Fortunes changed for five at UFC 162

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
When Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche headlined UFC 157 on Feb. 23, the feeling in the building going in is that we were going to see one of the most historically significant nights in MMA history.

The company didn’t miss a beat, promoting the show as "History in the making."

Going into UFC 162, there was no such feeling, even though all of Anderson Silva’s records were on the line against an opponent that figured to have the best shot of beating him of anyone he had faced.

Chris Weidman winning the title would have been big news under any circumstances. But the nature of those circumstances made it even bigger. It’s very rare when a second-round knockout leaves the public unconvinced over who is really the better fighter.

The direction of the UFC, and to a degree, the course of history changed when, if you were not a fan of Silva, the ultimate moment of poetic justice happened when the manner how had humiliated foe after foe by taunting, took it to a new level, and got knocked out in the process.

And if you were a Silva fan, you were left frustrated over entirely different circumstances.

One would have thought that if anything other than the realities of age was to beat Silva, the victor would become the talk of the sport, and major talk in the sports world.

And the event was legitimate water cooler talk the next day, a level the UFC only reaches on rare occasions. But even in losing, all the talk was about Anderson Silva. More than 2 million people searched Google to look up his name after the loss, a figure completely unheard of for an MMA fighter. That was double that of Andy Murray and Dwight Howard, ten times that of Marion Bartoli and 20 times that of Joey Chestnut.

According to one UFC official, four times as many people watched the post-fight press conference on the Internet than any in company history. The reality is far more people in the general populace were talking about Silva after his first UFC loss, than probably any two of his biggest wins combined.

The question coming out of all this is if Silva, like he did in so many of fights, is playing a psychological game with the public by his statements, Or was Silva serious in acting like few athletes having lost in that manner would? Fans may not have figured out what Silva would say in the cage after his loss, whether it was an excuse, or even an apology for showboating too much, but they all expected him to say he wanted to rectify his mistakes in a rematch.

Instead, he said he didn’t want a rematch, nor did he ever want to fight for the championship again. Granted, a few hours later in the press conference, he left an opening, saying he’s going home for a few months and then he would decide what he wanted.

Dana White was already promoting the rematch. The wheels were already spinning in his mind to target it as the night before next year’s Super Bowl, in Newark. N.J., not far from Long Island, where Weidman was born and still lives.

White was noting that no matter what Silva says publicly that in the end, he’s always fought who the company wants
him to fight. And that’s pretty much the truth when all is said and done. But it leaves out the aspect of difficult negotiations at times, and his camp giving reasons why the match the fans would most wanted to see at a certain period of time is the match he least wanted to do. And that’s sometimes been hard to figure out, given Silva is being paid based on how many people order his pay-per-views. From a purely business standpoint, it’s a match he should want for the simple reason that no other fight available to him right now would make him close to what the rematch would.

Secondly, based on what happened in the first fight, it’s a winnable match. Oddsmakers are likely to favor Silva, even though he’s the one who was knocked out. The funny thing is, and this is a rarity, you could argue that the guy who won and became the new champion, Weidman, needs the rematch even more than Silva. To the public, Silva lost when he miscalculated while clowning, not that he lost to a better fighter.

Silva’s place in history is already established.

Losing wasn’t going to hurt it one iota, because at some point, everybody loses in MMA. Losing the way he did wasn’t going to hurt it either. It’ll just go down as this crazy moment in history, and part of the legacy of someone who will always be considered one of the greatest in history. But losing in this way, and never following up and trying again, will be viewed as a character issue and a weakness in his legacy.

For Weidman, a win in a rematch will mean more than several straight title defenses against mere mortals, both financially and otherwise. Silva not giving Weidman the rematch robs Weidman of the chance to be viewed as the world’s best middleweight by early 2014, as opposed to the guy in the ring when Silva’s hubris caught up to him.
Weidman won’t need the win over Silva if he goes on a long streak of title defenses. But if he really is what his position as world champion entails, the best in the world in his weight class, his acceptance as champion will be immediate if he wins a rematch. It will be a lot slower in coming if the match never happens.

But Silva is a hard one to figure out. Days before the fight, he did an interview on Canadian television, and when asked what he would consider the perfect night for him, he said it would be Weidman winning the title. Even then, he said he wouldn’t ask for a rematch if that happened. All week, he talked as if winning or losing wasn’t that important to him, although calmly predicting victory.

Years back, after Matt Hughes had spent a few years as welterweight champion the first time, and B.J. Penn beat him, seconds later, Hughes had a big smile on his face. He looked like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. He seemed happy, when everyone expected him to be sad. Silva was the same way. Of course, the difference was, Hughes may have been relieved of a ton of pressure and responsibilities as world champion, but as a competitor, he went right back after it, won it back, and even after losing a second time, was looking to get it back as long as he could compete at that level.

