Everyone who picks MMA fights on a regular basis has at least a few regrets over the years. Whether it’s banking on a certain prospect to shine only to watch him struggle against top competition, or predicting the end of a dominant champion only to see their reign of terror isn’t close to being over, at some point you’re going to miss and miss badly when trying to predict MMA fights. No matter how many times you’ve envisioned a particular outcome in your head, there’s a reason why MMA has been called the most unpredictable sport in the world, and even the best laid arguments can be rendered pointless with a single punch or kick.

I decided a little over a year ago that I would never pick against Anderson Silva again. After banking on Chael Sonnen to finish the job he started at UFC 117 when he entered the Octagon for the rematch on Fourth of July weekend last year, I was finally overwhelmed by Silva’s dominance when he took out “The American Gangster” in two rounds. I was done picking against “The Spider,” and no matter how badly my gut told me Silva was going to lose to Chris Weidman a year later, my head wouldn’t allow me to be swayed.

Even when Silva was left unconscious on the mat at UFC 162, I didn’t feel like I had made the wrong decision. Weidman may have shocked the world and ripped the middleweight title from Silva’s grasp for the first time in almost seven years, but it’s hard to feel like you made a mistake when you went with the greatest fighter of all time.

We’re now roughly two weeks out from UFC 168 and the long-awaited rematch for the middleweight belt, and not surprisingly, Silva is the betting favorite heading into the bout. At just a -140 favorite to Weidman’s +120, this is the closest Silva fight in years according to the betting lines, and that opinion is mirrored in the eyes of fans. Whether you believe that Weidman was the better fighter at UFC 162 or think Silva found a way to beat himself with his shenanigans, it’s hard not to at least acknowledge that the other side may have a point.

Silva was a sizable favorite heading into the first bout, coming in at around -220 close to fight time, but Weidman was still a decent play at +235. Even though he came in around a 2-1 underdog, Weidman was still given a better shot to dethrone the champ than anyone in recent memory. That gap has obviously closed significantly since “The All-American” pulled off his unbelievable upset this summer.

There are a lot of things that Weidman did well in the first fight that make me believe he could pull off a second win over Silva. First and foremost, he found a way to fight aggressively against Silva without opening himself up to punishment. We’ve seen strikers like Forrest Griffin and Chris Leben try to take the fight to Silva and eat a barrage of counters for their trouble. We’ve also seen normally aggressive fighters like Demian Maia get so overwhelmed by Silva’s movement and counter striking that they completely freeze in their tracks. Weidman was able to stay aggressive while not letting Silva fluster him with his antics, and it ended up paying off in a big way.

The other thing that can’t be overlooked in this fight is Weidman’s ground game. Getting Silva to the mat isn’t exactly a picnic, but Weidman was able to pull it off in the first match-up. Less than a minute into the fight, Weidman’s first attempt at bring Silva to the mat appeared to be completely shut down by a sprawling “Spider,” but the New York native was able to power through and put the champion on his back. The challenger went on to land some serious ground-and-pound and lock in a solid leg-lock attempt before Silva was able to get back to his feet. Outside of the fight-ending punch in the next round, it was the best stretch of offense that Weidman put together in the first fight.

It’s always been said that a strong wrestler could be Silva’s kryptonite, and Weidman fits that bill, even if he surprisingly ended things with his hands the first time out. There’s a reason that Weidman was considered a major threat to defeat Silva in the first fight, and Weidman proved he has the skills to pull off the previously unthinkable. However, as impressive as “The All-American” was in knocking out Silva, he wasn’t dominant enough to convince the oddsmakers that he can do it again.

There were plenty of things that Weidman did right in the first fight, but he also showed a few signs that he was falling into Silva’s trap before landing the knockout blow. After landing the first takedown attempt on Silva, Weidman’s wrestling game was almost completely shut down. Silva backed himself up against the cage twice after the first takedown from Weidman, and both attempts to lock up by the Team Serra-Longo product were dismissed. Weidman’s lone takedown attempt in the second round was also stuffed. Weidman was able to take out Silva on the feet once, but getting into another striking match with “The Spider” isn’t likely going to be part of the game plan heading into the rematch.

Following the first fight, Weidman admitted that Silva’s excessive taunting caused him to deviate from his game plan a few times, but he was able to regain his composure shortly after. It goes without saying that any minor slip-up on “The All-American’s” part could end in disaster for the New Yorker at UFC 168, and his ability to stay focused on executing his plan could decide the fight. No one capitalizes on small errors as frequently as Silva, and it will take another almost flawless performance from Weidman to pull off the win.

It’s rare to see the masses side with a title challenger over a champion, but let’s be honest, Silva isn’t your typical title challenger. This is the guy who front-kicked Vitor Belfort in the face from out of nowhere. He’s completely wrecked a handful of former UFC and Pride champions. He survived one of the biggest one-sided beatdowns in UFC history and tapped out Sonnen in the fifth round. I firmly believe that Weidman beat Silva at his own game in the first fight, but is there reason enough to think that “The All-American” can do it again?

For the first time in a long time, the possibility of Silva losing feels like a reality to MMA fans. That isn’t a big enough reason to pick against him. “The Spider’s” dominance over the years almost made many MMA fans forget he was human, but one loss doesn’t exactly equal the end of the Anderson Silva era. This isn’t a case of a champion getting overlooked. This is a case of a challenger who’s arguably the greatest fighter of all time.

If Weidman leaves Las Vegas with the middleweight belt on Dec. 28, I won’t be shocked by the result. However, Silva has earned his spot as the favorite in every fight until someone gives us a reason to doubt him, and even a knockout win for Weidman wasn’t quite enough. You can argue that Weidman should be the favorite almost by default since he’s the champion. I’d argue that Anderson Silva is the favorite because he’s Anderson Silva.

Photo: Anderson Silva (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)