octagon. The longest-reigning middleweight champion in UFC history. 11 victories in title fights. Dominating, crushing victories over a who’s who of the middleweight division – Dan Henderson, Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin, Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen to name some. The ability to astound and amaze and destroy like no other fighter in MMA history.
In short, the UFC is Anderson’s world – everyone else is just living in it.
So why does Silva’s future seem more murky now than ever before?
Think about it for a moment – who is Anderson Silva’s next fight going to be against? There’s no easy, immediate solution, and if you’ve thought of one, you probably haven’t thought hard enough. Recent events have conspired in a strange way to rob Silva of interesting fights not just in his own division, but in other weight classes, as well.
And that’s troubling, because Silva will be 38 years old this year, well outside what is considered an athlete’s “prime”. Not every fighter can be Randy Couture, and continue to compete well into middle age. For Silva, every fight from here on out if precious, and must not be wasted.
Let’s break down the options facing “The Spider”, shall we? Broadly speaking, they break down into two categories – stay at middleweight and defend his title, or move up (or down) a weight class.
STAY AT MIDDLEWEIGHT
This option poses some problems, because recent events have conspired to (almost) clean out the field of challengers at 185-pounds. Alan Belcher was on a fast-track to a title shot – until a dominating loss to Yushin Okami derailed those plans. Michael Bisping was knocking on the door of a world title shot – until Vitor Belfort knocked on his head with his shin, and sent Mike’s title hopes (and Mike himself) crashing to the mat. That eliminates two title challengers, and gives you two guys – Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami – who have recent, blowout losses to Silva.
So who’s next? Well, there are a few intriguing options.
Chris Weidman: On paper, the most obvious fight for Silva to take next would be a title defense against Team Serra-Longo prospect Chris Weidman. Weidman is undefeated in MMA, and is on an absolute tear in the UFC, winning 5 straight. His last two wins were over top-ten competition, and he has the elite wrestling skills to trouble Silva the same way Chael Sonnen did in their first fight.
The problem here is the same one that the UFC and Silva encountered when Weidman was first being considered for a title shot late last year – no one knows who he is. He only has 9 professional fights to his name, and his last (and easily most impressive) win came on a Fuel TV card. Weidman just hasn’t broken through with MMA fans, and it’s doubtful booking him against Silva would do much to move the needle of fan interest.
Luke Rockhold: The final Strikeforce middleweight champion presents another interesting challenge for Anderson, as Rockhold possesses the versatility to at least make a potential Silva bout intriguing. He also got plenty of promotion (and some big fight experience) winning and defending his belt in the now defunct Strikeforce promotion.
He faces a similar problem to Weidman, however, in that he isn’t a huge name among most MMA fans. He gets a big boost in this department, however, by virtue of being the Strikeforce middleweight champion. “Champion vs. Champion” is a surprisingly powerful draw for fans who otherwise wouldn’t care as much about a fight. Remember that the all-time attendance record for a UFC fight was for GSP vs. ex-Strikeforce champ Jake Shields, a man with exactly one UFC fight (and a terrible one, at that) to his name.
Hector Lombard: Getting desperate now, as Lombard is exactly 1-1 in his UFC tenure thus far. Had he won his debut fight against Tim Boetsch, however, I guarantee you his name would be at the top of the list of guys to face Anderson. Instead, Lombard completely crapped the bed his first time out in the UFC, looking absolutely awful in defeat to a guy many thought he was going to handle. That loss set back Lombard’s title hopes a great deal.
But he remains as intriguing a (potential) challenger to Silva as he did when Dana White signed him away from rival promotion Bellator to a big-money contract. He has a world-class Judo game, scary KO power in either hand, and is one of the top prospects at American Top Team. He also happens to look like a video game character, a smaller Alistair Overeem, and that’s always an easy sell to fans (see: Lesnar, Brock).
OUTSIDE OF MIDDLEWEIGHT
Now we enter the wild west of fight promotion – the outside the weight class “super-fights” that simultaneously excite and frustrate MMA fans to no end. There are a few options for potential mega-bouts Silva could take outside of Middleweight, assuming the cards fall right.
Jon Jones: This fight would pit perhaps the two best “artists” in the world of Mixed Martial Arts against each other. Both men are known for exceeding the limits of what we thought possible, for dominating their opposition to such an extent that they change the MMA game itself. Anderson has fought at 205 a couple of times now, and Jones seems to be stuck in strange fights against Silva’s former opponents. The timing for this fight seems right.
Which means it’s probably not going to happen. Both men have been pretty vocal about not wanting this fight to be made. Silva, because he doesn’t want to interfere in the title aspirations of teammates Lyoto Machida and Rogerio Nogueira. And Jones, because…well…something about respect, and honor, and…I have no idea. He doesn’t want it. Who really knows when it comes to “Bones” these days?
Georges St. Pierre: This is perhaps the most dreamed about, anticipated super-fight in MMA history. We’ve been hearing rumbling of this fight since 2009, when GSP destroyed BJ Penn in another ballyhooed mega-fight between reigning UFC champions. This fight would pit the number 1 pound-for-pound fighter today against the number 2, and would be a clash of the two most dominant fighters of the “Zuffa-era” of the UFC.
…Which means, once again, that it’s probably not going to happen. Unlike the Jon Jones fight, Silva has been frantic, almost rabid in his attempts to get this fight made. And it’s not hard to see why – the smaller GSP represents both a bigger draw, and a smaller risk, than Jones. It looked like this fight was going to get made following GSP’s return, until…not. GSP has given plenty of reasons for not wanting this fight: the major decision to move weight classes, the list of challengers awaiting him at welterweight, and so on. Personally, I think it boils down to “I can make almost as much money smashing Nick Diaz as I can (potentially) getting smashed by Anderson Silva”. Simple as that.
Rashad Evans: Now we’re talking. Both those above fights seem a bit too pie-in-the-sky to be possible, but a divisional super-fight with former LHW champ Rashad Evans seems very possible to me. Evans is among the elite fighters in the UFC, and his two career losses have both come in title fights to all-time great fighters. He also is among the most popular (whether loved, or hated) and well-known fighters on the UFC’s roster, and has been in some of their biggest ever fights.
Plus, Rashad has always had the tag of being a “small” light-heavyweight, so cutting the weight for a super-fight against Silva wouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, he wouldn’t even have to cut weight – this fight could work at 205-pounds – but it could also work as a 195-pound catchweight, or even a 185-pound title fight, if Rashad feels it’s worth the risk to take a title fight after his first cut to middleweight. Barring an astounding rise in public profile on Chris Weidman’s part, this is the fight I’d most like to see Silva take on next.