But Hughes was 30 at the time of the Penn fight. Silva is 38. If Silva is feeling like he can’t be what he used to be, that also can change the story.

The end result of all this is to just be patient and see how it plays out. Much of the talk after was how the elusive superfights, Silva vs. St-Pierre and/or Silva vs. Jon Jones, those potential giant events at big domed stadiums that will raise the company’s profile, are now dead.

But they were always questionable due to Silva’s age and St-Pierre’s understandable lack of enthusiasm. Silva vs. Weidman has a great back story and will do monster business. If Silva were to come back and win a rematch, those fights, if they were ever going to happen, would be bigger because of the spotlight on Silva this week, and the magnitude of the interest in the rematch. But Silva’s age does mean that window is closing, perhaps rapidly. With a second loss by Silva, Weidman, at 29, has plenty of time to have those same kind of matches.

Regarding Fortunes Changing for Five at UFC 162, besides the headliners, let’s look at three others:

CUB SWANSON - After Swanson finished Dennis Siver to a standing ovation in a featherweight battle of contenders, he was asked about a title shot.

He said that if the fans loved him, he’d get the shot, so he needs the crowd to get behind him. He essentially reiterated that line later in the press conference. Dana White that night gave Swanson the ultimate praise, specifying his name when talking about what type of fighters the company wants.

The win puts Swanson (20-5) in a quartet of fighters, with Frankie Edgar (15-4-1), Chad Mendes (14-1) and Ricardo
Lamas (13-2), who should all be under consideration for a shot at the winner of the Aug. 3 fight between champion
Jose Aldo against Chan Sung Jung in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

White, when talking about the division, has also brought up Anthony Pettis, who has never fought at featherweight, but was going to get the title shot before suffering a knee injury. Some form of mixing and matching of those contenders next should lead to two, or perhaps three viable next contenders.

In that situation, Swanson was very smart in saying what he did, particularly since Jung got his shot over Lamas based on the perception fans would care more about him as the challenger.

CHARLES OLIVEIRA - Oliveira (16-4, 1 no contest) lost the highest profile fight of his career on Saturday to Frankie Edgar, but the reality was he was one of the night’s big winners.

It was more than getting a $50,000 bonus and having one of the two best fights on the show. He showed he was a real threat even though he suffered his second straight loss.

Oliveira was coming off missing weight by 0.4 pounds and then getting knocked out by Swanson on Sept. 22. He needed a redemption, and Edgar was hardly the guy who serves as a redeemer.

Oliveira didn’t even win a round, but at 23, he hung with an Edgar who was clearly at his best, for three rounds. He stood up to big shots, and was working for a guillotine as the second round ended. The Brazilian native who now lives in Texas, isn’t likely to be a title contender this year, or even next. But this fight served notice that he’s someone to pay attention to down the road.

MARK MUNOZ - With the possible exception of Chris Leben, Munoz (13-3) came into UFC 162 badly needing to follow up on his talk of being a new person.

He suffered the worst loss of his career last July 11 to Weidman. He went into the fight with a broken foot and his training suffered. He claimed, with the help of a new training staff, that he was a new person.

A week before the fight, when he took his "after" photos, after losing 62 pounds, after nearly eating his way out of a career, he physically looked the best he ever has.

Fighting and bodybuilding are not the same. But after a slightly slow start, Munoz spent the final two rounds completely outwrestling Tim Boetsch, a powerful wrestler himself. That was a key point because even though Munoz was NCAA champion in 2001 for Oklahoma State, and competed at a world-class level for his age since he was a teenager, there had been fights where he didn’t show it.

Boetsch was a guy who if Munoz wasn’t near his best, was going to beat him. Munoz’s words going in turned out to be true. His wrestling was back. And his conditioning was even better. He got stronger as the fight went on, and conceivably could have gotten a 10-8 third round.

Any questions of his attitude were answered at the press conference, when Dana White was asked about who Weidman could face next if Silva wouldn’t fight him. Immediately, Munoz raised his hand.

"You know, I just want to say if Anderson doesn’t fight Chris Weidman, I’d love to step in," he said. "This was the real Mark Munoz tonight. When I fought Chris, I had some adversity. I’d really love a rematch with him, if Anderson doesn’t take it. At the same time, it felt amazing after the stuff I went through (talking about depression). It’s the stuff a lot of people go through, but I was just vocal about it. I’m a better person for it."

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