LAS VEGAS – Anderson Silva has used that confounding, exasperating style of his, the one where he sticks out his chin and invites his opponent to take a swing at it, for as long as anyone can remember.
That style has led him to become the greatest mixed martial arts fighter in history, so it's hard to tell him it's a mistake.
And yet, when it doesn't work, it fails in epic proportions. We shake our heads and question why he does it, as we did when Silva left his chin exposed for one second too long against Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in July and it cost him his middleweight championship belt.
He'll get a chance to regain it on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden when he meets Weidman for the title in the main event of UFC 168.
It was obvious, then as now, why Silva did what he did throughout UFC 162: his biggest concern about Weidman was Weidman's wrestling ability. Silva didn't want to repeatedly be put on his back, as he was against Chael Sonnen in two fights, and either get submitted or beaten up via elbows from the top.
He'd take his chances against Weidman in a standup battle any day. Hence, at UFC 162, Silva put his hands on his hips, nudged his chin toward Weidman and dared him to hit it.
So many times before, that strategy worked perfectly, always to Silva's advantage. Silva has looked like a killer using that strategy, getting his opponents off-balance and out of position while trying to attack his chin, then quickly taking advantage when they inevitably failed.
Silva's strength is his ability to quickly react when he sees an opening. His UFC debut, in 2006 against Chris Leben, served notice of the type of fight he would bring.
Leben pressed forward, and threw a couple of punches at Silva. The punches were wide, and never really were a threat. But Silva fired quick shots down the middle that took advantage of Leben's suddenly unprotected chin.
If an attacking fighter misses a punch, he's defenseless for a split second or so as he follows through. That's when the counter striker launches his own attack.
Silva caught Leben with two straight punches, which hurt Leben and set up the finish.
We saw it time and again throughout his UFC career, as he would move fighters out of position and then attack.
But it didn't work once and now, everything is coming into question.
Of course, it's unfair, but that's the nature of sports, particularly at the championship level. Win by using a particular tactic and be hailed. Lose with that same tactic and be prepared to handle an unending string of questions.
Silva is 38, and his age has been made an issue. He was champion for so long that his motivation also became an issue.
He's a pro's pro, and Silva understands what is needed to succeed. He's never been the most outgoing with the media, and so perhaps he hasn't gotten the credit he's deserved for an incredible career – doesn't it seem that Georges St-Pierre got more credit, for doing less, than Silva? – but no one can knock his preparedness.
He never failed to be in shape and he never failed to be ready to fight. He might have spoken in riddles, but when the bell rang, the one constant is that we knew Anderson Silva would be ready to fight 25 hard minutes, if need be.
Now, coming off a loss, he has to answer whether he's gotten old, or bored, or whether the game has caught up with him. Tiger Woods once did things that none of his peers on the PGA Tour could dream of doing. But they studied him, adopted some of his training methods, and eventually closed the gap.
Perhaps he's gotten old, and that's why Weidman was able to catch him when no one else previously was able to do so. That, though, is unlikely. More likely is that he made a minor mistake and didn't see the hook coming until it landed on his chin.
He claims that everything in Saturday's rematch "is going to be different," and it's hard to know if he's referring to the outcome, his style, both or neither.
Silva, though, is a proud man and one can be certain he's not happy seeing that clip of him being knocked out over and over during the UFC's omnipresent television advertisements for the show.
"I don't think I have anything to prove to anyone," Silva said. "But I'm very motivated."
Most likely, Silva is going to fight Weidman on Saturday the same way he fought Leben and Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson and every other middleweight that he thoroughly dominated until he got clipped by that Weidman hook.
Silva suggested he was working on a new plan, but what would be the point of changing something that worked so well for so long?
"Obviously we made a few changes," Silva said. "When you see a mistake, you've got to get back and see where that mistake is and change a few things around. But like I said, that's in the past and everything is going to be different from now on."
Only time will tell. But whether he wins by knockout or loses by knockout, it won't change the fact that Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter of all-time, and will remain so until someone (Jon Jones, perhaps?) puts together a string of impressive wins like Silva once did.
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- Anderson Silva
- Chris Weidman