“Anderson Silva has won a lot of his fights because of what he did (put his hands down and taunt) and what I caught him on, he’s not letting his defence down, it looks like he is, but he knows exactly what he’s doing. I capitalized on it, a lot of other guys couldn’t do that. I’m not trying to take that away from myself (the knockout).” - Chris Weidman, UFC 162 Post-Fight Conference.
Moments after Chris Weidman knocked out Anderson Silva, many were quick to put Anderson Silva on blast for not having his hands-up. That is, many agreed that Silva lost because he held his hands too low. However, this sentiment can be quite an overreaching assumption—one that unfairly discredits both Silva and Weidman.
Keeping the hands-up is conventional wisdom. It’s a famous adage that exists in all combat sports—one that’s especially popular with commentators. And in these combat worlds, such “wisdom” has become a cardinal rule— not following it has become a cardinal sin.
But there are instances where it is not a cardinal sin. In these more unique cases, the correlation between “hands up” and “good defense” is unnecessarily high only because parts of the combat worlds make it so.
Common Confusion in the “Hands Up” Debate:
Advocates of hands-up or hands-down tend to make it a binary argument—an “either or” case. I’ll be very clear right now, blocking should never be shrugged off as useless. There are specific place, time, style, and fighters for it. In fact, if not obvious enough, all fighters with a hands-down style employ blocking at one point or another.
Hand positioning is one that requires a great amount of skill and one that deserves respect. However, it’s the lack of acknowledgement in “hands-down” style that sparks a heated debate.
A fighter that can effectively employ both hands-down and hands-up styles tend to drop their hands deliberately and for good reasons (e.g. to draw an attack, to frustrate, confuse, and “embarrass” the opponent. However, the fighter that can only fight effectively with a high guard, drop their hands because they get lazy or lack conditioning.
In this case, they are not fully aware of the angles of attacks and therefore commit a “technical flaw” and a “cardinal sin” because they are not in position to defend.
To witness this at work, simply watch an Anderson Silva highlight:
Or watch a short highlight of a Muay Thai legend that is at times stylistically, strategically, and defensively similar to Anderson Silva:
Rebuttal from Jack Dempsey Text:
Several authority figures insisted that Anderson Silva ought to put his hands-up. For a brief rebuttal, I present the great Jack Dempsey, on general defense in his book “Championship Fighting” :
“Punches can be prevented from landing on their targets by three methods: (1) COMPLETE EVASION of the blow by slipping, bobbing, pulling away or side-stepping; (2) DEFLECTION of the blow by parrying (brushing away) with the hand, or by knifing with the forearm, or by shrugging off with the shoulder; (3) BLOCKING the blow solidly with the hand, forearm, elbow or shoulder.
Evasion is the preferred method. When you force an opponent to miss completely with a blow, he usually lurches off balance and leaves an opening for your counterpunch. Moreover, since the blow has not touched you, it has not off-balanced you for counterpunching.
Deflection is next best; for the parry, glance or shrug usually off-balances your opponent without interfering with your own equilibrium.
Blocking is the least desired; for a solid block not only affects your balance but it also may bruise the spot that makes blocking contact with your opponent’s fist. Repeated bruisings of one spot-for example, the left shoulder muscles-can handicap your fighting.”
Evasion and deflection is most effective form of defense, and the entire purpose of defense is to create viable offense. Blocking works, but out of the three forms of defense, it’s “least preferred”, and for some, more of an insurance policy rather than necessity.
That is, for someone who’s a master of positioning, footwork, deflection, evasion, and had a 16-0 record against elite competition, having the hands down is not the main reason for his loss.
Fighters that Employ Hands-Low Style:
What many don’t seem to understand is that hands-low styles have plenty of utility. This is especially true when it comes to strikers with obvious mastery in evasion and deflection.
There’s plenty historical precedent in other combat sports. In Muay Thai, there’s Samart Payakaroon, regarded by many to be top 3 historical great and current great Saenchai Sor. Kingstar. In boxing, amongst dozens of others, there’s Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Naseem Hamed.
Even if you were to watch a highlight of Mayweather— a defensive master in the modern era where hands up is more seen than ever before, you’d find him positioning his hands down purposely. As you watch this video, pay attention to the versatility of Mayweather’s hand positioning and defensive options.
As you will see, he can and does put his hands up as well as hands-down. Also watch him punch through the high guard of some of his opponents like target practice.
Mixing Grappling with Striking
But perhaps most importantly, people seem to forget that grappling and striking doesn’t exist in a vacuum, especially in MMA. If one were to leverage middle ground between the high-guard and the hand positioning used in grappling, it would look like the hand-position that many high-caliber strikers employ in MMA today.
“It’s an effective game… Another thing that people don’t realize- when you have your hands down and you’re playing those games, it’s hard to get take downs on the guy because when you shoot for the take downs he can just pick you up with those hands.” – Chris Weidman in Fightland Screening Room: Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva
This is a very critical reason to why many dangerous strikers, such as Cub Swanson, Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, and Junior Dos Santos are difficult to take down. In addition to being able to create distance with strikes and footwork (to prevent opponent’s hips from getting under their hips, or to prevent clinch), should their opponent get into grappling situation, employing lower-hands makes it in position to react faster.
In watching Silva get knocked out, fans were quick to forget that it’s Silva’s lowered hands that propelled him into an all-time great.
There’s plenty historical precedent that Silva didn’t excelled in striking offensively with a higher guard—his brilliance is with countering off a draw.
Prior to 2004, Anderson Silva trained with Chute Boxe. The camp specialized in offensive oriented stalk and sprawl style. Being constantly taken down when moving forward made him spend a bulk of the matches grappling, and for this reason Silva was unable to display his technical genius in counter striking.
Notice: Silva taken down immediately when attempting to strike moving forward at 1:00 mark.
Alexander Otsuka [youtube id="iYTGK01iIig"]
Notice: in the beginning of every round, Silva was taken down when attempting to strike moving forward with hands-up
It’s after leaving Chute Boxe and in the UFC where Silva consistently “drew-opponents-in for a strike” via a hands-lower evasive style.
It’s this style that greatly confused nearly all of his opponents—the style that made him the greatest of all time. For these reasons and more, both Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva deserve much more credit than “Silva lost because he puts his hands-down.”
At the same time, because of these reasons, it’s likely that Silva 2.0 will keep his hands where they’ve been once again.
“It’s an effective style, it does good but I was prepared for it. It worked out for me, but I don’t expect him to change, it’s what made him great. If he changes it’d honestly be a lot easier fight for me if he goes to another style he’s not used to. If he gets hit he just goes more more more, and it gets into people’s head and it works for him.” -Chris Weidman in Fightland Screening Room: Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva
“What looks like clowning is actually a part of a really unique and interesting way of defending takedowns for Anderson Silva. Anderson didn’t come from a wrestling background, so he couldn’t use conventional wrestling tactics to stop takedowns. So instead, he evolved into keeping his hands low, which enables him to scoop underneath his opponent’s arms and pull them up to chest to chest position, walk them back towards the fence, and then successful avoids the takedowns.” – John Danaher (Georges St-Pierre and Chris Weidman’s BJJ coach): Countdown to UFC 168: Weidman vs. Silva II
As always, thank you for reading. Stay tuned for a pre-fight technical analysis of Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman at their UFC 162 fight. To see a great technical explanation of how Anderson Silva got knocked out, refer to Jack Slack’s amazing article.
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