UFC 90 Musings

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Anderson Silva is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound. There is no legitimate argument to the contrary. Yet, Saturday night, he found himself in against someone many believed to be an overmatched opponent, but who turned out to be an extremely game Patrick Cote.
By Michael DiSanto

INJURY CAPS OFF UNUSUAL TITLE BOUT

Anderson Silva is the best fighter in the world, pound for pound. There is no legitimate argument to the contrary. Yet, Saturday night, he found himself in against someone many believed to be an overmatched opponent, but who turned out to be an extremely game Patrick Cote.

Silva’s respect for his foe was evident by the champion’s decision to circle the ring for more than a minute to open the fight rather than engage his foe in a gunfight. At times, it seemed as if Silva was more interested in feinting and dancing than fighting, but there is no doubt that the longest reigning middleweight champion in history was playing a tactical game with Cote, waiting for the perfect moment to begin his ballet of violence (props to Joe Rogan for coining that phrase).

Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards, as Cote, who suffered an injury to his right knee in the second round, had the injured joint fail him early in the third, causing him to collapse in pain without any hope of finishing the fight.

But the bout itself was far from insignificant. For the first time in eight UFC bouts, Silva did not appear to be the human wrecking machine that fans love and fighters fear. That raises a series of questions that will definitely linger over Silva’s head until he returns to action.

Why did he choose to be so tactical in the first two rounds, allowing Cote to be the first Silva opponent to survive into the third round since 2004? Did he suffer an injury in training, preventing him from filling up his deep gas tank? Was he toying with his foe, hoping to showcase his array of talents for Illinois fans seeing him for the first time? Was he being extra cautious because of Cote’s granite chin and murderous right hand? Did he take Cote lightly during training – after all, some have suggested that the champion is starting to struggle to find motivation in the division that he rules so ruthlessly?

Or, did adding additional muscle over the summer to move up to 205 lbs and face James Irvin come back to haunt him? Silva had to shed that additional muscle when preparing to fight Cote so that he could make the 185-lb middleweight limit, meaning he likely cut more weight for this fight than any other fight in his UFC career. Losing the extra weight can have a detrimental effect on a fighter’s conditioning and his confidence. The world got a vivid example of that phenomenon when boxer Roy Jones Jr. bulked up with 20 extra lbs to win the heavyweight boxing championship, and when he tried to shed that extra muscle a few months later to return to his previous division, Jones didn’t have the same speed, power or cardio that he was accustomed to.

Only Silva knows for sure why he chose to be so cautious early on. If I had to venture a guess, it would be a mix between shedding the extra weight, which likely took a toll on his body, and a healthy respect for Cote’s homerun power. Silva probably expected that he could win the fight whenever he wanted, provided he didn’t walk into a fight-ending bomb, so he decided to lull Cote into a false sense of confidence by having the Canadian chase him around the ring early before planting to defend his ground in the middle rounds. Following that game plan would allow him to easily fight the full five rounds, if needed. And he needed to make sure he had the gas to go the distance, because Cote had never before been stopped by strikes.

Silva is in the midst of the most successful middleweight championship run in history. He is in the process of finding his place among the all-time greats, so continuing to rack up win after win is the only thing that matters at this point in his career. A loss at this point would be devastating, so he needs to make sure that he is properly motivated for all bouts going forward. Thus, if he deems the 185-lb division as devoid of challenges, then the clear answer is to make a permanent move to 205 lbs. I guarantee that he will be motivated when faced with fighting guys like Forrest Griffin, Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans or Wanderlei Silva.

KOSCHECK SHOULD BE APPLAUDED IN DEFEAT

He had everything to gain, but also a heck of a lot to lose. Regardless, Josh Koscheck accepted a fight with fellow top contender Thiago Alves on two weeks notice.

Had he defeated Alves, Kos would have separated himself as the clear No. 1 contender to the welterweight crown, virtually guaranteeing himself a fight in the first half of 2009 against the winner of the bout between Georges St-Pierre and BJ Penn. But the fight with Alves came with great risk.

Alves was already deep in training to face another dominant wrestler, Diego Sanchez. So, he didn’t have to change much when he learned two weeks ago that he was going to instead face Kos. Granted, Kos is a far superior wrestler and a better striker compared to Sanchez. Nevertheless, Alves didn’t have to change his game plan at all, other than to be a bit more mindful of defending takedowns.

Kos, on the other hand, was in the early stages of training for his main event fight in December against an entirely different opponent stylistically in Yoshiyuki Yoshida. Kos was still favored to win that bout though, and the fact that it was the main event of a Spike TV card meant that Kos would gain tremendous exposure from the win, further building his own name value and increasing existing public support for a title shot. Yet, a damaging loss to Alves, especially if he suffered any sort of injury, would almost certainly derail his plans to still fight in December.

The fact that Kos was willing to risk all of that and face a much more dangerous foe just so he could give the fans an amazing contest and maintain the star power of UFC 90 should not go unnoticed. Who cares if he lost? Kos showed tremendous heart, surviving a first round knockdown to make it a very competitive fight, despite the judges’ cards. I don’t know what fight two of the judges were watching, but Kos won the second round on my card for dominating the first 2:20 of the round, exacting more damage in that period than Alves did in the next 2:20 (the pair was locked up for the final 20 seconds).

