In just his 10th pro fight, Chris Weidman pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of knocking out longtime middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva at UFC 162 in July.
The American used Silva's theatrics to his advantage, found an opening and flattened "The Spider" 1:18 into the second round to steal the belt that the Brazilian wore for nearly seven years.
In the process, however, the new champ spawned this question: Was Silva's lone setback in 17 UFC fights a fluke or a sign of things to come?
The intriguing queries posed by Weidman's win at UFC 162 promptly persuaded all parties involved, including Silva, to agree to a rematch on the company's final card of its most prolific year.
With just a few hours left before the rematch comes to fruition at the same venue, The MGM Grand Garden Arena, here's a glimpse at some pivotal scenarios that will likely materialize at UFC 168 on Saturday night.
Weidman will survive a dangerous onslaught of strikes from Silva in the opening round
Fortunately for Weidman, he prides himself on his toughness and ability to escape precarious situations. He'll need every ounce of grit to fend off an early Silva flurry at UFC 168.
Although Silva has so often used a round to warm up, he's had nearly six months to ponder the miscues of the first meeting. This time, he will have a more surgically planned course of attack for Round 1.
The fight obviously starts in Silva's realm, and despite the element of dryness in the bout's early stages, The Spider will be aware of the takedown in his early striking exchanges. He knows he must set the tone and frustrate Weidman early in this bout by getting off first in the striking and controlling the distance.
That's precisely what he'll do.
Silva will tag the champ with kicks to the head and body and then eventually drop him in the first round with a three-punch combination that ends with a flush left straight.
However, unlike so many of The Spider's previous victims, the resilient former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler will withstand the furious pressure, and in the end, he will steal the bout's momentum for good.
Despite his costly misstep in the first fight, Silva will still try to bait Weidman with psychological games
While a more cerebral and calculated Silva will show up for the rematch, don't expect The Spider to abandon his traditional modus operandi of disrespecting his opponents in order to cause frustration and confusion.
Because he's now cognizant of Weidman's boxing chops, Silva will avoid putting his hands on his hips for extended periods of time and feinting injury when he gets clipped. He may even stray from trash talking, at least until he builds some momentum and finds a groove with the striking game.
He has remained adamant that he won't abandon the risky techniques that made him the greatest fighter in UFC history. In other words, he plans to continue using unorthodox footwork and shifty head movement to frustrate Weidman in stand-up exchanges and force telegraphed shots.
Since Silva expects the champ to rely on his wrestling, fans should also anticipate seeing The Spider fight with his hands relatively low again—a flaw that could result in some interesting stand-up flurries.
Weidman will use his wrestling and range to dictate the distance and take control of the fight after Round 1
Silva will use ferocity and slick Muay Thai in the opening round to get the best of an uncharacteristically reserved Weidman.
But after surviving some dangerous striking battles in Round 1, the champ will find a rhythm and tap into his 78-inch reach and world-class grappling chops, forcing Silva to fight his brand of scrap.
Of his 15 UFC opponents, only Stephan Bonnar (80 inches), Thales Leites (78) and Weidman have enjoyed an edge in the reach department over Silva (77.6).
Weidman will need every bit of his 78-inch reach to survive Silva's venomous striking assaults in Round 1. Once he withstands that early onslaught, he will find a groove and effectively close the distance with punches, kicks and wrestling exchanges.
Silva will escape from a handful of legitimate Weidman submission attempts
Weidman wants to become the first man to both KO and submit The Spider, but that dream is a long shot.
He will take advantage of his superior wrestling abilities, advance position and put Silva in a number of vulnerable positions on the mat, only to watch the Brazilian narrowly squirm free on each occasion.
In order to finish Silva in his element on the ground, the champ will either need to cinch up a fight-ending choke or break one of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt's limbs.
He's capable of pulling of either feat, but he'll have to do so against an extraordinarily talented and underrated grappler in Silva, who's been submitted just twice in 38 fights.
Final prediction: Weidman retains his title via unanimous decision
Regardless of the outcome of this bout, there's little doubt that the 38-year-old Silva put together the most dominant reign in UFC history between 2006 and 2013.
Truth be told, though, the 29-year-old champion possesses the talent, smarts and elbow grease to carry the belt as long as Silva did.
Despite the facts that the All-American has just 10 fights to his name and Silva has won 16 fights in the UFC since 2006, Weidman will separate himself from The Spider with a more sophisticated game plan, superior athleticism and an exponentially better grappling repertoire.
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