LAS VEGAS – With five months to contemplate exactly what went wrong between the mental focus and execution in the first fight between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, Silva’s camp has had ample time to make adjustments.
And exactly what those adjustments are comprise the bulk of the drama heading into the rematch at UFC 168 this Saturday night. The first time they fought at UFC 162 in July Silva dropped his hands and went into mock histrionics, inviting Weidman to take his best shot while pretending that his legs were wobbling. It was a calculated game of roulette, and he got caught in the second round. Will Silva play games again in the cage again with Weidman? Or will he be a driven no-nonsense version of himself, the kind that dismantled Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson?
Silva’s coach/training partner Pedro Rizzo, among the many who are part of Silva’s faction in Las Vegas, isn’t even sure himself.
"We never know with Anderson," Rizzo told MMA Fighting. "He’s spectacular. In the gym he wasn’t doing this, but whenever you’re in the ring with all the pressure and emotions? Anything can happen. But I think he’s going to do his strategy, and our strategy is to get in there, beat Chris Weidman, get away from the cage and go back home."
It’s a strategy that has produced a long scroll of victims throughout Silva’s storied UFC career. But in this case, the game's greatest icon is facing question marks that have never been in place before. For one, he is coming off a loss -- and not only a loss, but a knockout loss (the first of his career) that happened in humiliating fashion. And then there’s age, purpose and motivation.
Rizzo believes the latter, that old fight game catalyst we call motivation has been restored in the months since the loss.
"Anderson changed himself," Rizzo says. "He’s really motivated for this. He can take the good from losing, and it motivated him. He’s ready to fight somebody who beat him, and I think it was good for him. I’ve never seen him in as great a shape as he is now."
So, what went wrong the first time? Was it that after 16 UFC fights and 10 middleweight title defenses he was just not up for the fight?
"I don’t think of it just for 16 fights, but for all of his career," Rizzo says. "Anderson is 38 years old, and sometimes you feel tired of training, feel tired of all the pressure on your back. You feel like every time you step in the ring you have to prove something, and to keep your belt. So it’s a lot of pressure, and sometimes you get tired of that.
"I think after that Weidman fight, after he lost the title, he put away the pressure and now he’s motivated to win this fight. He wants to beat Chris Weidman because he was the guy who beat him. Anderson started his career, he wanted to beat each fighter. He doesn’t care about the belt, he just wants to beat the guy who beat him."