It’s a fairly obvious and often asked question among long time mixed martial arts fans, and given the recent losses that Anderson Silva has sustained one might even be able to ask the same in reverse.
Does Silva deserve Diaz?
Regardless how you pose the question, it’s going to have a unilateral answer that either makes the fight sensible or not. Looking at Diaz’s record it’s easy to get caught up in the sheer number of victories he achieved during his pro MMA career, but you might want to take a closer look and see that his last and longest winning streak was between 2008 to 2011, during which time he fought for Dream, EliteXC and spent the majority of his time with Strikeforce.
The last bout he fought in 2011 was also his last victory in the UFC since resigning with the promotion. Winning by unanimous decision against the likes of B.J. Penn. Both fighters are undoubtably excellent performers. No matter how much time passes, B.J.’s casual yet sincere attitude towards a challenge always guarantees a fight that will go the distance. Contrast that to Nick Diaz’s rebellious and often disrespectful stage persona and you expect Diaz to really put his fists where his mouth is. Or perhaps where his opponent’s mouth is, but you get the point.
Since then, Diaz lost twice in a row. Once to Carlos Condit at UFC 143 in 2012, where he also lost a chance at the interim welterweight title and then a second loss to the reigning welterweight champion (at the time) Georges St. Pierre at UFC 158. Both losses were by unanimous decision and regardless of his blatantly over the top attitude (in and out of the octagon, leading up to and during the fights) he proved he could at least go the distance against formidable opponents. Keep in mind, however, that he has fought at welterweight the vast majority of his career.
You might wonder how Diaz managed to stay relevant with such enormous gaps in his fighting career. Well that’s easily made clear when you consider the amount of time and energy he put in (either intentionally or unintentionally) to making a name for himself as one of the most disliked yet well respected underdogs in the UFC. Many fans seem to love to hate him and others revere him for his “don’t give a &%@!” attitude. If you’re playing the underdog and going for the title, that’s all well and good. And for a while it seemed to be playing in his favor, until his odd loss to GSP. Since then he just hadn’t been the same and consequently took a brief leave of absence from the sport.
Fast forward almost 2 years later and now we have him going toe to toe with one of the most revered legends in MMA. A certified fallen angel from the middleweight kingdom, Anderson Silva has an enormous reputation preceding him. But his pristine image was severely tarnished by two consecutive losses to current reigning middleweight champ Chis Weidman. Many devout fans have insisted that the losses were the result of hubris and bad luck. While we may never be 100% certain of the exact causes, when reviewing the footage from both fights it’s impossible to deny the possibility that fans are correct in their assumptions.
So where does that leave Mr. Silva now? In an odd place for certain. Bad luck has put him in a somewhat redundant position. Still very much the people’s champion he is also undoubtably less pristine than he was before his losses. But do those losses put him on the same level as that of Nick Diaz? You’d certainly be hard pressed to find a majority of fans that agree with such a conclusion.
And this leaves us in an awkward situation. A top class fighter who’s reputation both in and out of the octagon paints him as the ultimate pro MMA role model, Anderson Silva appears to deserve a fight in the same league he’s been throughout his career. How does Nick Diaz fit into this picture?
Looking at their stats side by side. Diaz is outclassed in almost every category. He’s wilder and less precise than Silva. But he’s also in-a-sense, less predictable. Would that play to his advantage? No one can be certain, but it’s clear that Diaz is maintaining the role of the underdog. Which is interesting when you consider that it is infact Silva who is now an underdog in his own weight class. Diaz moved up from welterweight to middle weight for this bout and it’s still unknown just how he will perform with this additional mass.
Both are excellent grapplers but Silva is the clear master of this art form. Granted, anything can happen during a fight, the odds play to Silva’s favor. So what’s really in it for Silva? He’s going to be fighting 5 rounds against an under matched opponent who’s only purpose appears to serve giving the “underdog” a “top dog” role for a single fight with no actual title attached. Why not just do a Weidman vs. Silva III and call it a day? As much as some fans might complain, insisting that he “had his chance and lost it”, there are still other more well matched fighters for Silva to challenge in the middleweight division. Jacare Souza, Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and Luke Rockhold all have more relevance and more cache in the middleweight division.
If you aren’t going to give Silva another shot at the belt, why bother with a shot at Diaz? Nick Diaz isn’t even on the UFC’s middleweight top 15 rankings. Look closer and you’ll notice that he isn’t even on their top 15 welterweight rankings! So what gives? What exactly is the point of this fight? From a purely statistical perspective, with MMA as a sport, this bout wreaks of poor quality match making. If we want to put MMA into another class of entertainment. Something perhaps more similar to professional wrestling, then we can throw the stats and rankings out the window and just go with “what sells”. And as much as this fight might annoy or discourage devout MMA fans, it will entice and delight others, perhaps more so than a purely technical bout with a career path on the line.
Is this where “we” want the sport to go? It may be too soon to conclude, but a great many signs are pointing to a transition, within the UFC itself, away from the technicalities of the sport and more towards the drama and hype of the fight. We can’t argue against the use of intrigue and showmanship to entice an audience, but dismissing all context of competition from the actual nature of the fight and replacing it with dramatic narrative might prove to be slightly successful. Certainly less so than the path the sport was on prior to recent changes like the signing of CM Punk and this bout in particular. Especially when you consider that the market for dramatized combat sports is currently well kept by the likes of the WWE.
In all fairness, we must concede that this may well prove successful. It may even be the necessary evolution for MMA to have a place in the mainstream, and it may also displace professional wrestling with a hybrid of drama and technical combat that will usher in a new and untapped audience. As much as devout fans might demand that the promoters evolve to cater to their wishes, it may be that a compromise is just what’s necessary to ensure MMA has a significant place in our culture and channels of entertainment.
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