“You never fight to a guy’s strength. You try to offset it, and Ray didn’t. He tried to outstrong the guy. Duran was being Duran, and Ray was going with him.” — Leonard’s trainer, Angelo Dundee
MMA is a relatively young sport, with an audience that skews young, so a lot of fans aren’t aware of the fact that much of what happens inside the MMA cage has happened before in combat sports.
When Chris Weidman upset Anderson Silva last July, he did indeed shock the world, but it’s not the first time, or the last, that an underdog knocked the big Mastodon down.
But for Weidman, more importantly, it’s not the last time a great champion lost, but came back bigger, better and badder in the rematch.
Great champions often become complacent and it takes an embarrassing moment to wake them up and make them better. Clearly, Silva was bored when he fought Weidman the first time. Weidman should expect an even better Silva than he expected in the first fight.
To understand what Weidman might be up against on Saturday, let’s take a look at a classic clash from boxing featuring two fighters who were in a similar place as Weidman and Silva.
The first fight between the great Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard took place June 20, 1980. Leonard was the undefeated welterweight champion of the world, the Olympic gold medalist and widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the business. Leonard was a flashy boxer. He jabbed, weaved, shuffled and boxed like a young, lighter, quicker and more agile Muhammad Ali.
Duran was a heavy hitter. He was methodical, determined and aggressive. He was a great boxer, but he wasn’t flashy or a showman. He fought from all angles and hurt you when he hit you. The two were opposites.
Leonard was the slick, clean-cut American with a big smile, while Duran was the fierce, gruff Panamian.
Going into the fight Leonard was a 9-5 favorite over Duran. Leonard didn’t clown around against Duran like Silva did against Weidman. But Leonard did choose to fight Duran’s fight, instead of his own. Leonard chose to prove a point to Duran. Leonard chose to fight flat-footed to prove to Duran that he could trade punches with him and still win.
Bad move. One should always fight to win, not prove a point.
Angelo Dundee, Leonard’s trainer, said at the time of Leonard’s fighting style: “You never fight to a guy’s strength. You try to offset it, and Ray didn’t. He tried to outstrong the guy. Duran was being Duran, and Ray was going with him.”
Duran won the 15-round fight by unanimous decision. The fans never really got to see the real Leonard fight: Until the rematch.
The rematch took place Nov. 25, 1980 at the New Orleans Superdome.
And this time, Leonard fought smart. He bobbed on his toes, jabbed and weaved. He made Duran look like a small child. In an iconic moment in the 7th round, Leonard wound up with his right hand and then connected to Duran’s face with the left.
Duran may have been expecting the same Leonard that night. Instead, he faced a Superman. Duran was so overwhelmed by Leonard’s performance that in the eighth round, he literally quit. He put up his hands and blurted “No Mas” to the referee, who stopped the fight. Leonard regained the championship and his title as P4P best
Duran later complained that it was bad stomach cramps that sidelined him. Everyone else knew different.
Weidman must avoid thinking Silva will resemble anything from July. Silva probably won’t clown around. He’s coming to fight. Weidman must expect Silva to be his absolute best, 100-times better than he expected in the first fight.
Weidman needs to know that he can’t expect to win again easily. Silva will come out Sugar Ray Leonard-style. Great champions needs to lose before they can be their best again and Silva, more so than the first fight, badly wants to prove to the world he is the best mixed martial artist of all time.