Anderson Silva was the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s middleweight champion for over seven years, and counts on ten consecutive title defenses. Without a doubt, Anderson is one of the greatest to ever grace the Octagon. As such, Anderson is eternal. However, this weekend’s middleweight contest between Vitor Belfort and Chris Weidman will further bury Spider in the past at the heels of his botched comeback—the anti-doping scandal and ensuing and renewed hiatus from MMA did a lot to dampen the man’s relevance.
But Spider is also a common ground for Vitor and Weidman—to each of them in their own way. Belfort’s experience with Silva wasn’t a positive one, as he was knocked out by a brutal front kick, but that fight propelled Anderson and the sport forward to the forefront of Brazilian spectatorship, something everyone could benefit from. Weidman on the other hand is Spider’s kryptonite, having razed a record of 16 wins in the UFC.
With Silva still stuck in his battle to prove his innocence and reclaim his dignity in the sport following his fight versus Nick Diaz, the middleweight class will finally get to see a much-anticipated dispute for the belt. Finally, we, as fans, may, even if for a second, forget Spider’s problems, injuries, Vitor’s TRT issues, and the shit talking. The time is now, as they said.
For Belfort, the fight presents an opportunity to turn his definitive loss to Anderson Silva into a simple mishap. It also presents Belfort—who’s got 20 years of career in the sport—the opportunity to become the very first person to capture title belts in three different categories. With that in mind, Vitor hasn’t had the strap at all since August of 2004. Winning the title certainly won’t erase that 2011 loss to Spider, but it would certainly blur one of the most vividly remembered and iconic scenes in the history of mixed martial arts.
Weidman’s relationship to Silva is a bit easier—he’s the one to dethrone the legend—but it still has airs of unease. The phantom of Anderson Silva hovers over Weidman and his impeccable pro-MMA career, even if he is sturdily perched atop the heights of not one but two wins over Spider. For a variety of reasons, Weidman’s not yet a super star of the UFC. He doesn’t carry the heat of McGregor or the pomp of Jones or the what-have-you of the UFC’s stars. People still question him. Why should he be questioned when he’s the one to do the unthinkable? Probably because there’s a perceived lack of color in his character, partly because on his first win Anderson fucked around too much and got caught like anyone could get caught, partly because on the second time around a freak accident forced the Brazilian virtually into retirement. Weidman never delivered performances that had people saying “This is the guy right here.”
But after defeating Lyoto Machida and defending his title successfully, the bricks for the future began to be laid. If he beats Vitor, surely he’ll run game until he runs out of gas. He could be a more dominant champion than GSP, Silva, or even Jones. Weidman’s got the stuff of heroes in him, even if not the most beloved of characters in the UFC. The man is a machine, for which he’s garnered criticism that he’s a boring fighter.
The truth is that the 30-year-old from Baldwin, New York hasn’t had a real chance to prove himself. The fights with Silva were out of the ordinary, again because Silva was a fool in the first one and because of the freakish incident in the second one. But a dominant performance over Lyoto, and a chance to show himself to be a true and valid champion versus Vitor will cement him as one of the greats.
Either way, Anderson is the loser here, and both of these fighters, after this fight, could outshine the long shadow that their experience versus Spider has cast on their careers.
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