There was much to love and hate about UFC 162. The successful return of Frankie Edgar was a welcome sight, but the languid performance of Chris Leben and the odd reaction of some Anderson Silva fans have been difficult to tolerate.
It's time we separate the winners from the losers, the best from the worst and the signal from the noise.
Most Nauseating Post-Fight Reaction: Anderson Silva Apologia
We've all seen it. You know what I'm talking about. Those videos of the old traditional martial arts masters where they ask students to help them demonstrate something incredible. Sometimes it's purported to be a death touch. Other moments it's the alleged ability to use invisible power to throw people through the air. Whatever it is, it's not real, but those videos are testaments to the power and grip of self-delusion and belief.
I'm certainly not saying supporters of Anderson Silva are anywhere near as bad as what's described above, but they're the closest equivalent in MMA I've ever seen. In the wake of what is basically a comprehendable loss, Anderson Silva fans nevertheless cling to the idea that all that happened was, well, nothing. in their warped minds, Weidman didn't really do anything and isn't particularly good. In their profound irrationality, Silva won the first round despite there being literally no evidence to support such an absurd claim. To them, Silva's abilities transcend language or written description, so they concoct whatever phony meta narrative - "he was proving his dominance through insouciance!" or "that's his expression of fun!" - that sounds reasonable to their ears.
Here's the truth and coincidentally, the simplest explanation. Chris Weidman is much better than many of Silva's fans were and still are willing to recognize. It's also true Silva lost the first round of his fight and was stopped with strikes in the second. It's further true Weidman dodged many of Silva's strikes minus his handful of leg kicks. It's even further the case that clowning around doesn't mean you're winning; it means you're clowning. It only counts as part of the winning process if you're winning independently and the dancing magnifies the other effort. Some of you may not want to hear this, but Silva was at no point in the entire bout clearly and indisputably winning.
In fairness, was that the optimal Anderson Silva? No, I don't believe so. I reserve room for him being burned out or taking Weidman lightly or other plausible possibilities. And do I think he'll necessary lose the rematch? I don't. Neither fighter competed as they intended or could. Silva can also never be counted out against any man his size.
My only plea to Silva supporters is to recognize their hero worship for what it is. It's true Silva is arguably the greatest talent we've ever seen, but by definition, he's only the best human talent we have. Please stop with the outlandish hyperbole and tortured narratives. Silva is human and his limits exist. Weidman found them. It's time the rest of the true believers join him.
Best Photo of the Event: The Left Hook Heard 'Round the World
It's the photo of the year, isn't it? That instant moment when the mixed martial arts world changed, which is just a moment prior to our brains absorbing what a monumental shift it all is. Look at photos from the night's full gallery here.
Most Important Recovery: Frankie Edgar stops the bleeding
I'm not saying Edgar couldn't have recovered from a fourth consecutive loss, but I wouldn't have wanted to see him try. Three was hard enough and it appears Saturday's turnaround against a very game Charles Oliveira came right on time. In his post-fight comments, Edgar thanked his coaching staff, friends and family for sticking with him and pleaded they accompany him on a journey one more time towards a title. I'm sure they'll oblige and I'm equally certain Edgar is in a rejuvenated state of mind. He's still young enough. It's not out of the question he can be champion again, but the process of losing gut wrenching decisions had to stop. That doesn't happen until the winning begins and the uncertainty and heartbreak that takes place in between those spaces is killed off. Here's to the true Edgar 2.0.
Best Reminder Cecil Peoples Is Hilariously Wrong: Edson Barboza
If you're the first person in the UFC to have not one but two stoppage victories due to leg kicks, you aren't just a bad man. You're also a reminder that the frailty of human biology can be exploited in almost innumerable ways. Whether it's through the narrowing of tactics or understanding of the body's limits, MMA is filled with a host of delightful visionaries who only see what's possible as a function of what's happened or what they prefer. In short, they're not particularly bright. The idea leg kicks don't win or contribute to fights hardly needs debunking in 2013, but each time we cross new territory of human punishment in MMA - even in finely graduated increments - it's worth reminding ourselves of those who said we'd never get here.
Most Glaring Reminder It Might Be Over: Chris Leben vs. Andrew Craig
As I said on Twitter on Saturday night, Leben's numb, slow performance against Craig looked like a retirement match. It reminded me of how Tito Ortiz exited. That is, Leben was able to go through the motions, but without any real sense of being able to affect change in the bout. He was at the mercy of Craig on Saturday. It seems like he'll be at the mercy of whoever they line up against him, at least as long as he's in the UFC.
I know the guy's had a tough life. A notable fighter has told me in every phase of Leben's existence, people have tried to take things from him. I am certain quitting fighting may not financially be an option. I'd also hate to see the MMA audience become part of the leeching process as they take his health and dignity for whatever cheap thrills are left as he sacrifices himself on the alter of athletic glory.
Biggest Overreaction: Kim Winslow Refereeing a Heavyweight Fight
Vocal and written derision of Winslow isn't hard to come by, but I'm not sure UFC commentator Joe Rogan's questions about whether she should've reffed the fight between two heavyweights is fair. While it's true the referee is the first line of defense in protecting fighters, it's not clear there's much they can truly accomplish if one of the competitors wishes to go aggro. Herb Dean looked ineffectual trying to contain 'Bigfoot' Silva after he blasted Alistair Overeem into unconsciousness. And more to the point, how often is such brawn needed even between heavyweights? Virtually all of their bouts end without any such issue and that division has the highest finishing rate among them all. Dave Herman took no more abuse than normal after Gabriel Gonzaga puts his lights out even if Winslow took a moment or two extra to wrestle them apart.
A bigger issue? Why Herb Dean let Cub Swanson tee off on a prostrate Dennis Siver while he observed from the side. Correcting for late and early stoppages, which require no more strength than Winslow possesses, is the only real concern worth paying attention to.
Best Lesson in Understanding Instability of Fight Predictions: UFC 162
I want you to look at the comments for my article from last week for UFC 162 predictions. As you can see, despite my best efforts to give a reasoned explanation for why I picked Weidman (and why a pick of Silva is perfectly justifiable) one reader went so far as to plan a boycott of this site for what they perceived to be ignorance, bias or corruption. All of the hecklers, it turns out, were deeply wrong.
Some of have suggested that while my pick of Weidman ultimately proved correct, the manner in which I predicted it would happen is not. And that criticism is true. The problem is that is also underscores my central argument, namely, MMA predictions are almost impossible to do consistently well because of the sport's instability and our improper access to relevant information.
We don't really know if fighters are concealing injuries or working through personal problems. We don't know how styles will truly match up. We don't know how much fighters are improving or if their camps went well. We don't know how motivated a fighter truly is for any particular contest. It's all just guesswork from afar. Add to that a sport where zigging when you're supposed to be zagging ends up with a fighter napping and you begin to understand why all you can ask from a fight prediction is that it be honest and make a reasoned argument.
There is basically no one in MMA who event in, event out does MMA predictions well. It's certainly not my forte. But the level of extreme certainty from Silva fans and water carriers in the media prior to Saturday's bout would have you believe exceedingly difficult predictions are easy to come by. We simply do not have enough information to make an accurate read very often. All of this, mind you, in a sport where a fighter's ability to control for chaos is proportional to their ability to win.
The only thing we can try to do is cobble together available evidence and evaluate what it means. We will be wrong (I botched Tim Boetsch vs. Mark Munoz) and we will be right (I knew there was more to Weidman than others were prepared to acknowledge). Let that be a lesson to you the next time you're 'certain' an outcome in this sport is inevitable.