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Anderson Silva’s Career-Ending Challenge at UFC 168

Depending on who’s doing the carnival barking for Saturday’s UFC 168 PPV, Anderson Silva’s re-match with Chris Weidman for the UFC Middleweight title is either the most important fight of his career or simply a final step in the former champion’s swan song.

The fight means everything to Anderson Silva if he wants to remove the tarnish and bitter taste out of his mouth after what happened during the Summer when his clownish antics got him knocked the hell out.

The fight means nothing to Anderson Silva if he’s fatigued, mentally-drained, and fulfilled with all of the accomplishments he has achieved in his career.

One of those two narratives will prove right for Saturday’s fight. I expect the former, not the latter to be Anderson’s mindset.

The pressure is on — and it’s intense

After what happened to Georges St. Pierre last month versus Johny Hendricks, Anderson Silva doesn’t want to be placed in GSP’s shoes as the aging veteran being nudged into retirement. The takeaway many had after the July fight was that Anderson betrayed a lot of his fans and let down his most loyal supporters with the way he behaved in the cage. I mean, if you drop your gloves Nate Campbell-style, you’re going to go down and go down hard. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that UFC or UFC-friendly media outlets did not air footage of the actual KO until recently when promoting UFC 168. It was that embarrassing.

In combat sports, there are always those passing-of-the-torch moments and July felt like the torch was passed to Chris Weidman for good. At UFC 168, that will either be cemented or else the torch will be doused with cold water. If Weidman wins the rematch, all Anderson’s fans can hope for is that he doesn’t get embarrassed. It’s one thing for an aging veteran to lose but it’s entirely different if the fashion that legend loses in diminishes or destroys everything they have built their career on. What an ignominious way it would be if Silva got knocked out for a second time.

In the first encounter, Anderson was a 5-to-2 favorite. In the re-match, he’s a 3-to-2 favorite. There’s still a lot of respect out there amongst the bettors that he will win back his title. More importantly to Anderson, can he win back his aura as being unstoppable or has Chris Weidman completely shattered that image for good?

One word: motivation

What is there left for Anderson Silva to prove at UFC 168? For starters, he probably wants to give his Brazilian fans an apology for what happened last July and the best way to do that is to get revenge in the cage in the most serious manner possible. What won’t win public sentiment back home is teaming with Chael Sonnen on Ultimate Fighter Brazil against Wanderlei Silva. What won’t win public sentiment back is signing a long-term fight deal with the UFC, losing to Chris Weidman twice, and then asking Zuffa to promote a boxing match between him and Roy Jones Jr.

Anderson has a lot of reasons for being motivated to regain his Middleweight title at UFC 168. But then what? If he vanquishes Weidman, then we’d get a trilogy match. After that, what’s left? Rashad Evans? Another match against testosterone warrior Vitor Belfort? Wanderlei Silva in a legends fight? The pickings are slim at Middleweight. Which is why you can see Anderson gets Roy Jones stuck in his mind as a guilty pleasure for a fantasy fight.

And even at his current age & physical state, Roy Jones would absolutely flatten Anderson Silva on his ass. Is that really the last image Anderson wants the fans to see of him in the ring?

It’s impossible to figure out if Anderson Silva is sensitive to what fans say about him. There’s been plenty of times where he has enjoyed playing the villain. Ask Demian Maia. But just because someone is great at playing the villain doesn’t mean that they are hyper-sensitive in private about what the public is saying about them. It’s one thing to lose to a young star like Chris Weidman but it’s an entirely different set of circumstances to lose support from your own base. Yes, fatigue can make cowards out of the best of men, but once you lose your reputation in combat sports it is really, really hard to repair your image.

The challenges ahead

What is there left to prove? A hell of a lot. If Anderson’s not motivated for this fight, he’ll never be motivated for any fight in the future. Chris Weidman poses a myriad of problems for Anderson Silva. Remember when the UFC touted a press release stating that all the fighters they polled predicted Weidman to win? It was blasphemous at the time. It came off as the phoniest thing ever. And now look at the words echoed by fighters back in July.

Weidman has excellent amateur wrestling credentials. The kind of skills that someone like Chael Sonnen managed to use against Anderson in their first encounter to nearly shock the world. Weidman has solid BJJ skills and trains with Matt Serra, a guy who knows a thing or two about slaying an invincible UFC champion. Weidman is certainly capable enough to know what to do once the fight goes to the ground. He’s not in Anderson’s class of BJJ submission skill but he doesn’t have to be. He just has to avoid the kind of scenario that happened to Chael Sonnen.

So, he has the wrestling skills to take down Anderson and the BJJ skills to neutralize some of Anderson’s ground game. On their feet, Weidman already has the psychological advantage of knocking out Anderson Silva and humiliating the man. In post-fight interviews with media outlets after the fight, Weidman was ebullient in his praise of his camp’s tape study when it came to deciphering how and why Anderson Silva clowned around on his feet. Anderson always maintained publicly that he wasn’t mocking his opponent but rather trying to get into their head. Weidman actually agreed with his sentiment and turned the logic back around on Anderson. If you’re going to drop your hands down and circle around, OK, then it’s time to throw a punch and see how well you respond. Weidman knew what was coming and just blasted Silva. Anderson Silva will want no part of that repeat performance at UFC 168.

If Anderson Silva wins the re-match, he’ll have some fights left in his career but he’s on the downside now. Chris Weidman is on the upswing. If Weidman retains the belt at UFC 168, the promotion can move on comfortably knowing that there’s a lot of interesting & fresh match-ups for Weidman to run through the gauntlet and establish himself as the true king of the Middleweight division. For sure, there will be a drop-off in PPV business once Anderson Silva is dethroned by Chris Weidman. And if there’s anything we know about UFC, it’s the fact that they are running out of aces who can draw more than 500,000 PPV buys.

Anderson Silva is still valuable to UFC. However, he’s no longer invaluable. If he wants to regain his status as the king of UFC PPV domination, he’s going to have to make a statement at UFC 168 in a big way & do so in an impressive manner. Otherwise, it’ll be too late for the mercurial UFC legend to find his motivation to make a comeback before the door gets slammed shut on him for good. Like Fedor. Like Mirko. Like Nogueira.