Anderson Silva wasn't the only loser in Saturday's main event against Michael Bisping.
Silva lost a unanimous 48-47 decision to Bisping in what has become a pattern in this year's biggest fights -- intense, close and hotly debated decisions. This comes on the heels of similar endings to the two biggest fights so far this year, the Robbie Lawler welterweight title defense over Carlos Condit welterweight title fight and the Dominick Cruz bantamweight title win over TJ Dillashaw.
Even though Silva's fight wasn't for the title like the two aforementioned fights, one could argue that more was at stake for more top stars. For the division and the contenders, whoever was the champion coming out of those close fights would be the target. While Lawler and Cruz probably had more notoriety than Condit or Dillashaw, there was no giant money fight that either decision changed. Silva, even today, would probably be one of the company's four biggest drawing cards with Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor and Jon Jones.
Had Silva won, it would have set up the division's biggest money possible fight against the winner of June's Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman middleweight title fight. If Rockhold were to beat Weidman, a Silva fight would be by far the biggest of his career, both financially and in building his name to the public. If he were to beat Silva, at least to the general public it would probably help him more than any other victory. Even though Weidman has two wins over Silva, both via finishes early in the second round, there are still those who felt the first win was due to Silva's clowning around and getting caught, and the second was a freak leg break. While Weidman deserves the credit for being the guy who ended Silva's record-setting title reign and winning streak, he didn't fully get all the credit for it that he should have.
Right now, the middleweight title picture looks to come down to Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza vs. Vitor Belfort on May 14, with the winner facing the Rockhold vs. Weidman winner. Souza at this point can be argued should be the legitimate next contender, even though he's coming off a loss on Dec. 12 to Yoel Romero. For one, Romero is on ice due to a drug test failure, and the majority thought Souza actually won that fight.
A Belfort win is a little trickier. If Rockhold retains, Rockhold vs. Belfort makes sense. Belfort beat Rockhold via first round knockout in 2013, and Rockhold has wanted a rematch ever since. But should Weidman win the title, and if Belfort was to beat Souza, it may open things up for Bisping, Gegard Mousasi or possibly Lyoto Machida. Weidman finished Belfort in the first round this past May, but his win over Machida was a classic fight that was a lot closer, and he's never faced Bisping or Mousasi.
No matter how the scenarios mix and match between now and June, from a business standpoint, none of the scenarios come close to Silva challenging for the title, both in business for that night, and even more importantly, going forward. A win over Silva will do more for Rockhold or Weidman's stature and star power going forward. A Silva title win at 41 (the age he turns in April) would be even bigger.
And given that age, it will be tough for Silva to get the necessary wins to be in a position to challenge for the title before age removes him from being able to be competitive with the top tier. Even though he was very competitive on Saturday with Bisping, it is also clear that Silva isn't nearly the fighter he was even in his losses to Weidman when it came to speed and reflexes, let alone in his prime. But given his leg injury and his age, it would be almost impossible for him to be.
There was some controversy over the decision, but not as much as Lawler vs. Condit or Cruz vs. Dillashaw. Judges Ben Cartlidge, Jeff Mullen and Andy Roberts all scored the fight identically, giving Bisping rounds one, two and four. Media scores tallied on MMA decisions agreed, with 16 going with Bisping, five for Silva and one having it a draw.
The key round was the fourth. Bisping was the aggressor most of the round, and according to Fightmetric.com stats, outlanded Silva 28-19. However, Silva did get probably the two best punches of the round in late. That was really the story of the fight. Bisping was busier, more aggressive and landed more often. Silva's strikes were less often but more damaging, and the only time the fight was in danger of ending was at the end of the third round.
That was a crazy situation in the sense it was a Bisping mental error of losing focus and talking to referee Herb Dean regarding his mouthpiece, that Dean had in his hands, that gave Silva the opening for a flying knee that nearly knocked Bisping out. Silva thought he won outright and was celebrating. If the horn hadn't have sounded, there is a good chance it would have been over. But the damaged Bisping still came back to win round four due to Silva laying back much of the round.
