Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.
Fun. Peculiar fun.
That is the allure of Saturday night’s UFC 183 main event in Las Vegas. That’s all that’s there, fans. Unlike practically all of the fight promotion’s pay-per-view headliners, this one has no championship belt on the line.
One of the combatants is a couple of months shy of his 40th birthday and has not fought in a little over a year. The other hasn’t competed in just under two years. Both are on two-fight losing streaks.
This is a main event?
Yes, it is. Oh, yes.
When Anderson Silva steps lightly into the octagon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and sees Nick Diaz standing there, scowling, we will have the makings of a deliciously outlandish atrocity. It’s not simply that Silva, who is returning from a gruesome leg fracture sustained in the cage in December 2013, might very well be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Beyond his sparkling resume -- “The Spider” (33-6) reigned as middleweight champion for nearly seven years -- lies his kaleidoscopic highlight reel. His liquid movement. His unambiguous striking. His impish goading of opponents to try to do the near-impossible -- hit him -- before being mercifully put out of their misery.
But how does one play head games with Diaz (26-9, 1 NC), who operates his own in-cage head shop? The 31-year-old former Strikeforce welterweight champion -- and later a challenger for Georges St-Pierre’s 170-pound belt -- ain’t in there to sell no wolf tickets. Homie don’t be scared. He comes to fight. And for him the fight involves talking, and his talk is a lot less genial than Silva’s. Nick is a black belt in mean mugging.
The squall of psychological warfare is rolling in from yonder hills.
So is the soupy fog of mystery. Both fighters are jigsaw puzzles that have been boxed up on the game shelf, gathering fairy dust. Are all the pieces still there?
Either way, this should be a wild ride. And that’s all we should expect, isn’t it? True, UFC president Dana White has promised Silva a title shot if he wins, but those promises are broken all the time. So let’s just stick with the more reasonable expectation. Fun.
In addition to the 10 p.m. ET pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m., and the event’s first three bouts will be available on the UFC Fight Pass online service at 7. The main card also will be screened by Fathom Events at movie theaters nationwide.
If this bout were being contested back in the summer of 2012, when Diaz began incomprehensibly calling for a championship fight at middleweight in the wake of having lost a welterweight interim title bout, it would have made for a beautiful buildup but an ugly outcome. Nick had always made the prefight a roller coaster ride, and that combined with Anderson’s enigmatic aura had the potential to flower into weeks of high drama.
Once the fight began, though? Diaz had made his name as a plod-straight-forward fighter who overwhelmed opponents with his pressure. But he was unlikely to overwhelm Silva, who feasted on such an unswerving approach. Anderson’s buoyant grace would have kept him out of harm’s way, it’s safe to say, and when the then-champ was finished toying, he would have flashed out something lethal for Diaz to walk right into.
That might be what happens right before the lights go dim late on Saturday night. Or maybe not. It’s tricky to try envisioning the narrative of a fight when you don’t know who’s fighting.
Will the Silva who walks into the cage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena be the same fighter as the Silva we last saw, in December 2013, when he failed in an attempt to wrest back the title belt he’d lost to Chris Weidman six months earlier? That wasn’t exactly vintage Anderson, as he was dominated in the first round before breaking both his fibula and tibia with a left leg kick early in the second. But it’s unfair to downgrade an elite fighter based solely on his results against the likes of Weidman. If the current champ was No. 1 back then, the old champ was No. 2, maybe even 1A. Is he still? Is his leg healed enough for Silva to utilize his bread-and-butter kicks? Have doubts crept into his psyche in the wake of two straight concussive defeats? Have the years caught up to him?
Diaz is a walking question mark, too. He’s always been a puzzle, really, well-rounded in the sense that he had game both while on his feet and on his back, yet his striking was pretty straightforward in both senses of the word, fairly easy for someone as nimble as Silva to figure out, evade, and counter. And after not having fought since his March 2013 domination at the hands of Georges St-Pierre, and having claimed to be retired, what will Nick bring on Saturday night? Is this the fulfillment of a fighter’s dream -- facing perhaps the greatest ever -- or is it just a payday?
