MMAmania.com resident fighter analyst — and aspiring professional fighter — Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 84 headliner Anderson Silva, who looks return from suspension with a victory this Saturday (Feb. 27, 2015) inside O2 Arena in London, United Kingdom.
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight kingpin, Anderson Silva, will throw down with high-volume kickboxer, Michael Bisping, this Saturday (Feb. 27, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 83 inside O2 Arena in London, England.
It’s been a rough couple years for “The Spider.” After going the better part of a decade without suffering a mark on his record, Silva is now winless in his last three bouts because of a pair of losses to Chris Weidman and a failed drug test opposite Nick Diaz.
This Saturday evening, Silva is looking to put all that behind him. If he can get past Bisping, perhaps the dynamic Brazilian striker has one last title run in him, as the strap now belongs to a different man.
Let’s take a closer look at the former champion’s skill set:
Silva is the most successful counter striker in the sport’s history. He’s got experience in many different martial arts — such as Muay Thai, boxing and Taekwondo, among others — which have all been blended together to create a unique and dangerous kickboxer.
Looking at him in terms of the big picture, Silva’s strategy is pretty simple. From the outside, he pecks and pokes his opponent with long, rangy strikes, hoping to draw his opponent in and land a vicious counter punch. That’s really not a complicated strategy, but Silva is one of the very best in the world at each individual part.
Starting off, Silva has a huge variety of weapons to attack with at range. Thanks to his length and stellar footwork, a pair of very important elements to his game, Silva is usually able to work effectively from a distance that his opponent cannot match. This forces his opponent to change things up and attempt to close the distance in some way, usually leading to his downfall.
To put it more simply, there are not many fighters who could comfortably trade kicks and jabs with Anderson Silva, so they’re often forced to play into his counter punching game.
On the outside, Silva’s kicks are his most effective weapon (GIF). His round kicks are brutally effective to the legs, body, or head, and he’ll commonly mix in more unorthodox kicks like side, oblique and teep kicks. Each of these kicks serve the purpose of doing damage, keeping his opponent at distance, and motivating his foe to try and close that distance.
Additionally, Silva will mix in sudden attacks like jump knees or upward elbow strikes that are equally unexpected and dangerous.
Sometimes, Silva’s range weapons are so effective that he never has to utilize his counter strikes. The most famous example of this is his front kick knockout of Vitor Belfort, which happened just several minutes into their title bout (GIF). Outside of a couple flurries from Belfort, the fighters had yet to begin really exchanging, as Silva’s long range kick was enough to end “The Phenom’s” night.
If Silva can force his opponent to begin reaching for him with punches — or they simply choose to — the fight is usually open. In this situation, the Brazilian rely shines as he slips and rolls under his opponent’s strikes, coming out of these defensive movements with beautiful and precise strikes of his own (GIF).
In particular, Silva commonly looks to counter his opponent’s jab. Part of this is due to simple predictability, as most fighters are taught to stick to their jab when looking to work their way inside. That’s not a bad teaching, but Silva takes advantage of it by slipping his head off the center line and slamming home his own jab as his foe moves forward into the strike (GIF).
While it doesn’t fit neatly into either part of Silva’s aforementioned strategy, it must be mentioned that Silva’s clinch game is truly devastating. While it didn’t secure any knockout, Silva did bring his clinch work out of retirement in his last two bouts.
On the whole, Silva really likes to work from the double collar tie. After securing the grip, Silva breaks his opponent’s posture and easily muscles him around. From there, Silva can deliver vicious knees into his opponent, while his foe struggles against Silva’s vice grip.
From inside the clinch, Silva does an excellent job at mixing his targets. While delivering crushing knees to the solar plexus, Silva will suddenly yank his opponent around and aim for the general face area. Most of the time, Silva simply digs into whatever his opponent is not defending (GIF).
Silva can also use his knees defensively. Most notably, Silva scored with a few counter knees from the clinch into Yushin Okami’s ribs, which really deterred the Judoka from searching for that position.