The controversy over the decision was in this case is that while it's clear the consensus is that Bisping won three rounds, it's also clear that Silva did the most damage. Under another scoring system, Silva easily could have won. In the age old "Who would you rather be when the fight is over" system, Silva wins handily. This fight in many ways is the classic case of the guy who actually beat the other guy up worse, Silva, losing on the scorecards. The first point isn't even debatable. If there was to be an immediate rematch, I doubt anyone would count Silva out, and he'd still probably go in as the favorite.
Let's look at how Fortunes changed for five stars on the show:
MICHAEL BISPING - This win was easily the biggest of Bisping's lengthy UFC career. Bisping's career is marked by sheer numbers of wins. It was his 18th win in the Octagon, tying him with Matt Hughes for second place on the all-time list, one win behind record-holder Georges St-Pierre.
Until Saturday, Bisping (29-7) had never won the really big one. On several occasions, he'd worked his way into a position where he was one win away from a title shot, and in each case, he lost the key fight. It's a major triumph because after an eye injury threatened to end his career, and losses to Tim Kennedy and Rockhold, he was written off by many as someone who had seen better days and would never get that elusive title match.
Once again, he's one win away. From a timing standpoint, he against Mousasi makes sense next. If he wins that one, he should get a title fight. Although given that he turned 37 the day after the fight, his winning the title, no matter who ends up as champion, would be considered a major upset.
ANDERSON SILVA - Silva (33-7, 1 no contest) is in a very unique situation. The problem is booking him right now is the phrase "Anderson Silva Money." Because he's Anderson Silva and the money he commands, it only makes sense for him to face top names in high-profile fights. Bisping was a big enough name, and it was really the perfect fight for its promotional purpose, which was to build Fight Pass subscriptions.
A title fight would be more than big enough. A fight without title implications against a name like Nick Diaz made perfect sense. But, for example, a fight against someone like Derek Brunson, which would be an interesting fight and a win would change Brunson's entire career, it would be hard to justify Silva's paycheck on.
The elusive St-Pierre fight always makes sense, provided St-Pierre is willing to come back. But if St-Pierre was willing to come back, at this point either Robbie Lawler or Conor McGregor would be preferable, as Lawler would be a title fight and McGregor would be a bigger box office fight, and there is still the same size issue that likely prevented the fight from taking place when both were in their heydays.
Silva wasn't hurt to the fans by the nature of the loss. If Belfort or Machida win their next fight, either of those fights still make sense. UFC wanted Silva vs.. Belfort originally this year but Belfort turned it down. Silva vs. Machida wouldn't be easy to make either. Perhaps the best possibility would be to have him face the Rockhold vs. Weidman loser.
GEGARD MOUSASI - At the age of 30, even though Mousasi (38-6-2) has had 46 fights, he's the youngest of the top tier if you figure the group as Rockhold, Weidman, Souza, Belfort, Romero, Machida, Mousasi, Tim Kennedy, Bisping and Silva.
Robert Whittaker is the only contender remotely near the top younger than him.
But, as losses to Machida and Souza have indicated, he feels like a guy hovering around the middle of the top ten, but not quite good enough to beat the big four. The same could be said about Bisping, which is why that makes sense. And originally, Bisping vs. Mousasi was to headline the London show, until talks with Belfort vs. Silva fell apart.
Mousasi clearly beat Thales Leites, but it wasn't in a crowd-pleasing fashion. He made it clear that after his loss to Uriah Hall in his prior fight that he felt the most important thing was getting his hand raised, and he wasn't willing to take major risks. But that mindset often goes unrewarded in UFC where winning over the fans is such a key part of decision making.
THALES LEITES - Leites (25-6) likely fell out of the middleweight top ten with the loss.
As far as a next direction, Hall (12-6), Chris Camozzi (23-10) or Brunson (15-3) feel like fights that, should he win, would benefit him. And should he lose, the wins would be of value for the opponent.
TOM BREESE - Breese came into Saturday's show with a 9-0 record, with nine finishes all but one in the first or second round.
Considered one of the rising stars at welterweight, and a key figure for the promotion going forward in the U.K., Breese was a heavy favorite against Keita Nakamura. He won the decision in a mostly grappling match that left him seemingly disappointed in his performance.
The ground aspect of the fight went back-and-forth. There was no doubt who won, but did leave with questions as far as where the 24-year-old U.K. native stands going forward. At this stage, Ryan LaFlare (12-1) or Sean Strickland (17-1) would be major next tests.