When it comes to strategy, there is not a lot of mystery surrounding the UFC on FUEL 8 main event. Wanderlei Silva and Brian Stann are two fighters who love to strike, and trust in their hands, and for good reason. Silva has 24 knockouts in his illustrious career, while Stann has finished his opponents with strikes in nine of his 12 career wins.
Silva favors the forward charge and barrage, which often leads into a clinch and then knees; Stann is your more basic power puncher who favors a stinging left hook while not shying away from the dirty boxing positions.
Who does this dynamic favor at this point of their respective histories, you must ask yourself, and there can only be one conclusion: Stann.
Silva's results have been decidedly disappointing since he arrived from PRIDE six years ago. In that time, he's just 3-5 in the cage, but that hasn't been his only issue. He had nasal surgery to address a longtime issue with his breathing. He broke ribs in training. He's had knee surgery. In addition, UFC president Dana White has publicly voiced a belief that Silva should retire. Yet here he is, at age 36, fighting one of the middleweight division's most powerful punchers.
Silva has had his positive moments, of course. He flatlined Keith Jardine in less than a minute. He upset Michael Bisping. He TKO'd Cung Le on a memorable 2011 evening that was so good, White happily offered up two Fight of the Night awards.
But the moments are fleeting. He's lost to Rich Franklin twice. He was knocked out by Chris Leben, and perhaps most telling, he's been out-landed when it comes to significant strikes in four of his last six fights. Yes, the man who was once MMA's ultimate berserker is now routinely out-struck.
Silva (34-12-1, 1 no contest) hasn't done much to alter his style in recent years. He relies a little less on the jab than he used to and he still has little use for the takedown (just one attempt in his last four fights). His fights tend to settle into similar rhythms. He waits back in hopes of counter-striking early, and then tries to time a rush. If it is successful, he uses the clinch to look for knees or short punches. If it isn't, he re-sets. But over the years, Silva's opponents have gotten wise to his strategy. Most of them avoid the position as long as they can, aware that it's the most dangerous situation for them.
Stann's approach to it may not be so predictable. The retired Marine quite likes the position as well. He used it to great effect in his wins over Leben and Alessio Sakara. In both victories, it was his knees that did the fight-changing damage. Stann also likes the position because it emphasizes his strength while cutting back on the accuracy necessary to land. He's able to generate big power in small spaces.
While Silva used to be an accurate striker, his precision has dipped in recent years. According to FightMetric stats, over his last five fights, he's landed only 36 percent of his strikes. His opponents -- still wary of his power and reputation -- haven't done much better at 37 percent, but they have thrown a lot more volume, and volume often wins close fights. In fact, volume is probably the reason he lost both of his fights to Franklin.
That is likely to be a problem against Stann (12-5), who historically lands punches at a higher rate than Silva. FightMetric stats show Stann landing 3.17 times per minute, as compared to Silva's 2.74. And keep in mind, Silva's number is pretty well skewed by the bombing style of his early days.
This is the part where we should discuss the wrestling and ground games. There isn't much to examine here. As noted above, Silva is quite loathe to even try a takedown while Stann has only a single one in 15 fights analyzed by FightMetric. Most likely, if the fight goes to the ground, it's because someone has been knocked on their back. If there is a surprise takedown attempt, both men have exhibited passable defense, with Silva stopping 63 percent of attempts, and Stann 60 percent. Don't bank on it, though.
The wildcard in this fight is that it's being contested at light-heavyweight, Silva's longtime home during his heyday. Some have theorized that "The Axe Murderer" will be more energized without having to cut weight, and have a more representative outing. But if that's true, couldn't we say the same for Stann, who is 32 years old and began his career as a 205-pounder?
More likely, we have to accept that aging, injuries and diminished reaction time have already taken their toll on an all-time great. Silva is still capable of showing the same flashes that made him one of the most feared fighters in MMA. He still has knockout power, too. But so does his opponent, who is younger, stronger, and itching to play the game that Silva mastered for so long. Because of all those reasons, it's Stann via second-round TKO.