I don’t know what UFC President Dana White said to Kos after fight, but my guess is that he reassured the American Kickboxing Academy star that his stock did not fall in the loss, and he would allow him to continue as the headliner in December, assuming he is physically able.

Kos certainly deserves it. Fans everywhere should tip their hats to him for his fighting spirit. Thank you for a great fight, Kos. And more importantly, thank you for having the stones to step up and give the fans such an unexpected treat.

ALVES NOW STANDS ALONE AS THE NO. 1 CONTENDER

It was difficult to dub the original bout as a title eliminator, since Diego Sanchez clearly stands behind Koscheck in the welterweight standings. But there is little doubt that Alves-Kos determined the most deserving challenger to the winner of GSP-Penn. And with his seventh consecutive win inside the Octagon, Alves now fills that spot.

‘The Pitbull’ has devastating Muay Thai, and he showed tremendous takedown defense against Kos. He also showed a great deal of patience, following a very precise game plan of leg kicks and quick combinations before moving out of takedown range. That patience is what separates the Alves of today from the one who lost to Jon Fitch in 2006. And that is the quality that he will need to rely on most if he wants to beat either GSP or Penn.

SHERK, GRIFFIN IMPRESSIVE ON THE FEET

For two wrestlers, Sean Sherk and Tyson Griffin put on one heck of a kickboxing bout. Each man caught the other with a multitude of clean shots thrown from varied angles. Griffin was particularly effective setting the pace by fighting behind an active jab and good, clean right hands. Sherk countered beautifully with quick, accurate left hooks. Both men scored regularly with kicks, and Sherk scored with a few well-timed knees. It was far from the sort of fight that I anticipated watching—one dominated with takedowns and ground control. By continuing to improve their respective standup games, both men continue to add to their star power in the division, because fans love shoot outs on the feet. It also makes both men more dangerous fighters within the division, since it is clear that they do not need to rely on takedowns to win fights.

WAS IT A CASE OF OVERCONFIDENCE?

Fabricio, what were you thinking? Bulking up to try and nullify any advantage held by larger fighters makes a lot of sense. When all else is equal, size and strength is often the difference in a fight. But there is a right and a wrong way to put on weight.

Anderson Silva, for example, had to add weight to face James Irvin earlier this year. The extra weight was needed to make sure that Irvin wouldn’t overpower him in the clinch or on the ground. Silva added the weight by training with a weight vest, increasing his resistance during his weight training, and increasing both his protein and caloric intake. The end result was a larger, but still very lean, Silva. And he was just as effective as a light heavyweight as he was in previous fights as a middleweight, despite the 20 lb difference.

Fabricio Werdum arrived in Chicago for his fight with Junior Dos Santos almost 20 lbs heavier than he was for his previous UFC bouts, ostensibly bulking up in preparation for a likely title shot in 2009. The problem, however, was that Werdum went about gaining weight incorrectly. Granted, I have no idea how he did it, but the spare tire he sported–the first of his UFC career–spoke volumes. It suggested either a lack of training or a complete disregard for his diet. Either way, it suggested that he took his opponent lightly, and he paid a dear price as a result.

Did the added weight have anything to do with the devastating first round knockout loss? I have no idea. But he certainly didn’t look like he had much bounce in his step. He certainly didn’t appear to be able to go three hard rounds with his young, hungry opponent.

Maybe the loss will be a positive in Werdum’s career. In fact, I believe that will be the case. Maybe he started to believe in his own hype. Maybe, as mentioned above, he was looking past his opponent. I don’t expect him to do either in the future. Then again, maybe he suffered an injury in training and wasn’t able to do his customary roadwork to melt off the weight that he and most other fighters, particularly heavyweights, put on between fights from enjoying the finer things in life, such as eating gourmet food rather than following a strict training diet.

Whatever the case, I certainly don’t expect to see him show up in that sort of physical state again. Count on Werdum working his way back into top contender status before the end of 2009. Why? Because he is too talented not to rise back up the heavyweight ranks. This guy has top-of-the-food chain jiu-jitsu and rapidly improving standup. Mix in the tutelage of Rudimar Fedrigo and his sparring partners at Chute Boxe, and this guy has both the physical tools and the supporting cast to be great.

MAYNARD GRINDS HIS WAY UP THE LADDER

He didn’t score an explosive knockout like with Dos Santos, but Gray Maynard was equally dominant in his three round unanimous decision victory over tough veteran Rich Clementi. Maynard fought a very tactical, methodical fight, completely neutralizing Clementi’s striking and jiu-jitsu en route to victory.

The win moves him one step farther away from prospect and one step closer to contender. The question now is whether he is ready for the division’s best or if he needs a few more fights to gain additional valuable experience. My guess is the latter. As good as Maynard looked against Clementi, it is hard to imagine him bullying Sherk, Griffin or Joe Stevenson with his wrestling ability. If he cannot dictate the action with his wrestling, then he will be forced to rely on his standup, which is still very raw. Nevertheless, Maynard is someone that everyone is taking seriously.

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