Silva's legacy hinges on Weidman rematch

July, 9, 2013
7/09/13
6:18
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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After years of being the most dominant mixed martial artist in UFC history, Anderson Silva suffered defeat in the Octagon for the very first time Saturday night in Las Vegas. And he didn’t know how to handle it.

Chris Weidman knocked Silva out at 1:18 of the second round to become middleweight champion. Minutes after regaining his faculties, Silva was asked about a rematch.

“I won’t fight [again] for the belt,” Silva said. “I had the belt for a long time. I have 10 more fights [with UFC], but not [necessarily] for the belt.”

Considering the time and circumstances, Silva’s response should have been taken with a grain of salt. Within minutes of his initial statement he had softened his stance.

“First of all, we need to respect Chris Weidman,” Silva said during the UFC 162 postfight news conference. “He’s the champion; he won the fight. But right now I’m just thinking of going home. I want to be with my kids and take some time off. And maybe in three to four months think about what I am going to do. But right now I can’t really think about that [rematch]. I just want to take some time off and be alone to think about everything.”

There will be a rematch. Silva will demand it. At least Silva has given us a general time frame in which he is likely to tell UFC president Dana White it's OK to set it up.

Silva’s a great champion, and like great boxing champions who have suffered a major defeat, he’ll want to restore order in his universe.

But, for the first time in his illustrious fighting career, Silva finds himself at a crossroads. His back is against the wall -- his future as a fighter, and how he will be remembered, hinges on what happens in that rematch with Weidman.
[+] EnlargeRay Leonard and Roberto Duran
Focus On Sport/Getty ImagesRay Leonard found his footing and redemption in a rematch against Roberto Duran.

There are only two scenarios that matter: He will defeat Weidman handily, proving that the loss Saturday night was a hiccup, a fluke that occurred due to his poor judgment; or he will lose two in a row for the first time. A draw does nothing for him.

Hall of Fame boxer Sugar Ray Leonard came face-to-face with this situation in November 1980, five months after Roberto Duran handed him the first loss of his pro career. Duran taunted the slightly favored Leonard throughout their 15-round affair and emerged on the favorable side of a closely contested unanimous decision.

The loss was extremely painful for Leonard, who shed tears afterward. It took weeks before Leonard was able to gather himself and announce that he was ready for a rematch. Leonard would give Duran a dose of his own humiliating medicine in their rematch. He toyed with the hard-hitting Duran, who became so frustrated by Leonard’s superior boxing that he quit in the middle of the ring during eighth-round action.

That was the "No Mas" fight. And Duran, one of the greatest boxers in the sport’s history, never fully regained his legendary status.

Leonard would go on to achieve even greater heights -- wins over Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler stand out. To this day, Leonard is regarded among the greatest boxers ever. This is the scenario Silva will seek to retain in his rematch with Weidman.

But a rematch with Weidman puts Silva in position to experience another loss and a slip in legendary standing. If that happens he might begin to be seen more like “Sugar” Shane Mosley than Ray Leonard. When his fighting days are over, Mosley will be voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. But he will never be in the same class as the elite; he will never be on Leonard’s level.

There was a time when Mosley appeared to be on his way toward entering the conversation for greatest of all time. He was a dominant fighter for many years, even beating Oscar De La Hoya by split decision (June 17, 2000) in a long-awaited, highly anticipated showdown of Southern California natives.

Mosley looked unbeatable after that win. But in January 2002, he put his WBC welterweight title on the line against Vernon Forrest. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare leading into the fight, though Forrest was unbeaten as a pro -- he actually beat Mosley during their amateur days.
[+] EnlargeShane Mosley and Vernon Forrest
Doug Kanter/AFP/Getty ImagesShane Mosley seemed destined for greatness -- before he ran into Vernon Forrest.

Forrest also possessed a fighting style that gave Mosley fits. He hit Mosley repeatedly with a looping right hand en route to a unanimous decision.

The rematch, six months later, wasn’t much different: Forrest took it by unanimous decision.

As in the Mosley-Forrest matchups, Weidman has a fighting style that seems tailor-made to frustrate Silva. Those who picked Weidman to beat Silva on Saturday repeatedly cited his high-class wrestling, top-level jiu-jitsu and extreme confidence as keys. What few, if any, expected to see from Weidman was his punching power, solid head movement and straight left jab.

This aspect of Weidman’s game makes him an even more dangerous opponent in a rematch than the guy Silva faced Saturday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena. But it’s the perfect opportunity for Silva to keep his label as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

No matter the outcome, Silva will always be regarded as a great champion. In this rematch, however, there is much more at stake for Silva than reclaiming the UFC middleweight title belt. He must win this fight, some might say convincingly, like Leonard did against Duran, to maintain his standing as the greatest mixed martial artist in the sport’s history.

But it won’t be easy. Weidman proved Saturday night that he is no one- or two-trick pony. Silva will need to be at his absolute best in the rematch, and even that might not be enough.

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