A couple weeks ago, when Conor McGregor was matched up against Dennis Siver, I (and just about everybody else) identified Siver as an opponent designed to make McGregor look good. While Siver is a solid mid-tier UFC fighter and a skilled kickboxer, his advanced age and questionable chin, combined with McGregor’s exceptional movement and power, made it look like a showcase fight – which it was.
It might appear as if Nick Diaz has been chosen as Anderson Silva’s opponent on Saturday for the same purpose. As a welterweight striker with relatively low knockout power and a tendency to walk through strikes, Diaz has a fighting style Silva should be well suited to take advantage of. An easy victory for Silva could launch him right back into title contention, and the talk is that he could earn another title shot against Chris Weidman with a win. (I certainly hope not – another Weidman fight would likely have a devastating effect on whatever longevity Silva’s career has left.) However, there are factors that lead me to believe Diaz has a realistic chance of defeating Silva and spoiling the UFC’s hopes and dreams.
Let me get one thing out of the way. If the Anderson Silva who shows up on Saturday is the same fighter as the Anderson Silva who ruled the UFC middleweight division for the better part of a decade, then Diaz is toast. Silva’s ability to avoid damaging strikes and land his own with devastating speed and timing is something Diaz simply would not be able to handle. Diaz is incredibly tough, well conditioned, and difficult to finish, but I doubt he would react well to Silva’s speed, movement, and kicks in particular.
What baffles me is that anybody thinks THAT Anderson Silva is going to be the fighter in the cage on Saturday. Even before Silva lost to Chris Weidman, there were signs that Silva was slowing down. Whether it was losing a combined five rounds to Chael Sonnen, or having a closer than expected first round against Stephan Bonnar (before Silva’s devastating finish, of course), he wasn’t dominating in quite the same fashion that he was before.
That only serves to argue that Silva was a lesser degree of amazing, but that’s significant at the highest levels of the sport. More significant was the fact that Silva was finished twice by Weidman – and as much as both finishes may have been out of the ordinary, there’s no denying that Weidman out-performed Silva in both fights.
Silva enters this fight at 39 years old, coming off a brutal injury and two straight TKO losses. In my mind, not only is the “old” Anderson Silva not coming back, but there’s no chance that he will come back. Once fighters start fading in MMA, there is no sudden rejuvenation (unless you’re Robbie Lawler). I spent years hoping the “old” Mirko Cro Cop would come back, before I finally realized it just wasn’t going to happen. (And that realization was about six years ago… but here Cro Cop is, main eventing a UFC show later this year!)
But don’t get me wrong – even an old, diminished Anderson Silva deserves to be favored against Nick Diaz. For one, Diaz is a welterweight who has fought at lighter than 170 pounds in the past (his legendary PRIDE fight against Takanori Gomi was at 161). Silva is the much larger AND faster athlete, and that athletic advantage should not be underestimated.
On top of that, many of Silva’s problems have come against opponents who have tried to wrestle him. His toughest fights by far – against Weidman and Sonnen – were against opponents who were both very effective MMA wrestlers. Not only is Diaz not a wrestler, he’s a fighter who will go on a 10-minute diatribe about how boring wrestlers ruin the sport, and only then stop because somebody interrupts him. There is no history of the Nick Diaz skill set – boxing and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu – giving Silva a hard time.
Diaz is a dangerous opponent for Silva because of his freakish conditioning, his ability to fight at a tremendous pace, and his durability and willingness to walk through a barrage of strikes. Even then, it seems that if Carlos Condit could out-point Diaz with kicks and lateral movement, Silva should at least be able to duplicate that strategy, and likely out-do that strategy by hitting Diaz with more devastating shots. If Silva loses this fight, it’s much more likely to be because of a sharp decline in skill due to aging and the leg injury than because of what Diaz is able to do.
Pick: Anderson Silva by decision