Who can solve Silva’s puzzle?

PHILADELPHIA – If you said before UFC 101 that Anderson Silva was going to beat Forrest Griffin, most would have said they would have expected it.

Yet, when the match was over, there were 17,411 stunned fight fans at the Wachovia Center, because Silva made the former light heavyweight champion look like he didn’t belong in the same cage with him.

Part of the reason is Griffin fought a fight almost designed to make Silva look good, standing in front of him and trying to use boxing and footwork to beat a far superior striker.

Griffin had guaranteed that no matter what happened, Silva couldn’t break his will, but after two knockdowns early in the first round, when Silva countered a flurry, none of which landed, with a straight jab, Griffin went down and out. Whether it was an inadvertent hand movement, Griffin, as he went down, waved like he was surrendering.

All of this leads to asking a question. Who can give Silva, the UFC middleweight champion and winner of a company record 10 consecutive matches, a real challenge?

Silva will be moving back down to middleweight next to face Dan Henderson in a championship defense. Silva already beat Henderson by submission with a triangle choke last year, and Henderson’s strategy will undoubtedly be to try and take Silva back to the ground, where he’s, well, less great.

But if Saturday night was an indication, Silva’s challenges may be at heavier weight classes.

Usually after a Silva fight, the name bandied about is Georges St. Pierre, the current welterweight champion, who if the reaction in Philadelphia is any indication, is now the company’s most popular fighter. Clearly, St. Pierre would fight Silva differently than Griffin. But after the way Silva went through Griffin, St. Pierre’s name didn’t come up in the post fight press conference.

Griffin not at the press conference, and UFC president Dana White said he hadn’t seen or heard from him since Griffin went running out of the cage after he lost, so there was no answer as to why Griffin never attempted to take Silva off his feet.

Before the fight, that seemed like the only winnable strategy for Griffin, who received a hero’s welcome as he came to the cage. His jiu-jitsu coach, Robert Drysdale, had predicted Griffin would submit Silva. After the first knockdown, and certainly after the second, it was clear the stand up wasn’t going his way.

But there were no attempts at getting to the clinch, or trying for a takedown. Silva has been taken down in several fights by smaller men than Griffin, like Henderson and Travis Lutter, although neither were able to damage him once they got him off his feet.

St. Pierre has stated many times that he felt he would need to gain at least 10 pounds of quality muscle, which would take him a year of concentrated work, before he thinks he should take that challenge.

So for now, it appears his two most intriguing matches are ones that are unlikely to happen.

The most obvious one would be Silva’s teammate, current light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.

There was an interesting reaction by Silva and White when the match that was on everyone’s mind was broached.

As White smiled, Silva, with his selective understanding of the English language, was adamantly shaking his head, using facial expressions, that without words, clearly were saying, “Why did you bring that up?”

“If Anderson gets to that point, then they’re going to fight,” said White.

But through interpreter Ed Soares, Silva was firm that it would never happen. “He’s my friend and the fight will never happen.”

And, showing his respect for Machida, he said, “Not only because he’s my friend, but it would also be a big problem for me.”

Another fight that has been quietly speculated about would be one that, due to the nature of the business, can’t happen, with heavyweight kingpin Fedor Emelianenko.

On the surface, the idea of a middleweight fighting a heavyweight sounds ludicrous, but this would be different from the usual such matchup because Silva is several inches taller. As noted, Griffin is considered a huge light heavyweight and Silva wasn’t giving up any size. Emelianenko is a small heavyweight. Clearly the way Silva was dropping Griffin, he packs heavyweight power in his punch.

The key to such a match is that Emelianenko is not so much a skilled stand-up fighter as someone who punches ridiculously hard. But Griffin, whose technical stand up is superior to Emelianenko, couldn’t touch Silva, who kept his hands down and just used head movement to stay away from everything Griffin threw. Griffin has more height and reach, and the aggressive nature of Emelianenko’s standup is tailor-made for Silva’s counter punching.

Of course, the ground game is a different story. But Silva possesses tools like nobody Emelianenko has ever been in a ring with to this point.

But with Emelianenko under contract with Strikeforce, such a match would never happen.

A third fight talked about after the match, was a boxing match with Roy Jones Jr., who is training in Pennsylvania and was at ringside for the fight.

Silva has made it clear he wants that challenge, and has talked about such a fight for the past year.

This time it was White who nixed it outright.

“I don’t like that fight,” said White. “I don’t mean to show any disrespect to Roy Jones. I respect the sport of boxing. He’s not a champion anymore and these are two different sports.”

But of all the prospective fights, even though Silva would have key weapons like kicks and knees eliminated, it’s the most likely to happen some day. But not any day soon.

Silva, with three fights left on his UFC contract, has talked about setting up the fight as soon as he’s contractually able.

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Aug 9, 2009