Silva-Griffin: Behind the Numbers

Michael DiSanto, UFC - Anderson Silva is the single greatest fighter in the world, bar none. On Saturday night, the pound-for-pound kingpin will attempt to further demonstrate his greatness when he squares off with former 205-lb champion Forrest Griffin in the co-main event of UFC 101.
By Michael DiSanto

Anderson Silva is the single greatest fighter in the world, bar none. On Saturday night, the pound-for-pound kingpin will attempt to further demonstrate his greatness when he squares off with former 205-lb champion Forrest Griffin in the co-main event of UFC 101.

The bout will take place at light heavyweight, marking Silva’s second trip to the division 20 lbs to the north of his middleweight home. Griffin is the biggest, strongest opponent that Silva has ever faced. Will he succeed where nine other UFC fighters have failed? Will he bring an end to Silva’s record-setting winning streak?

Let’s take a look behind the numbers at one of the more intriguing matchups of 2009.

PHYSICAL SIZE

Silva is a monstrous middleweight. Standing 6’2 with a well-muscled frame, he must work very hard to get down to the 185-lb middleweight limit. Reports out of Brazil suggest that he tops 225 lbs in between fights, which puts Silva in the same walking around realm as most light heavies. Thus, he would not face much, if any, of a size disadvantage against the majority of the division.

Unfortunately for Silva, Griffin isn’t part of that majority.

Griffin is one of the biggest light heavies in the world. This guy is every inch of 6’3 and every ounce of 240 lbs—and those are very lean lbs—in between fights. He has to work every bit as hard to make the 205-lb light heavyweight limit as Silva does to get down to 185 lbs. On the scales, the former 205-lb champion will appear a bit taller and probably a little thinner than Silva. By fight time, however, Griffin will enjoy at least a 10-lb weight advantage.

There is no question that Griffin is the naturally bigger man. The question, though, is whether Griffin can use that additional size to his advantage during the fight.

AGE

At 34 and 30, respectively, both Silva and Griffin are in the prime of their fighting careers. Age will not play a factor in this fight.

EXPERIENCE

Silva is one of the more experienced fighters in the UFC with more than two dozen fights around the world during his nine-year professional career, including nine bouts in the UFC. Griffin started his professional career 17 months after Silva and has a half dozen or so fewer professional fights, many of those coming in smaller promotions before finally getting his chance in the UFC when he won the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.

One would assume, therefore, that Silva has a slight edge in experience in this matchup. The problem with that assumption is the fact that Silva has only competed one time as a light heavyweight, and that was a quick, first-round knockout win over James Irvin last summer.

If the fight lasts beyond the 61 seconds that the Irvin fight lasted, Silva will be in uncharted waters. He has no idea how his conditioning will hold up in light of the extra body weight if the bout turns into a back-and-forth war of attrition. He has no idea what it will be like trying to push around a huge light heavyweight like Griffin in a live fight.

Griffin, by contrast, has fought his entire UFC career at light heavyweight. He knows exactly how his body will react during competition. He knows what it is like to get hit by a truly devastating light heavyweight puncher from his bouts with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Rashad Evans. Silva may have superior standup skills than Rampage and Evans, but he doesn’t bring superior explosive power into the cage. Griffin also knows what it is like to fight a counterstriker with elite speed. Again, Evans doesn’t have the same standup technique as Silva, but he is equally fast.

In other words, there are more variables in this fight for Silva than for Griffin.

Advantage Griffin.

CURRENT TREND

As mentioned, Silva has yet to lose in the Octagon. His winning streak currently stands at nine fights—the longest of its kind in UFC history. In fact, Silva hasn’t lost in any organization around the world since getting disqualified for an illegal kick against Yushin Okami at Rumble on the Rock way back on January 20, 2006. One would presume that such a streak gives the champion all the confidence in the world, if not a sense of invincibility.

If Silva feels invincible, he certainly didn’t show it in his last two bouts. Lackadaisical efforts against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote, where Silva looked like he was focused more on not losing rather than winning, raise questions about his confidence levels. Is the pressure of his nine-fight winning streak starting to get to him? After all, each time he steps into the Octagon, he will be fighting to extend his UFC record for most consecutive wins. Some fighters thrive under that sort of intense pressure. Is Silva beginning to crack?

