Antonio Silva, more commonly known as "Bigfoot Silva," is a mountain of a man with a thunderous punch and a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
While Silva holds wins over two of the most impressive names in heavyweight MMA—Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem—he is one of the most obviously flawed fighters in MMA today. While Silva can punch, he can't box for love nor money, and while he has one of the scariest top games in MMA, he is an exceptionally poor wrestler.
The first major flaw in Silva's game is the ponderous way in which he begins every fight. In almost every bout, Bigfoot plods toward his opponent and simply stands there as if he is considering the options available to him—but then almost always leads with a right low kick without any setup.
The right leg kick is the strike which travels the furthest distance to reach the target—it is easy to see coming even when faster men perform it. Where utilizing this technique without set up worked well at Glory 8's 65kg tournament, it will not work in heavyweight MMA. I am sure we all remember how Bigfoot came out and immediately sacrificed his puncher's chance by giving Cain Velasquez his leg.
Despite having incredibly heavy hands, Bigfoot is often too slow and ponderous to land them. He will simply stand in front of his opponent, waiting for an opening that either isn't there or that he is too slow to exploit. Bigfoot stands so flatfooted and upright that he is incredibly vulnerable to arcing right hands and his slow hands—reaching hands—make him vulnerable to hooks around his guard.
In truth, Silva never looks all that bad when he's going after opponents with punches—almost all of the shots that have hurt him have come as he attempts to defend himself. Silva, like Urijah Faber, simply spends too much of a match waiting to strike and not actually striking.
Limited Guard Game
Silva is a black belt in jiu-jitsu, after all, and has been on the ground with men like Fabricio Werdum and Fedor Emelianenko, but grapplers aren't his problem. Bigfoot, in a way very similar to Frank Mir, struggles with men who are happy to hold him down and hit him.
B.J Penn put it best when he said in his Mixed Martial Arts Book of Knowledge that the man on the bottom should always be looking to sweep, submit or stand up. Andre Galvao expressed similar thoughts from a guard passer's perspective in his book Drill to Win.
While Shinya Aoki and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira provide the threat of sweeps and submissions on the ground or returning to the feet if they wanted to, Mir only threatens submissions and Bigfoot only threatens sweeps.
Watching Daniel Cormier and Velasquez in Silva's guard, they were able to break free of his grips, return to the feet and dive back on him with punches while he simply laid on the floor instead of using the space to at least attempt to stand up.
The biggest flaw in Bigfoot's game, though, is his weak wrestling game. Obviously, Silva doesn't have the kind of guard which he can simply pull and use to sweep to top position or submit his opponent as Demian Maia or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira can.
In order to land his crushing ground and pound Silva has to use his meat-and-potatoes wrestling game which lacks any of the finesse of the division's smaller ground-and-pounders.
With a near 50-pound weight advantage against Emelianenko, who had forgotten how to do anything but swing his right hand, Silva still struggled to get the fight to the mat. On a couple of occasions, Silva had Fedor against the fence and went for his hips, but still struggled to get the smaller man down. Silva even hoisted him into the air and ended up underneath the great Russian.
Now, obviously, this is Fedor we're talking about and not some scrub, but a 50-pound weight advantage should never be reduced to naught in the clinch unless the bigger man genuinely has no idea what he's doing.
When Bigfoot did eventually get Fedor down on his own terms, at the beginning of the second round, it was by shooting underneath the lead overhand right which Fedor had thrown exclusively and repeatedly throughout the first round. Fedor's hips were so exposed and his weight so committed to the punch that most middleweights could have taken him down if they timed his predictable right hand.
From the top, Bigfoot did exactly what Bigfoot does so well, but his inability to get there against quality opponents of his own size means that all his talent at destroying men from top position might never even come in to play at the highest levels.
Silva's last two big wins have come through bizarre circumstances as arrogant opponents dived onto his right hand for him, but it is unlikely that Velasquez—someone who takes his job very, very seriously—would make the same ridiculous mistakes.
What improvements could Bigfoot make to up his game exponentially? Firstly, stop waiting and actually throw some punches. No one is happy to counterpunch against a 260-pound behemoth, it's just not a comfortable situation to be in.
Silva also showed some good boxing sense in his match with Overeem, as he took note of Overeem's head movement and caught the Dutchman with a solid uppercut which served as the beginning of the end.
The second—and more important—factor is to actually work to get opponents underneath him. Bigfoot Silva could starch an elephant if he mounted it, but he lacks the wrestling or guard games to trouble 230-pound wrestlers.
Oh, and of course, he should steer clear of kicking altogether. His kicks are hard, but they aren't fight-changers—unless they're landing him underneath someone.
Of course, Silva could pull off the upset against Velasquez—he is a puncher's chance with a black belt attached—but he will not show any consistency against truly elite competition until he addresses these issues.
Pick up Jack's ebooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.
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