LAS VEGAS — One of these days, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s magnificent run will end.
Is Chris Weidman the man to end the reign of the fighter most consider the greatest in mixed martial arts’ two-decade history?
Silva, the 38-year old native of Curitiba, Brazil, owns the longest-ever UFC title reign, closing in on six years and nine months. He boasts both the longest win streak (16) and most successful title defenses (10) in UFC history. When he’s gotten bored along the way, he’s ventured up to light heavyweight and made larger fighters look silly.
“I practice the martial arts,” said Silva, who splits his time between Brazil and a home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. “I don’t practice MMA. MMA is my job.”
Be that as it may, someone is destined to knock off the man who so often looks like Bruce Lee reincarnated, with his lightning-fast face kicks and knockout jabs. Up steps the unbeaten Weidman, who faces Silva in the main event of Saturday night’s UFC 162 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“As soon as I started my first sparring session ever and first learned how to strike,” said Weidman (9-0), I envisioned beating Anderson Silva.”
Weidman, a two-time NCAA All-America wrestler at Hosftra, began his fighting career in 2009, when Silva was already 2 1/2 years into his title reign.
The Long Island resident bulled his way into the scene in 2011-12, winning five straight UFC bouts. That included a short-notice victory over respected veteran Demian Maia, in which Weidman shed more than 30 pounds in 10 days to make weight, and a ferocious win over longtime contender Mark Munoz last July, in which Weidman opened a horrific cut with a standing elbow before finishing the job on the ground.
But he hasn’t fought since. A shoulder injury that needed surgery caused Weidman to pull out of a December fight with Tim Boetsch. Then, when the pieces came together for a title shot, it became worth the wait.
Weidman has standout wrestling, strong cardio, solid striking and superb positional awareness on the ground for submission defense. His boxing coach is Ray Longo, the same man who helped Matt Serra author the biggest upset in UFC history against Georges St-Pierre in 2007.
But Silva has seen and done all this before. The champion has defeated standout wrestlers before, such as Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. He’s rolled over feared strikers like Rich Franklin and Vitor Belfort. He’s made jiu-jitsu standouts, such as Maia and Thales Leites, look like white belts.
So when you’ve been on top as long as Silva, you start to think of each fight in a grand philosophical sense.
“I changed the life of Chris Weidman, because he fights for the belt,” said Silva, whose entourage Wednesday included soccer superstar Ronaldo. “This is good. This is my legacy. This is what’s important to me. Weidman has a chance at something. This is the UFC. This is the best sport in the world.”
For his part, Weidman has displayed poise in his first real turn in the UFC’s meat grinder of a main-event spotlight.
“When I got into this sport, I wanted to be number one,” Weidman said. “I wanted to have this pressure. To be the man, you gotta beat the man. This is where I wanted to be. If I wasn’t here right now, if I wasn’t dealing with these type of pressures, I wouldn’t be happy.”