Griffin doesn’t have the luxury of fighting with an undefeated record. In fact, he has come up short in three of his 10 UFC bouts, including his most recent fight against Rashad Evans, where he was stopped with strikes at 2:46 of round three at UFC 92. Any time a fighter loses, particularly when he gets knocked out, it reminds him that he is mortal, which can have a lasting impact on his psyche.

Not Griffin.

He responded to his first round technical knockout at the hands of Keith Jardine with possibly the finest stretch of his professional career, scoring consecutive wins over Hector Ramirez, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Rampage. He was as loose and relaxed in those bouts as any in his career, fighting as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I expect him to fight the same way against Silva on Saturday night.

I know this comment will draw tremendous ire among readers. I don’t care. Advantage Griffin.

CURRENT LAYOFF

The fact that both men are coming off the second longest inactive streaks of their respective UFC careers is immaterial. Octagon rust will not be a factor on Saturday night.

Silva’s current inactive streak of 112 days is a very typical rest period for any top fighter. That is plenty of time for a fighter to heal up from any nagging injuries sustained in the prior training camp or the fight itself and also get some time away from the gym to avoid burn out. Yet, it is short enough that this will feel like just another day at the office for the champion.

Griffin, by contrast, has been out of action 77 days longer, or 189 days. When a guy crosses the six-month barrier, questions start to arise about Octagon rust. Griffin showed that he can handle such lengthy absences when he put on the fight of his life against Rampage after a layoff that was 98 days longer.

Nobody holds an advantage here.

MOTIVATION

This is one of the big question marks of the fight. One can slice and dice this one almost any way that he or she wants from Silva’s perspective. For example, I can make the argument that this bout presents an opportunity for Silva to further cement his legacy as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. Sure, he already holds a 205-lb win over Irvin, but a win over Irvin and a win over a former 205-lb champion like Griffin are two very different animals. Defeating a former 205-lb champion who is still in his prime combined with Silva’s accomplishments at middleweight would absolutely solidify his spot atop the mythical pound-for-pound rankings.

I can also make the argument that Silva is losing focus and motivation at this point in his career. He seems to spend as much time talking these days about life after fighting as he does his fighting career.
The fact remains that Silva has barely broke a sweat during his record-setting UFC career. So is there anything left for him to prove. If he doesn’t think so, that has to curb his fighting hunger just a bit.

Griffin, on the other hand, sees this fight as the opportunity of a lifetime. He knows that a loss to the middleweight champion severely damages his standing in the division. Yet, a win over the pound-for-pound great would both secure his name in the UFC history books as the first man to defeat ‘The Spider’ in the UFC and also put him right back into the championship mix. His motivation, therefore, is probably as high as it has ever been.

Advantage Griffin.

THE PREDICTION

How can anyone pick against Anderson Silva? The guy is in a fighting zone like nobody else in the history of the Octagon, winning all nine fights to start his UFC career. He beats opponents in every facet of the game, blending the sport’s best Muay Thai skills and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to dominate the action on the feet and on the ground.

That is all fine and good, but Silva has never before faced an opponent like Forrest Griffin. Griffin’s combination of size, strength and fighting prowess make him the most dangerous opponent that Silva has ever faced.

Griffin only knows how to fight one way—coming forward. He will bring the fight to Silva for as long as the fight lasts, and that is exactly what Silva wants because he is arguably the best counter striker in the game today. Current 205-lb champion Lyoto Machida may want to debate that point, but for my money, the nod still goes to Silva.

Everything about this matchup from a style perspective suggests that Silva will win by knockout. Griffin’s aggressive style should be tailor made for the 185-lb champion.

Silva will sit back and wait for Griffin to fire jabs and look to slip and counter with straight left hands. Each of those counter lefts will be laced with enough dynamite to bring the fight to an abrupt end.

But things rarely unfold as they should inside the Octagon. Griffin has shocked the world twice before when he beat Shogun and Rampage.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Griffin will somehow avoid those counters and find a way to turn things into a war of attrition. He is going to focus on keeping his lead left foot outside of Silva’s right foot to minimize the throwing angle for Silva’s vaunted counter left. He will fire hard kicks to the inside of Silva’s right leg, avoiding kicks to the outside of the leg for fear that Silva will catch the kick and unload like he did against Irvin.

The way I see it, Griffin is going to fight the perfect fight, just like he did against Shogun and Rampage. He is going to shock the world by becoming the first man to defeat the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter inside the Octagon.

Hey, I know that is a crazy prediction, but crazier things have happened in the UFC, so I’m sticking to it.

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