Five months ago, the greatest reign in the history of mixed martial arts came to a crashing halt. Of course, there is a huge asterisk on that fight, and anybody that feels differently than that is sorely mistaken.

On July 6, then-UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva stepped into the Octagon for the 17th time having never been defeated in the promotion. Other than only two decisions in his UFC career, the greatest mixed martial artist of all time held notable stoppages of every major middleweight opponent the promotion had been able to scrounge up—every, single one. In fact, it had gotten so easy for the superhuman Brazilian, he was literally able to toy his way to some of his more recent victories, earning a sort of beloved villain status. Then came the hype of an undefeated newcomer.

Chris Weidman entered the UFC in early 2011 on a four-fight winning streak. The Long Islander was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American wrestler out of Hofstra University, so the wrestling base was there, but fans weren’t sure what to expect. After decision victories over Demian Maia and Alessio Sakara and submissions of Tom Lawlor and Jesse Bongfeldt, Weidman pulled off a huge victory with an early second-round knockout of Mark Munoz, earning a shot at the UFC middleweight title.

UFC 162 had all the makings of a potential upset, but any realistic fan of MMA knew that Weidman didn’t stand a chance against an Anderson Silva fighting at 100 percent. However, would fans get to see a serious Silva or another display of toying around?

The answer was very much the latter. Silva came in appearing to be serious, but less than three minutes into the first round, his hands went to his sides and the taunting began. Weidman remained serious, although fairly ineffective, and was ultimately able to land a knockout in the beginning of the second.

Now, at UFC 168, it’s time for the rematch.

Let’s take a deeper look at the match-up. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills match up against one another using similar scoring to the unified rules.

Striking: Weidman – 9, Silva – 10

Weidman knocked out Silva in their first meeting. That fact is cut and dry. However, nobody in their right mind can say that Weidman could ever outstrike a Silva that is taking the fight seriously. In fact, Weidman only landed two more strikes than his opponent, and the Brazilian had his hands at his sides most of the fight. Silva was landing significant strikes just trying to get Weidman to engage.

However, this assessment can only take skill vs. skill into consideration, and Silva’s striking skills are at a level that Weidman can only dream of. The former champ’s striking accuracy is 50 percent better, his lateral movement is unmatched, his arsenal is diverse, and his counterstriking is quite arguably the best in the world. Silva knocked out Forrest Griffin while moving backwards and then he knocked out Vitor Belfort with a day-one karate front kick. The only opponent besides Weidman in Silva’s 38-fight pro career that has landed more strikes in a fight is Chael Sonnen.

Weidman can definitely hang on his feet, and his elbow knockout of Munoz was even more highlight-reel-worthy than his KO of Silva, but apples-to-apples, Silva is hands down the superior striker in this match-up.

Wrestling: Weidman – 10, Silva – 9

It’s hard to point out any flaws in regards to Silva’s skills, but if there is one area where he is less proficient than others, it would be in his wrestling game. He still has a more accurate takedown game than the American, and he is very difficult to get to the ground. Weidman was able to get Silva down in their first match-up, but it wasn’t exactly a well-crafted move and didn’t prove very fruitful. Silva’s best wrestling is on his feet, where he takes command in most clinch situations.

Weidman is an expert wrestler. While at Hofstra University, he finished sixth his junior year and third his senior year at the NCAA wrestling tournament. In his short pro MMA career, Weidman has never been taken down, although not many have attempted to get him to the ground. His top control is very effective and only getting better.

As Sonnen showed in his first bout with Silva, the Brazilian can be held down on the mat, setting up the ground-and-pound attack, which, again, exposed a weakness in his arsenal. Silva has amazing takedown defense and a nasty clinch, but, overall, Weidman is the better wrestler.

Submission Grappling: Weidman – 9, Silva – 10

Weidman is not only a great wrestler, but his submission game is dominant, too. He has won many grappling tournaments, and he even competed in Abu Dhabi after only one year of formal Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experience. The BJJ brown belt is a very proficient submission grappler, but the Brazilian is better.

Silva holds black belts in BJJ and judo, and he has six submission wins in his pro MMA career. His guard is very defensive, but, as Sonnen so tragically discovered, it is no safety zone for any opponent. After four and a half rounds of punishing ground-and-pound, Sonnen got caught in a nasty triangle armbar and had to tap out. Silva is a dangerous finisher and his submission grappling is no exception.

Weidman may be a phenomenal grappler in his own right, but Silva is better. Twice in their last bout, Weidman had the former champ in precarious leg locks, yet both times Silva shook him off with ease. In the next match-up, Weidman better be careful on the ground, because Silva is craftier, sneakier and much more dangerous with his submissions.

Stamina: Weidman – 10, Silva – 10

Both men have gone the distance, but Silva’s stamina is second to none for nothing more than efficiency as an athlete. No matter how old the Brazilian is, he knows how to effectively manage his energy output, and he hasn’t seem winded in a very long time—and never in the UFC.

Weidman has gone the distance a few times, always looking fresh for the duration. Wrestlers are known for having great cardio, and Weidman is no different. With his high-level BJJ prowess, he is also very good with energy management.

Should this one go the distance, both men should look fresh for the duration.

Speed: Weidman – 9, Silva – 10

Silva’s nickname could just as easily be “Lightning” as it is “The Spider.” He doesn’t really need a spectacular striking offense, because his counterattack is so fast, most of his counterstrikes land well before his opponents can land their initial strikes. Weidman is no different.

In their first bout, Silva was poking Weidman in the face so quickly that, half the time, the American didn’t even know what he was reacting to. Weidman’s takedown attempts looked lethargic, and his strikes were easily avoided like something out of The Matrix—at least the ones that Silva wanted to avoid.

Silva’s fast, way faster than Weidman, and he takes that category, no contest.

X-factor

There’s really no secret what the x-factor is in this fight. The x-factor is Silva’s attitude toward his career. Georges St-Pierre recently (semi-)retired with class, because, as many vets have voiced in the past, the fight game is not forever and it gets extremely taxing. Between camps, sponsorships, publicity and the major sacrifices it takes to be a fighter—and especially to maintain a title belt—it takes a toll over time. Silva appeared to be burnt out on training for guys that can’t compete, and he was ready to give up the belt to the next challenger. However, GSP’s retirement may bring out a fresh Silva for one more fight.

If Silva fights to win, this fight will be no contest. If Silva lets him win, then Weidman wins. It’s really that plain and simple. However, retiring a champ, a la GSP, seems to be the classy way to go, and Silva could come in, win the belt and subsequently put it back up for grabs.

Total: Weidman – 47, Silva – 49

Verdict: In their first bout, no matter what Weidman says, no matter what Silva says, and no matter what UFC President Dana White so adamantly claims, Silva let Weidman win. Nobody can go back, watch that fight and say anything other than that. Weidman was losing. He was losing in the clinch and he was losing on his feet. His sole takedown was sloppy at best, and, until the last couple shots, he was actually behind in significant strikes landed, even though Silva had his hands at his sides.

Silva is now 38 years old and ready to quit the fight game. Nobody knows which Silva will show up on Saturday night, but that will be the sole factor in determining the winner of the fight. In an apples-to-apples comparison, a 100-percent Silva knocks out Weidman in the first round. However, if Silva decides that leaving the belt with Weidman is more important than retiring a champ, then Weidman takes this one again by knockout.

Ultimately, a decision must be made, and Silva takes this one via TKO, subsequently retiring as the champ and greatest fighter of all time.

Photo: Anderson Silva (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)