Israel Adesanya grew up idolizing Anderson Silva, but will “The Spider” be able to turn back a striker arguably more brilliant than he at UFC 234?
Fans of mixed martial arts have always been drawn to world-class strikers. They marvel at those whose creativity and skill-level allow them to see openings seemingly no one else does for the split-second necessary to land a jaw-dropping knockout. Anderson Silva became a legend behind his ability to confound his enemies with his brilliance. Now in the twilight of his career, he looks to recapture his magic one more time at UFC 234 against a man many feel could be his equal and then some in surging prospect Israel Adesanya.
"You idolize them until you stare across the Octagon at them."
— UFC (@ufc) January 27, 2019
At 43-years-old, Anderson Silva is already a legend and future Hall-of-Famer whose list of accolades are numerous. Even as several of his records have been broken in recent years, the fashion in which he set them is held in high regard. It has been five years since he held gold, yet his reign as the UFC middleweight champion continues to be the benchmark against which all champions are compared against. His six-year undefeated streak with iconic finishes of Vitor Belfort, Chael Sonnen twice, Dan Henderson, Forest Griffin, and others was so impressive that it put him in the conversation of the best ever in the history of MMA.
In 2019, the reality is that Silva is also up against Father Time. Current champion Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, Paulo Costa, and Adesanya are all under the age of 30 and at the height of their powers. Silva has had three layoffs that lasted more than 12 months since 2013. In fact, Saturday’s contest will be two years since his last fight in February of 2017. Furthermore, he has stated that he will be done competing after completing the final three fights on his current deal. “The Spider” claims he has been promised a title shot with a victory on Saturday, but the fact remains that he will need two special performances even by his standards to get back to the summit of the sport.
"The guy is the GOAT but… I've been eating goat since I was a kid."
— UFC (@ufc) January 27, 2019
The 2018 Breakthrough Fighter of the Year, Israel Adesanya, carries the same quality inside the Octagon that made Silva must-see TV. In kickboxing, Adesanya amassed an incredible 75-5 record before even stepping into MMA. He entered the UFC last year and earned four victories to introduce himself as a new major player at 185 pounds. The undefeated New Zealander shows no signs of slowing down in 2019 as he even turned down the option to remain on standby for the main event on Saturday in favor of taking the bout with Silva.
Despite being just a year into his UFC career, Israel Adesanya will unquestionably be in title contention with a victory on Saturday. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is currently not booked for a fight. Fellow prospect Paulo Costa is expected to face top-contender Yoel Romero in April. Assuming “The Last Stylebender” emerges healthy on Saturday, then the combination of his skills and marketability make him the obvious choice for the next shot at the belt when considering the timing of the title picture.
Both men are known for their destructive capabilities but take different routes to similar results. Most of Silva’s iconic knockouts have come when he when he was able to force opponents to leave openings coming forward. Meanwhile, Adesanya breaks down opponents by overwhelming them with attacks from different angles and forcing them into reckless counter-attacks to make up the deficit.
For all of Anderson Silva’s prowess, a shoot-out with Adesanya simply doesn’t favor him at this stage of his career. Instead, Silva needs to stay in the face of the New Zealander and keep his back to the fence. Doing so will take away the space Adesanya needs to utilize his formidable offensive arsenal and allow Silva to unleash powerful combinations.
— UFC Aus/New Zealand (@UFC_AUSNZ) February 2, 2019
By comparison, Israel Adesanya should look to overwhelm Silva in the center of the Octagon. “Stylebender” is taller, faster, and has the longer reach that he should look to exploit that by keeping Silva at mid-range. Using a diverse attack of punches and kicks will make him more unpredictable and force Silva into making errors as he tries to retaliate. Whether Silva leaves himself open as he tries to return fire, or backs away as he tries to avoid exchanging blows, the result is that it will give Adesanya his best chance to deliver a spectacular finish.
Barring an injury or absence to the champion after UFC 234, it’s difficult to see Israel Adesanya not receiving a title shot should he be victorious. His style and ability to promote a fight would make for an easy sell, especially in the Southeast region should it be Australia’s Whittaker who holds the belt. Anderson Silva’s name and a victory would carry enough clout to validate a shot at the title as well, even with names like “Jacare” Souza and Paulo Costa vying for a title shot in the second half of 2019. To have one more shot at gold after a career that has already had so many highlights is the kind of fight that would make a major event for any fight card it would be placed on.