Anderson Silva no longer wears the UFC championship belt he owned for nearly seven years. But he's still in control of the middleweight division.
This is in no way to diminish Chris Weidman. His mind-blowing TKO of Silva in the main event of UFC 162 on Saturday night in Las Vegas earned him the distinction of being the unabashed alpha male among 185-pound mixed martial artists. In handing the miraculous and mysterious Brazilian his first defeat in his last 17 fights, Weidman interrupted a run of dominance never before seen in the sport. He blasted Silva out of the top position in a whole lot of pound-for-pound fighter rankings and secured a hallowed spot for himself on those lists.
What Weidman (10-0) needs now is something only Silva can give him: a rematch.
Sure, it's usually the new champion who's called upon to courteously offer the fighter he dethroned a shot at a return to glory. However, in this instance -- considering the sanctified figure Anderson Silva (33-5) is in MMA -- that part is assumed. For Weidman to look anywhere but toward Silva for his first title defense would be ludicrous. And in light of the way Saturday night's fight (and Silva) went down, with the knockout having to share the spotlight with the gaudy taunting and clowning that led to it, the new champion could use a rematch to fortify his persona among glass-half-empty fans who might view the startling upset as more of a Silva loss than a Weidman win. Do it again in a rematch, Chris, and that kernel of being doubted goes away.
But is Anderson even interested in facing up to that staredown?
In the aftermath of the fight, Silva did not seem driven to avenge his first defeat since the FDR administration. (Actually, George W. Bush had just been elected to a second term the last time "The Spider" suffered a legitimate loss, in December 2004. A little over a year later, Silva would lose by disqualification for an illegal kick during a fight he was winning.) In an interview in the cage immediately after his first career knockout loss, Silva sounded relieved more than anything. "I don't fight anymore for the belt," he said through an interpreter. "I'm tired. I've fought for a long time."
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That might sound like the stuff of which gold watches are made necessary, but an hour later, at a UFC press conference, Silva at least left the door ajar when the subject of a rematch came up. "Right now I'm just thinking of going home," he said. "I want to be with my kids and take some time off. And maybe in three to four months I will think about what I am going to do. But right now I can't really think about that. I just want to take some time off and be alone to think about everything. There was a lot of pressure in defending this title. I've defended it for a long time. So I just need some time to myself."
What's there to think about? It's either do the rematch or retire, right? There is no other fight for Silva now. Proposed superfights with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and welterweight king Georges St-Pierre are dead, because the "super" part implies that it's champion vs. champion. "Bones" sat at cageside on Saturday night and watched millions of dollars evaporate before his eyes, then took to Twitter and wrote, "This sucks." As for St-Pierre, who has balked at bulking up for a middleweight or even catchweight collision, a Silva showdown might now seem a less daunting ordeal to tackle. Then again, the opportunity to be not the first but the second UFC fighter to beat the all-time great doesn't have quite as exquisite a ring to it.
So what will be the next hand to be played in this high-stakes poker game? If you were looking around the table for a tell, the face to study the other night was that of Dana White. As Silva expressed his ambivalence at the press conference, the UFC president stood stoically at the dais, betraying not an ounce of bitterness at all of the big plans that went down the drain with his superfights unexpectedly having passed their sell-by dates. Dana listened to what Silva had to say, and when it was his time to speak he said simply, "I respect that." Metaphorically, if not literally, he was stepping aside to give Anderson the time he needs to do some self-examination.
White's unruffled response is something to pay attention to because it highlights his understanding of fighters. Dana is a Barnum-esque promoter, to be sure, prone to bluster beyond belief and bulldozer opinionating that unapologetically clears a path for the advancement of his worldview and his company's needs. But beneath all of that, he knows how fighters tick because he cares about fighters. During Saturday's press conference, he was asked about Chris Leben, the erratic UFC veteran who had put on a lackluster performance in one of the early-evening prelims. White spoke of Leben not as some palooka who'd now dropped four of his last five fights. He spoke of Leben the way he always speaks of him: with love. Dana can be a hardass, but his affect softens noticeably when the topic is Leben, the self-destructive cast member of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter who has survived through all the years since that 2005 show on little more than grit and abandon. White cares deeply about Leben, as he does about Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin and many others who fight or have fought for the company. His guys.
What does that have to do with Anderson Silva? "The Spider" is no close buddy to White, not like those others. But Dana gets fighters, and he gets Silva. He understands the Brazilian's puzzling, paradoxical mind. White understands why Anderson fights the way he does, showboating and all, and he doesn't get why some would question the foe-rattling strategy. Dana also understands -- or at least has an understanding that he'll stand by as true -- why Silva was as laid-back as he was in his postfight comments. "He doesn't know how to lose," said White. "He doesn't remember how to lose. It's been too long since he lost. This one's going to sink in a couple days after."
Then, and only then, will White pay attention to what Silva is saying about his fighting future. So late on Saturday night Dana listened to the overthrown 185-pound dictator talk about wanting to spend time with his family. He listened to reporters try to probe more deeply into the psyche of the Brazilian dynamo and get basically the same answer, again and again. He listened to reporters directing queries not at Silva but at him, asking about what's next for the UFC middleweight division now that Silva is no longer interested in competing for the belt. White took it all in, and when it was his turn to speak he did so with uncharacteristic softness and succinctness. You want to know what's next? "Rematch."
Sitting directly next to the UFC poobah, Weidman nodded noticeably. The new champion understands. He gets that it's not time for him to go on Twitter and respond to the challenges issued there by Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping. He knew enough to remain silent when Mark Muñoz, whom he'd beaten a year ago to earn his shot at Silva and who made an impressive comeback on Saturday night with a dominant win over Tim Boetsch, took the microphone at the press conference and asked for a rematch of his own. Weidman knows the fight he wants, the fight he needs, the fight both he and the legend he vanquished deserve. "I feel for him," Chris said of Silva. "Obviously, I'm happy for myself, happy for my family, but I feel for him also."
So now Chris Weidman just takes home his shiny new brass-and-leather belt and waits for the phone to ring? Not exactly. "It's crazy," he said. "I would think that at this point, I could sit back and relax. But instantly I'm hungry. I have to get better."
I have to get better. Yikes! Now, there's some incentive for Anderson Silva to ramp up the introspection and get this guy back in the cage before too much of that improvement occurs.
Like, maybe in February? At the start of the press conference late Saturday night, Dana White had formally announced title defenses for Jones (vs. Alexander Gustaffson at UFC 165 on Sept. 21 in Toronto), interim bantamweight king Renan Barão (vs. Eddie Wineland at the same Toronto event), heavyweight Cain Velasquez (vs. Junior dos Santos at UFC 166 on Oct. 19 in Houston), St-Pierre (vs. Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 on Nov. 16 in Las Vegas) and bantamweight queen Ronda Rousey (vs. Miesha Tate at UFC 168 on Dec. 28 in Vegas). A short while later, after the fighters had left and the dais had been moved aside, the UFC president relaxed in a chair and spoke with a group of reporters ... and threw out a possibility for the next big fight in line.
"How fast can we turn this around?" White wondered. "How about Super Bowl Saturday in New Jersey, when Fox has the Super Bowl? Just thinking off the top of my head here."
Just off the top of my head, methinks that's a no-brainer. The Prudential Center in Newark on Feb. 1, the night before Super Bowl XLVIII is to be held out in the Meadowlands, would be the ideal place and time for a New York-bred champion to defend his belt against the greatest of all time. Sounds like a super fight.