Continuing my intertwining Path of Silva and Path of Diaz series, we're talking about lateral movement and running dudes onto punches. I think we all saw a pretty clear change in Anderson Silva from the time he left PRIDE to his UFC debut.
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When we left our hero, Anderson Silva, he had flown over the top of Carlos Newton as his knee collided with the Canadian grappler's face. It was Silva's biggest, and only, notable win in PRIDE FC, and appears on highlight reels to this day.
There has been a great deal of discussion over why some fighters who couldn't make it in PRIDE became big deals in the UFC, and why many of the legends from PRIDE struggled once they came stateside. There's plenty of considerations from PED testing (which can often be more of a test in time management than a deterrent to PED use) to Phil Baroni's theory on jetlag being greater going one way around the world.
But in truth, if a fighter is going to be great, he'll find a way to be great when it is time. Athletic peak means a good deal, but belts aren't won on athleticism or genetic gifts alone. The fighting world is full of Kevin Randlemans and Stefan Struves who never combined their gifts with discipline, game planning and adaptability.
Almost a Nobody
Anderson Silva looked, for quite some time, to be another. He was commonly referred to as the most technically skilled striker in the Chute Boxe camp, and I wouldn't doubt that for a moment. But sparring with other heavy-handed brawlers isn't going to prepare you to deal with the better grapplers out there. Everything the Chute Boxe camp showed in the early 2000's was geared at moving forward swinging and looking to fight off the takedown when it came.
You can see it in Silva's career up to his departure from PRIDE. He was walking forward, squatting low, throwing two punches and then trying to fight off the shot from his opponent. He wasn't a stocky block of muscle like Wanderlei Silva, and he often had a height advantage over his opponents. A height advantage is great in the kicking game, but every inch of height is another split second in the level-change. Too often when Silva moved forward striking, his opponents were able to get in on his hips and take him to the mat.
It was after his fight with Daiju Takase, where Silva was easily taken down as a result of this forward movement, that Silva almost gave up fighting for good. After leaving Chute Boxe and joining Brazilian Top Team with the Nogueira brothers, Silva started to have something of a career renaissance, becoming the Cage Rage middleweight champion.
He picked up a couple more losses, against Ryo Chonan who famously hit a kani-basami or 'crab pincer' takedown into a heel hook, and a disqualification for upkicking Yushin Okami from the guard, but generally Silva was looking a lot more like an all around fighter than an uncomfortable sprawl-and-brawler.
Silva's most memorable moment in Cage Rage came as he knocked out Tony Fryklund with a back elbow which he had learned from the Tony Jaa film, Ong Bak (the techniques of which we have looked at extensively in the past). On the strength of his performance, Silva was contracted by the UFC and thrown straight into a title eliminator against The Crippler, Chris Leben.
Leben was the UFC's wild man. Getting his contract off of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, he was the guy in the house making a ruckus before the contestants were seemingly obligated to do so. But after his unsuccessful stint on TUF, Leben started to put together a streak of wins across the TUF Finale and each of the first four UFC Fight Night cards. A fan favourite for his heavy hands and granite jaw, he looked to be moving ever closer to a shot at Rich Franklin's middleweight title.
“Welcome to the Octagon, Anderson Silva” said Mike Goldberg, as Silva and Leben moved out of their corners. It might have been equally appropriate to say “Welcome to the Octagon, lateral movement”.