After Wanderlei Silva’s last fight, a 27-second KO loss to Chris Leben, I reluctantly called for his retirement, given his 15 years of professional MMA experience, his 2-6 record in his last eight fights, and his four KO losses in that same time period. Of course, Wanderlei Silva is not the type of fighter who is going to leave the sport willingly, and the result is that he’s returned at UFC 139 to take on UFC newcomer Cung Le in the co-main event.
There’s no doubt that Silva has had a storied career. In his prime years in PRIDE, he caused a changing of the guard of sorts in the sport of MMA by defeating the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba three times. His wins include Dan Henderson, Kiyoshi Tamura, Hidehiko Yoshida twice, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson twice. In the fight before his loss to Leben, Silva showed that he still has something left in the tank, beating Michael Bisping in a fight where he nearly submitted Bisping by guillotine choke in the second round, and nearly finished Bisping by TKO in the third round. Bisping was saved by the bell in both rounds.
But it’s hard to ignore the repeated KO losses Silva has suffered, first to Mirko Cro Cop in PRIDE, then to Dan Henderson to lose the PRIDE middleweight championship, then to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and most recently to Chris Leben. Fighters who get knocked out a few times have a tendency to get knocked out easily again, and while Silva was once known for his ability to take enough punishment to dish out plenty of his own, his chin is best described as “fragile” these days.
That’s not a good thing when the opponent is Cung Le. Le has a very unique style in MMA, as he has a background as a very fearsome Sanshou fighter and brings some pretty exotic kicks to the table – front kicks, side kicks, spinning hook kicks, etc. Le might not be the most powerful striker in the middleweight division, but one well-placed kick to the chin of Silva could end the fight very, very quickly.
If there’s a strike against Le in this fight, it’s his relatively light roster of opponents. Le has exactly two quality opponents on his record: Frank Shamrock and Scott Smith, and Le was 1-1 against Smith. Of course, this ignores how Le performed against Smith in those fights, which is to say that he was crushing Smith in the first fight before being suddenly knocked out in very surprising fashion, and then crushed Smith again in the second fight. Still, Le has yet to face any top 25 opponents in the sport, and it remains to be seen exactly how his unique striking style would translate to the top tier of fighting in the UFC.
Silva might have the right style to counter Le. Since Le needs to stand at distance to use kicks effectively, Silva may be able to neutralize Le’s kicking ability by closing the distance aggressively and using either short hooks or knees in the clinch. Part of Sanshou is throwing the opponent, and Le has an excellent clinch wrestling game as a result, but Silva isn’t exactly easy to throw around. If Silva can consistently apply pressure and make it a boxing/Muay Thai match, he may have the advantage.
SILVA PREDICTION: CUNG LE (62.70) OVER WANDERLEI SILVA (50.10)
But that’s being optimistic. The fact of the matter is that Silva was already fading as a fighter well before he ever stepped foot in the UFC, and at this point, it’s hard to see how he’s going to continue to compete. And while Le might not necessarily be a powerful striker, all seven of his wins are still by KO/TKO. As it turns out, the effects of repeated punches and kicks, particularly powerful kicks to the body, are too much for most fighters to handle. I’m going to UFC 139, and it will be a thrill to get to be there, in person, to see Wanderlei Silva enter to his famous “Sandstorm” music and compete. But I have a very strong feeling that it may be the last time we see “The Axe Murderer.”