One hint of whether Diaz is still Diaz might come at Friday’s weigh-in. Nick has a history of showing opponents no respect, getting his surliness going a full 24 hours before fight time. Sometimes, such as leading up to the St-Pierre fight, he’s an antagonist for weeks before setting foot in the cage. We’ve seen no hint of that in this bout’s buildup.
In a UFC-produced video preview, in fact, Diaz spoke of Silva with the utmost respect.
“He’s a big, popular draw,” he said. “I’m a big, popular draw. We’re the best there is. The two people everyone wants to see, they’re going to fight each other. He does martial arts; he’s a black belt. I respect that. I do martial arts; I’m a black belt. He obviously respects that. I don’t have nothing to say to my opponent … There’s nothing to say. There ain’t no ‘bitch’es. There are no ‘f-- you’s. That would be way out of line.”
Way out of line, perhaps, in the realm of good taste. But it would have been right in line with the approach to an opponent that we’ve become used to seeing from Diaz. The old Diaz, at least. The new Diaz? Who knows what he brings?
Last Five Fights
12/28/13 Chris Weidman L TKO 2
7/6/13 Chris Weidman L KO 2
10/12/12 Stephan Bonnar W TKO 1
7/7/12 ChaelSonnen W TKO 2
8/27/11 YushinOkami W TKO 2
3/16/13 Georges St-Pierre L UD 5
2/4/12 Carlos Condit L UD 5
10/29/11 B.J. Penn W UD 3
4/9/11 Paul Daley W TKO 1
1/29/11 Evangelista Santos W Sub. 2
Tale of the Tape
April 14, 1975
Aug. 2, 1983
* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)
Other Numbers to Count On
67.2: Percent of significant strikes landed by Anderson Silva, best in UFC history, according to FightMetric.
17: Knockdowns by Anderson Silva, most in UFC history.
5.63: Strikes landed per minute by Nick Diaz, which would put him in the UFC Top 10 if he had enough fights in the promotion to qualify for the rankings.
The night when Anderson Silva became UFC champion:
Nick Diaz’s most recent UFC victory (against another legend):
As mentioned above, it’s impossible to predict which Silva and which Diaz will square off. If both are in prime-of-the-career form, the matchup favors “The Spider” and his evasive counterpunching. But there’s reason to believe we’ll see something different.
Diaz has had the longer MMA layoff, but he’s not been rehabilitating a debilitating and demoralizing injury. Also, he’s been known to be a cross-training athlete even when he has no upcoming date in the cage. So it’s reasonable to assume he’ll be in shape. Plus, he’s by far the younger man.
However the fight plays out, in terms of its finality, it’ll probably follow form for each guy. Diaz will move forward, tirelessly throwing punches. Silva will rely on his reflexes to parry what’s coming his way, then fire back when he’s good and ready.
Silva is the betting favorite, with a money line ranging from -437 (bet $100 to win $22.88) to -550 (bet $100 to win $18.18) at various sportsbooks. The line on Diaz ranges from +300 (bet $100 to win $300) to +400 (bet $100 to win $400).
For reasons cited above (injury, age, athleticism), I’m going to assume that we’ll see a better version of Diaz than we will of Silva. However, that won’t be sufficient to close the gap entirely, just enough to keep Nick going to the final horn. Silva by decision.
“People thought I was invincible. No one is invincible. Everyone has that moment when that dark cloud rises.”
-- Anderson Silva, speaking during a UFC-produced fight preview
“I feel I’m a better stand-up fighter than Anderson Silva.”
-- Nick Diaz, speaking to the Los Angeles Times last year
The Rest of the Card
Tyron Woodley vs. Kelvin Gastelum, welterweight; Joe Lauzon vs. Al Iaquinta, lightweight; Thales Leites vs. Tim Boetsch, middleweight; Jordan Mein vs. Thiago Alves, welterweight.
Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Miesha Tate vs. Sara McMann, women’s bantamweight; Ed Herman vs. Derek Brunson, middleweight; Ian McCall vs. John Lineker, flyweight; Rafael Natal vs. Tom Watson, middleweight.
Online prelims (7 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Diego Brandão vs. Jimy Hettes, featherweight; Richardson Moreira vs. Ildemar Alcântara, middleweight; Thiago Santos vs. Andy Enz, middleweight.
Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.