Be careful what you wish for…because in the UFC, if you earn it and fans want to see it, matchmaker Joe Silva and President Dana White are going to give it to you.
That’s exactly what we have in the main event for UFC 162 this Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Anderson Silva (33-4) enters the Octagon to defend his middleweight strap for the eleventh time and push his unblemished mark to 18-0 in the UFC.
Silva will face the undefeated Chris Weidman (9-0), who has been lobbying for this bout and calling out the top pound for pound MMA practitioner and arguably the greatest striker of all time for over a year. Though Silva initially took the position Weidman lacked the name recognition he seeks for an opponent at this stage of his career, the fans wanted it, and once again the UFC delivered.
The demand from fans, coupled with a masterful job of marketing has ultimately made this one of the most highly anticipated title fights for 2013. In fact, this main event will serve as the focal point for the annual UFC Fan Expo, which leads up to a stacked UFC 162 card.
Throughout the week MMA fans and bettors alike will converge in Las Vegas and find themselves among the legion of party goers who will be in town for what’s become one of the busiest weekends of the year for this city, Fourth of July.
The Expo provides fans with the opportunity to take in all the UFC brand has to offer, and allow for them to mingle and meet with many of their favorite UFC fighters who will be on hand. And just like last July 4 weekend, the sport’s biggest name has been called upon to take on a challenge from an opponent many consider to be a “live-dog.”
In July 2012, the spotlight surrounding the Fan Expo shined on what was considered Silva’s greatest threat to date, a rematch with Chael Sonnen who was only minutes away from giving “The Spider” his first UFC loss, before succumbing to a triangle-choke with less than 2 minutes remaining in the fifth and final round.
Sonnen was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards at the time of the submission and many believed he had the goods to dethrone the champion. Yet, the second time around Silva showed why he’ll go down in history as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time as he finished Sonnen inside of two rounds via TKO.
This time around Silva is being pitted against another Division 1 NCAA wrestling All-American in Weidman, who enters the cage with a perfect 5-0 mark inside the UFC.
The last time we saw Weidman compete was almost 12 full months ago when he completely dominated Mark Munoz who was riding a 4-fight win streak and had won 7 of 8 at the UFC level leading up to the bout.
Munoz was a very capable wrestler in his own right, yet Weidman went on to secure two take-downs en route to a second round TKO. Weidman is big for a middleweight and will not be giving up anything to Silva as far as height and reach go. He’s actually got a ½-inch reach advantage and is nine years younger.
Weidman uses his striking to set up his wrestling, and though he’s not an accurate striker, connecting on only 43% of strike attempts, he does possess very good defense by avoiding 68% of opponents’ strikes. Once he takes the fight to the ground, along with a devastating ground and pound, Weidman is also very capable of locking in a submission.
For Silva, his striking remains the most dangerous weapon in his arsenal as he lands 67% of strikes, which will secure his name in the record books as the most accurate striker in the history of the sport.
His Muay Thai is potent, allowing him to not only use his distance to systematically break opponents down, but his ability to fight inside a phone booth by using his Thai-clinch while landing fight ending knees and elbows make him a nightmare for anyone who elects to stand and trade.
More importantly, especially for this encounter, Silva’s continued to work on his wrestling and take-down defense, avoiding 70% of attempts. It’s not surprising the Brazilian has a very well rounded Jiu-Jitsu game and he’s become much more dangerous from his back, so if Weidman gets top-control, he may be surprised at how difficult he finds doing any serious damage to Silva will be.
Bottom line: I will agree with the majority of MMA writers and fans who claim Weidman may easily be Silva’s greatest challenge thus far in his Hall of Fame career. With that said, if a fighter receives a title shot in the UFC, it’s going to be well deserved so all challengers enter the Octagon with a legitimate shot at exiting with UFC gold.
What separates MMA – and most notably the UFC – from boxing most is in boxing there isn’t a promoter in the sport who would allow their fighter, if he possessed Weidman’s resume, to take Silva on this early in his career.
Yes, the young man’s a beast, extremely talented, and well on his way to an impressive UFC career barring injury. But I can’t get over the simple fact he has only fought five times at the UFC level. I’m quite certain there are no training partners who can prepare him for what he’ll face in Silva this Saturday night.
On the flip side of that coin, Silva has gone to battle against every style of fighter in his 37 professional fights and there is absolutely nothing Weidman will be able to do when the cage door closes that the champion has not encountered countless times.
I do expect this to be a competitive fight for as long as it lasts but eventually Weidman will have to try to take this bout to the ground to have any chance, after finding himself on the short end when standing. To do this, the challenger will have to get within close quarters to Silva and that’s where the champion will land the most damaging blows.
Even if Weidman is successful in taking Silva to the mat, I don’t believe the titlist will be in any real danger…and with each and every round beginning with both fighters standing, it’ll be Silva’s striking game that once again systematically breaks down another challenger, and allows him to emerge victorious once again.
From a betting standpoint, Weidman will undoubtedly go off as one of the shortest dogs we’ve seen against Silva in a long time. The perception that he’s a very live-dog should force bookmakers to drop the price on the champion even more as the fight approaches.
Personally, I made my true-line much higher, and when I compare what I believe to be the win probability for both combatants, I have very little doubt where my money will be this weekend…on the champion.
Bonus Bet: Tim Boetsch over Mark Munoz
Vegas-Runner, a pro sports bettor in Las Vegas, has been featured on CNBC/ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @vegasrunner, at Pregame.com and on AM 1100 ESPN (also FM 98.9) on Mondays from 10 am to 11am when he co-hosts First Preview. Contact Vegas Runner at [email protected].