It may be too far down the road to call this bout a passing of the torch. Anderson Silva is on the wrong side of 40 and after being unbeatable for the best part of a decade, the Brazilian has looked mortal in recent outings, besting Brunson in somewhat dubious fashion almost 2 years ago to the day. It could be argued that the torch has already been extinguished. However, with The Spider, nothing is certain. Nobody knows this better than Chael Sonnen, the wrestler who dominated Silva for 5 rounds in 2010, before being submitted in the final minutes. Silva’s knockout of Vitor Belfort remains perhaps the most iconic image in UFC history, demonstrating just how unpredictable the sport can be.
Moreover, Dana White’s promise of a title shot for the victor will certainly light a fire in Silva, who hasn’t competed for gold since back to back losses to Chris Weidman in 2013. Whilst White’s title eliminator promise may be intended more for his opponent, the undefeated phenom, Israel Adesanya, it is well-accepted that Silva’s willingness to step in to fight Daniel Cormier at light heavyweight at UFC 200, thus salvaging the marquee event, has earned him some serious good graces from the UFC president. Whilst White is somewhat infamous for changing the script as he goes (women will never fight in the UFC), he is almost Lannisterian in repaying his debts.
Silva remains a draw, yet in his title days was undoubtedly the UFC’s biggest star. Without the belt, and the subsequent aura of invincibility, he is no longer the biggest name in the sport. Adesanya, on the contrary, is already a star, even without the belt. The meteoric rise is no surprise. History has shown that combining dazzlingly violent finishes with a captivating personality equals big money… naturally. White never misses a chance to capitalise on a star that knows how to promote themself. Darren Till vs Tyron Woodley in September proved however that the UFC push reserved for the most popular fighters can be either a blessing or a curse.
White seems to have learned from this experience. Adesanya is undefeated in the UFC, and indeed his entire career. Saturday’s bout with Silva will mark his fifth UFC fight within a year. Whilst this pace is extreme, the matchmaking has been methodical, providing increasingly difficult challenges for the striker, culminating with Derek Brunson in November. Ultimately, the biggest test for the Kiwi inspired his greatest performance. The fight was over before the bell rang for the end of round one, with Israel dominating from pillar to post. An outstanding performance that catapulted Adesanya from prospect to contender. Coincidentally, Silva’s last performance was also against Brunson, although it was a vastly different showing. Whilst Silva got the better of Brunson, he never looked exceptionally dangerous, and it is certain that a stronger showing will be required to best his opponent at UFC 234 in Australia.
The two elite strikers often rely on capitalising on their opponents’ aggressiveness, which poses an interesting question for this bout. It seems unlikely that either fighter will want to be overly aggressive early on, which may lead to a stalemate. For an entire era Silva’s knees from the Thai clinch were the stuff of nightmares for UFC middleweights. However, Adesanya has also deployed knees to great effect in recent bouts, particularly in UFC debut against Rob Wilkinson. His knees are also an excellent means of defending takedowns, although it seems very unlikely that either man will have much interest in taking the fight to the mat. The Last Stylebender has found great success with body shots so far in his UFC career, his principal weapons being a stabbing teep kick, and a whipping right straight to the body, which shut down the Aussie Wilkinson in his debut. The body shots may once again prove to be the difference maker in the co-main event at UFC 234 this Saturday.
It seems clear that a win will guarantee Adesanya his first opportunity to grab UFC gold against the victor of Robert Whittaker and Kelvin Gastelum. On the contrary, a loss for Silva may signal the end for the sure-fire Hall of Famer. Currently ranked #15 in the middleweight division, the Brazilian has no plans to retire following a loss. Whilst his glory days may be behind him, there is no doubt that the world of MMA will be a less exciting place without Anderson Silva.
Final Prediction – Adesanya vía Unanimous Decision.