On a related note, Silva does a really great job at targeting his opponent’s solar plexus with knees outside the clinch as well. Against both Stephan Bonnar and Chael Sonnen, Silva absolutely ruined his foes with brutal knees aimed at that specific target. For both men — legitimately tough fighters — it left them curled up on the ground, struggling to breathe.
Defensively, Silva has always been an extraordinarily difficult man to hit. He’s simply excellent at rolling, slipping, and pulling away from punches while in the pocket, and he also makes it very difficult for his opponent to close the distance in the first place.
Still, much of that defense relies upon reaction. Silva is now 40 years old, so it’s possible that his decreased reaction time — along with opponents’ smarter game planning, as neither Weidman nor Diaz allowed themselves to be baited into throwing wildly — has caused Silva to get hit more often.
While Silva is definitely an above average wrestler, it remains the weakest part of his game. Offensively, he simply isn’t interested in scoring takedowns outside of rare reactionary moments.
It is worth mentioning, however, that Silva’s top game is incredibly violent. It actually mirrors his regular stand up, as Silva stands tall above his opponent and delivers powerful, precise punches. Silva does not flurry and miss; he picks his shots accurately and slams strikes into his opponent’s chin.
For the most part, Silva relies on his distance control in order to keep the bout standing. Since he’s constantly keeping his opponent at the end of his kicks and remains very aware when they move in, it’s pretty difficult to get within takedown range.
Furthermore, Silva is a difficult man to trap along the fence. He possesses excellent Octagon awareness, knowing when it’s necessary for him to circle or stand his ground. That said, Silva will also use the cage to his advantage, as it can keep him standing if his opponent does manage to get deep into a takedown.
One excellent counter wrestling technique Silva has in his arsenal is the switch. When he fought Nate Marquardt, Silva was soundly out-boxing “The Great” for most of the first round. Then, Marquardt shot in for a single leg takedown. As he held onto the high-crotch, Silva was easily able to shoot his own arm between Marquardt’s legs and turn away with his hips. Essentially, this allowed him to reverse Marquardt’s single leg into his own takedown (GIF). Once on top, Silva quickly finished his opponent with accurate ground strikes.
In the last few years, it has become apparent that the combination of quality boxing and a powerful double leg can severely threaten Silva’s ability to remain upright, with the two weapons combined ultimately proving to be a game changer in the Weidman fights.
A black belt under the Nogueira brothers since 2006, Silva is a very dangerous grappler. While his jiu-jitsu skills are rarely on display, Silva has threatened and finished some very talented grapplers.
For the most part, Silva looks to stall from his back. By tying up his opponent’s arms with overhooks or grapevining their legs with his own lanky limbs, Silva is often able to prevent his opponent from advancing or doing damage. Then, it’s only a matter of time until the referee stands them back up.
Alternatively, Silva will mix in submission attempts from his full guard. He often looks for the kimura, but the Brazilian has only finished the triangle choke. His setup to this choke is nothing extraordinary, as Silva simply controls one hand and tries to stuff the other through his legs. Once the position is locked in, Silva uses his long legs to squeeze as he pulls down on the head.
This is, of course, how Silva scored his miraculous comeback victory against Chael Sonnen (GIF).
From the top, Silva has only ever secured the rear naked choke. There’s not a whole lot of technique to analyze there, but it’s worth mentioning that Silva has a very tight body triangle, which he’ll also use to control his foe in guard. Again, Silva’s long legs aid him here, as he constricts his foe’s breathing while hunting for the choke (GIF).
It’s not exactly jiu-jitsu, but Silva’s ability to strike from his back is topped only by Gegard Mousasi. Looking all the way back to his fight against Travis Lutter, Silva nearly knocked his opponent out with an upkick. Eventually, he trapped his injured foe in a triangle, only to deliver more heavy strikes. More recently, Silva used upkicks to discourage Weidman’s attempts to pass.
While Silva’s legacy as a great champion is set in stone, his current position is anything but. Following a year layoff and the failed drug test, it’s impossible to know just where Silva’s current skill set lies. If he’s still a top athlete, then he should have little trouble finishing Bisping and reinserting himself in the title picture. However, a loss would show that Silva’s time as a top competitor may be over.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.