Over the weekend, Mixed Martial Arts legend Anderson Silva, was knocked out cold by the relatively unknown Chris Weidman in the second round of their middleweight title fight in Las Vegas.
It was a shocking finish to what most people expected to be a routine defense for the champion, and the entire Martial Arts community sat in stunned silence as the Brazilian lay unconscious on the floor. Silva is regarded by pretty much everyone as the greatest MMA fighter in history, and for good reason. He has dominated the sport for almost a decade, annihilating opponents with breathtaking ease. "When you see Anderson at his best, it's one of the weirdest things," said UFC commentator Joe Rogan. "Because you can't believe a guy can do what he just did...He's a master. It's an honor to be able to call it for sure. It's really shocking, his abilities are really shocking."
Going into the fight last weekend, Silva was more experienced than Weidman - much faster, much slicker, had better reflexes and was a vastly superior striker. Leading up to the knockout, it appeared Weidman was in over his head, particularly when standing with Silva, who seemed to be able to hit him whenever he wanted.
In the first round, Weidman, a brilliant wrestler, managed to get Silva to the floor, where he dominated the action. Silva's world class Jiu Jitsu kept him out of trouble and he managed to get back to his feet. When the both stood up, it appeared Weidman had run out of ideas. Silva's movement was so superior that he couldn't get into range, finding himself on the receiving end of some brutal leg kicks and head strikes. Weidman landed a few glancing blows, but Silva seemed to be in total control, faking being hurt and clowning his opponent.
The pattern continued in the second as Silva slid around the ring, pulling faces at Weidman and putting his back to the cage. It appeared Silva knew exactly what he was doing.
Apparently, he didn't.
Although Weidman seemed a tad confused at times, he kept his composure and looked for opportunities to strike with Silva in the middle of the ring. He was slower and a little less accurate, but he kept moving forward and throwing when Silva was in range. Weidman kept the pressure up and attempted to match Silva punch for punch, kick for kick.
And here was the difference: Weidman kept his hands up, while Silva kept his hands down.
Although Silva is a huge fan of boxing (he has actually competed in the sport), from a technical point of view, he does everything wrong. Silva puts his hands down, stands straight ahead, and pulls his head back from oncoming punches. These are cardinal sins in the sweet science, and only the very greatest have been able to get away with it at the highest level. Silva is, or at least was, one of those fighters. That was until Chris Weidman reminded him that at 38 years of age, you can't count on your reflexes to wing fights against other elite opponents. As the two traded blows, Silva kept his hands dangling by his side and allowed Weidman to reel of a series of punches. Silva slipped the majority of them, but was clipped by a left hook. He wobbled his legs to fake being hurt, and Weidman just kept throwing, following up with a series of lefts and rights that forced Silva to keep pulling back. Another left hook caught the Brazilian on the chin as he pulled away from a right, and Silva's lights went out. He crumbled to the floor and Weidman pounced, smashing a right hand to Silva's head as he lay on the canvass, prompting the referee to jump in a save Silva from permanent damage.
Had Silva kept his hands up, he would have most likely retained his championship belt.
It's hard to understand the psychology of people who fight for a living, particularly the greats. They possess a unique mixture of mental fortitude, extreme athleticism, raw intelligence and unworldy confidence. To get in a cage in front of millions of people with another person who has trained for two months with the sole purpose of taking your head off is not normal. And to do it over and over again for decades is, to be frank, completely crazy. Anderson Silva has been at the top of his game for almost a decade, defeating his opponents with such ease that many have wondered whether he was actually human. Silva put his hands down and clowned his opponents because he could. He was so dominant that it was almost as if he was fighting in a different time dimension.
But at 38, Silva no longer inhabits that other dimension - a fact he was made brutally aware of on Saturday night. He is still vastly superior to everyone else in his division, but if he wants to continue fighting, he must respect the fact that he has to abide by the same laws of physics everyone else does.
Weidman deserves a huge amount of respect for his accomplishment as he fought his fight and never backed down. But if we're being honest, Weidman didn't beat Anderson Silva. Anderson Silva did.