Former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva looks for his first legitimate win in almost five years when he faces Derek Brunson in the co-main event of UFC 208.
Anderson ‘The Spider’ Silva (aaa!) A spiral of endless highlight reel moments pop into any MMA fan’s head when they hear this name mentioned. Silva’s seven-year reign as UFC middleweight champion has provided many memorable moments, which has resulted in him being deemed by many to be the greatest mixed martial artist that has ever lived.
Where did it all go wrong for ‘The Spider?’ I think we all know the answer to that. A consensus that Silva was only beaten by himself. The illusion of the invincible aura caught up to him, and it was a case of simply not respecting the game that led to his knockout loss against Chris Weidman in 2013. Followed by a horrifying leg injury, failed drug test and then losses to Michael Bisping and Daniel Cormier, time has been a cruel mistress for Anderson.
Before his loss to Robert Whittaker in November of last year, Derek Brunson was a man on a mission in the UFC. Four consecutive first round finishes, Brunson quickly found himself ranked higher and higher in the middleweight division. Broken but not beaten, Brunson hopes to get back to winning ways when he shares the Octagon with the greatest fighter of all-time.
So, what can we make of ‘The Spider’s’ recent performances inside the Octagon? Well to start with, it would be silly to look at his most recent fight at UFC 200 against Daniel Cormier. Stepping in on two days’ notice and having his gallbladder removed only two months before the fight, it really was an out of shape Silva we saw that night.
His last outing before his fight with Cormier was against current UFC middleweight champion, Michael Bisping. Silva was criticized for his somewhat questionable performance that night. Taunting Bisping throughout, backing himself up against the cage, Silva lost by unanimous decision to the Brit, however, he did have his moments in the fight.
Silva still showed the creative flair that used to ooze out of the Brazilian during his reign as middleweight champion. A beautiful double flying knee knocked Bisping down (but not out) at the end of the third round, which led to a somewhat bizarre scenario inside the cage leaving Silva thinking he had won. In the fifth and final round, Silva ‘front kicked him in the face’ and left Bisping on wobbly legs, however, he didn’t follow up for the finish, much to everyone’s confusion.
If ‘The Spider’ puts on this same performance against Brunson, it would be beyond bewildering. It does seem the Brazilian has learned from his mistakes, however, stating he is not overlooking Brunson in this contest. Silva needs to be as loose as he was against Bisping, but without the clowning around. The patient Anderson Silva of old times who can find an opening from whatever angle, is the most dangerous version of Anderson Silva.
The Brunson Blitz
Unlike Silva, Brunson has recently been on the receiving end of some big wins inside the UFC. The North Carolina native went unbeaten for all of 2015 and the majority of 2016 as well, knocking out his last four opponents in the first round. But did his triumphs also point out some major flaws in Brunson’s game? Undoubtedly.
Up until Brunson had his opponents hurt, he was doing everything right. Hands up, chin tucked, bobbing and weaving with feints to set up his strikes. Once Brunson had landed a shot in which he felt hurt his opponent, all technique went out the window.
Charging towards his opponents, hands down, swinging wild haymakers from his hips. Comically, Brunson would blitz so fast towards his opponents he often lost his own footing! It wasn’t until he faced Robert Whittaker that this bad habit was exposed. As Brunson charged towards the Australian, overextending with his chin up, a big left hook from Whittaker spelled the beginning of the end for Brunson.
Brunson has to make sure he doesn’t get tangled in ‘The Spider’s’ web. Silva has a tendency to encourage his opponents towards him, and almost wants them to try and hit him. The Brazilian’s flawless head movement almost always results in his opponents missing, and if Brunson plays into this, yet again it will cause him to overextend on his shots, and give Silva the opening to land any sort of counter.
The clinch may have been the cause of some of Silva’s most devastating knockout shots, but it is a place in which Brunson is very positionally strong. Keeping Silva pressed against the cage and working for the takedown may have been what Cormier was criticized for, but it worked. Brunson has to try and emulate that and work for the finish in the process.
It’s clear that Anderson Silva is in desperate need of a win. Those questioning the 41-year-old’s future in the UFC do have a valid point, another loss for the Brazilian could take him that one step closer towards the exit door. In a division in which the upper echelon is so tight, it’s hard to see what comes next for either Brunson, or Silva, if they do prevail in this fight.