Lefko on UFC: The Spider caught in his own web

Anderson Silva, left, taunts Chris Weidman.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Anderson Silva did his best not to win the fight that ended his long reign as UFC middleweight champion and the title of the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in Mixed Martial Arts history.

His defeat Saturday night in the main event of UFC 162 in Las Vegas will go down as one of the most shocking in MMA history. It is one thing to lose, it is quite another to do so by attempting to embarrass an opponent with what could best be summed up as cabaret in cage.

To paraphrase a line, it’s only funny until you lose your championship belt by knockout.

Silva played the role of a clown by taunting his opponent, Chris Weidman, through a good part of the latter part of the first round and all the way through the second round before he was floored by a seemingly low-impact, innocuous punch followed by several shots that rendered him unconscious, concluding a championship reign of 2,458 days that began on April 22, 2006. But following 16 consecutive wins and 10 title defences, it is all over, to quote announcer Mike Goldberg.

It happened so quickly it almost seemed surreal, but what followed afterward only added to the charade. Silva indicated in his post-fight interview that he would not seek a challenge with Weidman.

“Chris has my respect. Chris is the champion,” Silva told announcer Joe Rogan.

Silva sounded as if he was declaring his retirement, even though he has 10 fights left on his newest contract, but refused to put it in those exact words. All he wanted to do was pay homage to his family, his students and his country of birth, Brazil, and the United States for all it had down for his career. If he was trying to win over the crowd celebrating Independence Day Weekend and bathed in Americana, it seemed odd and unsettling. Even if he truly meant it, it seemed out of place and rehearsed.

Much of the fight seemed scripted in Silva’s mind, particularly when he successfully avoided Weidman’s attempt to finish him off early in the first round.

This was not the first time Silva mocked an opponent, but this is the first time it resulted in a loss of epic magnitude, one which had social media abuzz with derisive criticism about the champions, even suggestions he threw the fight.

In recent years he had finished off opponents with stunning, athleticism. He seemed to defy age with breathtaking finishes.

This bout was more about the dethroning of a champion than the crowning of a new one. It was more like Silva defeating himself rather than Weidman beating him.

Weidman, 10 years younger than Silva and with a 10-0 record, had been considered a terrible match for Silva because of his grappling ability and ground-and-pound style and use of the D’Arce choke. Who could have ever imagined Weidman would win with his punching prowess? The left hook that sent Silva to the ground happened mere seconds after the now-defeated champion feigned injury. When Silva dropped to the canvas and exposed himself to some serious shots by Weidman, the fight ended swiftly.

Remember the satisfaction Silva enjoyed laying a beatdown on Chael Sonnen for incessantly running off at the mouth leading up to their rematch? Well, this was the MMA Gods giving him his comeuppance.

It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but Silva was offering plenty of signs that he wasn’t taking the fight as seriously as he should have. He joked when he stood on the scales at the pre-fight weigh-ins, then literally got in Weidman’s face, their lips practically touching. When asked by interviewer Ariel Helwani why he did it, Silva merely said “it’s normal…promotion for the fight.”

After the fighters received final instructions from the referee, Weidman offered to touch gloves, but Silva refused and merely bowed. Weidman took Silva down 30 seconds into the fight, but couldn’t finish him. With 2:17 left in the round, Silva regained his feet and began taunting his younger opponent, placing his hands on his hips and motioning Weidman to hit him. When the round ended, Silva hugged Weidman and kissed him on the cheek.

Before the second round began, Silva continued his sideshow act by verbally antagonizing Weidman. When the round began, Silva engaged in various forms of hot dogging, which at times seemed amusing, if only because he seemed in complete control, kicking and punching Weidman at will. To his credit, Weidman didn’t lose his composure, and waited patiently to strike. Another opponent may have been demoralized and humiliated by Silva for disrespecting him, but Weidman stayed steady and focused.

When the fight ended, the people in the bar in which I watched the card erupted deliriously, in particular because Silva had conducted himself with so much hubris. Think about what Silva did to Sonnen in their rematch and the reaction that followed because of the way the challenger had conducted himself in the months leading up to their bout and this wasn’t much different.

For all his magnificence in recent years when he won with athleticism and a certain amount of bloodlust, Silva seemed to have come into this fight with a mindset that he could win easily and planned to bait Weidman, particularly after he slipped out of his opponent’s top control in the first round. Maybe he had become too cocky from recent easy wins over Sonnen and Stephan Bonnar. But he took the cockiness to another level.

Will his family, friends, countryman and the UFC as a whole truly understand Silva for the way he acted in the fight or afterward? Silva can now engage in a boxing match against celebrated multiple champion Roy Jones Jr., who has been pushing for this exhibition match to prove who is the best striker? It would surely draw interest as a one-off promotion? Jones was one of many celebrities from the sports and entertainment world in attendance for the card. Will Silva go away for awhile and resurface in a year for a Super Fight against welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre or light heavyweight champion Jon Jones? Again, this would draw interest, albeit much differently than had Silva still been the reigning, defending, undisputed champion? Or will this create a rematch with Weidman, even if Silva is saying he doesn’t want one. Think of what the hype would be for the rematch? It could be Silva’s defining moment, reclaiming the crown and winning back the respect that he may have lost for the manner in which he approached and conducted himself in Saturday’s fight? Perhaps it’s really about whether Silva will find he still has a warrior’s mentality. Sometimes humility can help to rediscover that.

What is known is that Silva is about to take a leave from MMA to play a role in a zombie movie called Daylight’s End, set to begin filming this month in Dallas. Alex Lebovici, whose company Oriashpere Entertainment is co-producing the film with Throttle Films, told the Toronto Sun two weeks ago Silva’s role in the movie is his most prominent of anything he’s done to this part in the film world “and he’s really excited about the opportunity.”

Lebovici said Silva plays an ex-con who teams up with a group of survivors to help fight the zombies. He added Silva has been taking acting and linguistic lessons, so people will be “shocked and surprised” by his ability to speak English clearly. Many times Silva has used a translator during interviews, even though he speaks it well enough from years of living in the U.S. Sonnen took him to task for it among his many slags directed at Silva leading up to their rematch.

Had Silva taken a physical beating in the fight against Weidman so close to the start of the movie, it certainly would not have been a good thing.

Notwithstanding his remaining contractual fights with the UFC, Silva now has to prioritize his future. Will he still have the hunger and desire to push himself to fight again or will he focus on acting?

He and his entourage proudly wore a T-shirt with the words Anderson Knows. Well, only Anderson knows what he really wants to do going forward in the years ahead.

Perhaps it was a just a matter of time before someone beat him, but not in the way it happened Saturday night. Even the best get beat, but not like this. The man known as The Spider became caught in his own web.

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