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There have been spectacular, historic finishes in MMA before. Nothing matches Chris Weidman knocking out Anderson Silva. There is an impossible-to-match list of reasons this was the most monumental finish ever.
How it happened. Who it happened to. That who it happened to had never been knocked out before. That who it happened to never lost in UFC before. That who it happened to is the greatest MMA fighter of all time. That who it happened to held his title for a half dozen amazing years. The record title reign it stopped. The new superstar it may have crowned. Did I mention how it happened and who it happened to?
Anderson Silva isn't just the greatest MMA fighter of all time, he's also the most arrogant. Yes, he bows before the fights and hugs his victims after his victories (and defeat), and says all the right things a lot of the time to redeem himself after clowning around and showing up his often hapless, humiliated opponents. But he is arrogant.
Was the arrogance tonight, though, a different kind of arrogance? That's the question to debate in coming days and weeks. Was Silva the one who actually lost the fight before he got into the Octagon, psyched out by so many respected MMA fighters and trainers saying he had finally met his match? Or maybe he came to that conclusion himself after the first half of the first round. Did Silva decide, perhaps overtly consciously or perhaps unbeknownst even to his conscious ego, that if he was going to lose, he wanted to lose because he underestimated his opponent and got caught "being Anderson Silva"?
He lost by getting caught "clowning" around. He didn't lose because a better fighter beat him when both were fighting their best game. He lost because he's so used to being so much better than his opponents that he has been able to get away with that. By losing the way he did, he essentially sent a message "this guy got lucky because I got a little too cocky, but hell, I'm so good I've always gotten away with it."
Yes, Silva has been bored in previous fights, so far ahead of his opponents he could get away with that. He decided, in the face of some criticism for not being aggressive enough or entertaining enough, to "entertain" through showmanship. In this fight, I believe he had more respect for Weidman as a fighter than Forrest Griffin, for instance, and others he "clowned" around against. He either decided distracting him and goading him into a different kind of fight was his best chance rather than being taken to the ground again, or he decided Weidman was so beneath him as a striker he could get away with it and then score a precise flashy knockout of his own as a counter-strike (because it's not as if Silva wasn't trying to hit Weidman during his clowning; Weidman, it should be noted, did avoid being knocked out by several Silva strike attempts in the midst of the head games Silva was playing).
Silva said he doesn't want a rematch. Who knows where his head was at in that post-fight interview, though. I don't take much of anything said by fighters after a big loss all that seriously.
If Silva doesn't accept a rematch - which will be one of the biggest money fights in MMA history, if not the biggest by a wide margin - he will leave it to speculation whether he was beat by a better, younger opponent, a circumstance he inevitably was going to encounter unless he retired as champion. He will leave a lot of money on the table, but he will avoid losing twice in a row to Weidman and he will leave open the question of whether Silva lost because, well, he got kind of bored and, yes, cocky.
If Silva does accept the rematch and wins, he essentially erases this win for Weidman. Weidman will be a guy who scored with a lucky punch (and by a "lucky," I mean hitting the exact right sweet spot to knock out the greatest champion ever who had never been knocked out before, but still…). That's a big chance to take.
Will Silva's ego allow him to put himself back into the Octagon and lose straight-up without the head games and "clowning"? It's a huge choice because if Silva walks away from title fights, the last image - the way his championship legacy ended - is getting humiliated by having his arrogance backfire and his eyes roll into the back of his head.
As Joe Rogan said after the fight, Silva may be experiencing relief. He felt the pressure of being "the greatest MMA fighters of all time," something that has only become a "safe assessment" in the last year or two, despite GSP retaining his title and despite the rise of Jon Jones. I have no idea how Silva will feel tomorrow when he wakes up and isn't the Middleweight Champion, isn't undefeated in UFC, and is being classified as a "clown" who badly misjudged the quality of his opponent's ability to throw a punch and knock him out.
I hope Silva wakes up and decides he wants to know as much as we do whether Weidman, in a conventional fight, can outduel Silva or not. Silva's legacy will stand the test of time better, even if he loses a rematch, if he accepts a rematch and fights in a manner that is seen as showing respect for his opponent, the sport, and the fans. He can't dictate how the last chapter of his Middleweight Title reign plays out, but he does possess the power to make sure the humiliating finish Saturday night isn't it.
(Wade Keller is the founder and supervising editor of MMATorch. He has been covering MMA since UFC 1, attended as credentialed media the first UFC event in Las Vegas, interviewed original UFC matchmaker Art Davie in 1995 and Dana White for the Torch, and is a double-black-stripe belt in karate and has also trained in judo and jiu jitsu at the North Star Martial Arts Academy in Minneapolis.)
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