You play with fire and, well, even a 10-year old knows how that old saying ends.
Now a certain 38-year old knows as well. Forgive Anderson Silva if he's a late learner, but he's been sticking his finger dangerously close to flame after flame for years, with not a burn mark on him. Until Saturday night at UFC 162.
The Brazilian wonder proclaimed by many to be the greatest mixed martial artist ever, who walked into the octagon having littered the path behind him with the broken wreckages of 17 straight opponents, including a UFC-record 10 challengers to the middleweight title belt he'd worn for nearly seven years, is champion no more.
Chris Weidman is.
His stunning second-round TKO was not the greatest upset in UFC history -- Weidman (10-0) was only about a 2-1 underdog and had been picked to win by many fellow fighters, including champions past and present -- but the manner in which it happened was unfathomable. The two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler had employed the Chael Sonnen blueprint of putting Silva on his back for the better part of the first round of the UFC 162 main event, and he actually landed more crisp ground-and-pound shots through the first three minutes than Sonnen had throughout nearly six full rounds on top of Silva.
But as the first five minutes at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas wound down and the second session began, the fighters were back on their feet, where Silva wanted to be. Where Silva has always made elite fighting professionals look amateurish.
With his feet on the ground, Silva (33-5) fights like no man ever has. And he pulled out all of his confounding tricks against Weidman. He dropped his hands to his sides and motioned the challenger forward, inviting Chris to hit him with his best shot ... or at least try to. And when Weidman did manage to land leather on his face a couple of times early in the second round, the champ wobbled with dramatic clownishness. It was beginning to look like an Anderson Silva fight. He was setting a course not simply to victory but to the humiliation of another opponent.
The crowd of 12,399 loved it. Weidman did not.
The second time Silva did his mocking wobble, the challenger lunged forward with a feisty right hand. He missed. Then he flung the right backhanded, and while the awkward strike only lightly grazed "The Spider," it served a purpose. It occupied Silva to the point where he didn't notice the left hand being flung in his direction. This one had more oomph behind it. This one landed square on the jaw, whereupon Silva landed square on his back. The soon-to-be-ex-champ's eyes did a dance he'd not choreographed.
"I was ready for it," Weidman later would say of Silva's clowning. "It [ticks] me off when someone tries to do that to me."
Clearly not a wise thing to try to do to this hard man.
Weidman pounced on Silva with wild abandon as the fans roared, landed a hard right hand on the jaw that left Anderson limp, and followed with a couple of more shots before referee Herb Dean could jump in at 1:18 of the round.
And moments later there came the surreal bellowing of Bruce Buffer's unimaginable announcement: "And new UFC middleweight champion ..."
"I felt I was destined for this," Weidman said as the octagon rocked with dancing, screaming, crying family members. The Weidmans had been dealt a serious blow months ago by Hurricane Sandy but had not been defeated. And on this night, the fighter from Long Island, N.Y., refused to be defeated even by an all-time great of his sport.
"No one's invincible," he said.
Silva acknowledged as much. "There will be people who'll say I underestimated him, but we need to respect what he did,"Silva said at the post-fight press conference. "We have to respect that he went in there and beat me."
Beat him at his own game, no less.
"I tried to induce Chris into playing my game, and it didn't work," said Silva. "He threw some shots that landed. I got caught. So, obviously, my game plan didn't work tonight."
The concept that what fans saw was a game plan in action was lost on some observers. Both fighters and UFC president Dana White fielded questions at the press conference about whether Silva's clownishness was disrespectful. Even though Silva had used much the same antics to frustrate and ultimately defeat many other fighters.
Weidman understood. "I don't feel he's disrespecting his opponents out there," he said. "I feel like he's trying to get a mental edge, to mentally defeat them. Wait for you to get angry and throw a hard punch, and then counterpunch you."
And while it might seem to be an odd thing to say on a night when the strategy backfired, Silva succeeded in drawing Weidman out of his game a little. Weidman kept his poise in the standup for a while, but then began mimicking Silva's hands-at-his-side stance, at which point Anderson -- surely feeling like he'd hooked another fish -- ramped up his antics. "It got to the point, when he was doing it and I said, 'You know what? [Forget] it. I'm hitting him,'" Weidman said
So he did.
And took away his belt.
With all due respect.
"Listen, you go in the cage with a guy like Anderson Silva, you develop such a respect, like a love," said Weidman. "I'm hugging this dude like I love him. I feel for him. Obviously, I'm happy for myself, happy for my family, but I feel for him also."
Their paths would seem destined to cross again -- Dana White assured us of a rematch -- but it might not be for a while. After the fight and at the press conference, Silva expressed a desire to step away from the sport. Not a retirement, exactly, but a sabbatical after seven years of teaching other men hard-won lessons. "I just want to take some time off and go home and think about everything and be alone," he said. "There's a lot of pressure defending this title. I've defended it for a long time. I need some time for myself."