UFC Middleweight champion Chris Weidman retained his title by defeating Anderson Silva in their much-promoted re-match on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
And, yet, Chris Weidman remains secondary in the minds of most UFC fans. If it wasn’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all when it comes to winning over the hearts and minds of MMA fans across the world.
Jim Genia recently wrote a post chronicling the early days of Chris Weidman and it’s an absolute must-read. How can a fighter who actually lived up to the hype of being championship-material and demonstrated good public relations skills remain the Rodney Dangerfield of the UFC? Star power can influence and alter opinions in ways that facts & logic often cannot penetrate.
Before the UFC 168 re-match, Anderson Silva was still a 3-to-2 favorite. Even Dana White said in the post-fight aftermath that there was no reason to believe Anderson was an underdog. There was a five month break between the two fights. It’s not as if the skills set rapidly changed to tip the scales. The only reason Anderson was still a favorite was due to the massive amount of respect for his past UFC accomplishments and the idea that somehow, this time, he would have a better showing because he was really serious this time around.
Same result with a brutally different finish
Round one of the re-match at UFC 168 looked like a Chael Sonnen special with Weidman pounding away and demonstrating his dominant wrestling skills. Anderson survived. Round two started and Weidman demonstrated new technique in checking leg kicks. The first check splintered Anderson Silva’s shin. The second check broke the man’s leg.
And all of the focus is on how gruesome the broken leg injury was. Anderson, in anguish, was stretchered out of the cage and rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. The heavy Brazilian crowd at the event was stunned. The American fans were repulsed and grossed out the same way college basketball fans were grossed out by Kevin Ware’s leg-splitting leap on the court that horrified the masses.
Suddenly, the story became entirely about Anderson Silva. He’s 38. He’s no longer invincible. His kryptonite has been found. He’s lost his spirit and motivation. All of those storylines were intertwined into one picture of a man screaming as he was rushed backstage out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Chris Weidman didn’t just beat Anderson Silva — he may have put him into retirement. That’s the stuff of pro-wrestling storyline folklore. However, this feels different. The fan reaction immediately was about Anderson Silva’s injury and how it compared to some of the all-time worst leg injuries in sports history. Chris Weidman helped inflict the damage but in the press and in the minds of MMA fans, he’s a spectator to history even though he was involved in the actual incident.
The screaming headlines on ESPN, Fox Sports 1, CNN/SI, and other major media outlets was all about Anderson Silva’s gruesome leg injury. How long will he be out? Will he be forced into retirement? Dana White stated on ESPN in a 50/50 tone that Anderson has nothing left to prove.
I don’t buy that and you don’t either. Which is why the mere mention of Anderson Silva’s name will continue to suck oxygen away from the accomplishments of Chris Weidman.
Everyone loves a great comeback, especially when it’s a veteran superstar who’s lived the high life and set new standards of excellence. Within the last two months, the UFC has lost their two most amazing champions of all time in Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva. Now the UFC must try to move on from that era and generate new stars that the public will buy into as not just great fighters but also great sports personalities. There’s a difference. Ask Ronda Rousey.
Future expectations defined by past greatness
Chris Weidman will now fight Vitor Belfort for the Middleweight title. That fight will draw respectable numbers and attention. However, there are many more fans interested in the prospects of an Anderson Silva comeback. Sports fans are suckers for them. Anderson Silva is suddenly human. Georges St. Pierre suddenly was human after the Johny Hendricks fight. It’s not hard to imagine that the fantasy discussion will rear its head shortly about the prospects of an Anderson Silva vs. GSP dream fight where both men have little to lose and a lot of money to gain in finalizing their legacies. Who wouldn’t want to pay to see that fight? The two men may no longer be champions but that fight actually has as much fresh intrigue in the aftermath of UFC 168 as it did a year ago.
Everywhere Chris Weidman turns, the ghost of Anderson Silva will forever follow him. Here’s the scary part: despite beating Anderson Silva twice in the time span of six months, a majority of fans on a Fox Sports poll believe that Vitor Belfort is going to beat Chris Weidman. The same Vitor Belfort that Anderson Silva kicked the crap out of three years ago. The same Vitor Belfort who is shredded by American MMA fans for using testosterone (anabolic steroids) while Chael Sonnen continues to be heralded on Fox television as a great suit for television.
So, why are fans seemingly reluctant to celebrate what Chris Weidman has accomplished? Certainly, part of the equation is that Anderson Silva has a lot of fans. And he made those fans by raising the bar so damn high with 16 wins in the UFC that it may be impossible to ever find another fighter like him in the modern era who will be able to pull off such a streak. The fans will naturally compare Weidman’s future performances to Anderson Silva’s record and unfairly box him into a corner. No matter how great he performs while defending his title, Chris Weidman is not Anderson Silva. It’s going to take the UFC a long time to condition the fans to stop comparing Weidman’s track record to Anderson Silva’s past accomplishments.
As Chris Weidman said in a post-fight UFC 168 media interview, it’s impossible for him to win an uphill battle of proving his doubters wrong because there will always be a moving goal post or a benchmark that he’ll never be able to reach no matter how hard he tries. On a UFC 168 weekend where lots of nostalgia talk drove the media buzz (Brock Lesnar vs. Fedor, Roy Jones Jr. vs. Nick Diaz in a proposed boxing match), the new aces of the UFC solidified their positions as company champions. They have a long ways to go, however, if they want to shift the focus of the fans onto their legacies rather than comparing their current achievements to the past greats that helped build the UFC brand. We haven’t heard the last from Anderson Silva. His legacy, his name, his record of accomplishments will remain a hot topic of discussion for years to come. Ask LeBron James all about the ghost of Michael Jordan and the pressure that ensued until he won his second NBA championship ring.
Front-Page Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor