For Chris Weidman, there were no remaining secrets about Anderson Silva by the time he got to Las Vegas. He had watched the tapes, drilled the positions, studied the body language. He knew "the Spider" inside and out, and how his spectacular physical skills were perfectly complemented by his brilliant mental approach. When he was at his best, Silva could tilt the battle in his favor before he ever stepped in the cage. He would leer at his opponent, say things to plant doubt, and if all else failed, make him look bad in front of the world.
That was always a favorite. It was a tactic, the same as firing out the lead jab to a rushing opponent or securing wrist control from bottom position to hunt a triangle. Silva could look in his opponent's eyes and see doubt, and then rip open that wound until his foe began folding in front of him, all this simply by bobbing, weaving and smiling.
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Weidman had seen it all and swore one thing: it would not happen to him. Because it was always about what he was going to do, not what Silva might.
"If you go in the cage with insecurities, he’s going to feed on it, he's going to mess with you," he said a few days before he stepped into the cage at UFC 162. "He's going to make that insecurity grow and make you feel, 'Wow, I really don’t belong in the cage with this guy. He can knock me out any time he wants.' You see guys melt down, almost give up because they’re so mentally beaten. Well, he’s going to have to go through hell to do that to me."
He's going to have to go through hell.
You remember that quote, don't you? It caused a bit of a stir when he said it from people who didn't quite understand his meaning. Silva was not going to break him, no matter what.
Think about those words now, in the aftermath of what happened. Silva dancing on the outside, trying to make him miss -- trying to make that insecurity grow -- and Weidman seeing only a green light for his own aggression.
This is how Weidman saw it all along. He was going to beat Silva with pressure, even when Silva invited it as a means of mocking him.
Silva has been so good for so long that it almost doesn't compute that he could possibly lose. And this way? By knockout? To a wrestler? After all, if Weidman was going to beat him, it was supposed to be by grinding out a decision. That was the consensus heading in. So the way it happened, with Silva dropping his hands, toying with Weidman before being shocked, it made the final sequence all the more unbelievable.
So much so, in fact, that the result appeared to anger some. In the minutes after the fight, on social media, a familiar refrain appeared: Silva had blown it. He'd been disrespectful and uninterested and arrogant, and somehow, what he'd done had devalued what Weidman did.
History has never been more quickly rewritten.
Silva has fought this way for a long time. He did it throughout his middleweight title reign, and it became more and more customary for him as he's built up his aura of invincibility. He did it against former light-heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. He did it against Demian Maia. In his very last fight against Stephan Bonnar, he spent time glued against the cage, side-stepping punches and kicks before blitzing for the finish.
He made it look so easy, as was though it was on command. A snap of his fingers. A wink of his eye.
So when he pulled a similar tactic against Weidman, most people figured we were watching yet another episode of Silva masterpiece theater. But Silva's tactic assumes that all of his opponents will react the same way. Weidman didn't. He wasn't a deer in headlights. He wasn't a rookie fighting a master. He stayed aggressive, and he landed something, and he finished.
And here's where some of the instant reaction goes off the rail.
All of those times Silva clowned an opponent and won, his triumph was to be celebrated and heralded, but the one time he does it and loses, the result is devalued?
That does not make sense.
Silva's actions are his customary fight tactics. It's part of who he is; it's a basic ingredient to his success.
But like any fight tactic, it won't always work, even if it usually does. Silva himself will admit that.
"People are going to be saying a lot of things now," Silva said afterward. "They're going to be saying he got lucky, they're going to say I underestimated him, but we need to respect what he did. We need to respect that he went in there and he beat me, and that’s pretty much it."
Silva took his defeat honorably, perhaps to the point that it confused the situation further. He said that he didn't want a rematch, that his "legacy for the belt is finished tonight." Post-fight comments cannot always be taken at face value. Time may well change his mind. After a 2,458-day reign, perhaps he just needs a break. But for now, the result is indisputable, and so is Weidman's preparation.
As for Silva, a single loss should not affect his legacy. After correctly noting that one loss should do nothing to harpoon what's come before, Dana White played the voice of reason. Yes, Dana White brought reason to the madness.
"The stuff that he was doing, if he did that stuff and won the fight, they’d be talking about what a genius he is," he said. "He got clipped. He got caught. Anybody can get caught on any given night, even Anderson Silva. It happened tonight."
And why did it happen? Because Weidman knew it was coming. Before he ever flew off to Las Vegas, he knew Silva would try to get in his head. He spoke specifically about those kinds of moments when Silva dropped his hands, and he had a plan to combat it. So in retrospect, nothing that happened sounds like luck. In fact, it sounds like the execution of a champion.