One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Chris Weidman, who squares off with Anderson Silva at UFC 168 in Las Vegas on Dec. 28.

It is very rare that a UFC champion enters a fight as the underdog. In fact, you may have to go back to Anthony Pettis being favored over Benson Henderson or Jon Jones over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and even then the champion was most likely given the benefit of the doubt by many, if for no reason other than experience.

When both men step into the Octagon on Dec. 28, there is no doubt that the “new” Anderson Silva will be the favorite despite being knocked unconscious by his opponent in dramatic fashion less than six months ago in July at UFC 162.

During that fight we saw a similar Silva to the one that faced Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi back in 2010 with his taunting style, which verges on disrespectful at times. The only difference was the outcome.

In the initial aftermath, it looked as if Silva was not interested in rematching Weidman for the title. However, after a lot of negotiating with the UFC brass, Silva signed on the dotted line and began to state his desire for redemption.

Whether Silva is really reinvigorated or whether he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse by the UFC remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that the most anticipated fight of the year will also be the one to end the year.

In a year that has been blessed with a multitude of top-level fights not just in the UFC but in Bellator, Invicta and World Series of Fighting, to name but a few, we finally get to see the fight that has perhaps produced the most intrigue and anticipation.

Leading up to UFC 168, there has been skepticism about Weidman’s legitimacy as champion given the antics that Silva produced on the night when Weidman won. What cannot be questioned is the magnitude of this fight for the fighters and more importantly the promotion, which is looking to provide the next face of the UFC in the wake of Georges St-Pierre’s recent self-imposed exile.

One thing is for sure, when the world wakes on Dec. 29, the question that has lingered since July will finally be answered—is it a passing of the torch or is it business as usual for “The Spider”?

The Breakdown

Throughout his career, Silva has displayed a wide range of skills, whether it be his amazing reflexes against Forrest Griffin, his kicking prowess against Vitor Belfort or his submission game against Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen. He has, however, demonstrated a tendency to get overpowered by a competent wrestler, something he has generally managed to offset with his submission game. However, he has not faced a wrestler who has top-level submissions of their own.

Silva will no doubt look to keep this fight on the feet and will have been training his wrestling vigilantly in preparation for Weidman. We saw in the first fight him motioning to Weidman between rounds one and two that he wanted to keep the fight standing.

It has been suggested that Silva will keep a much tighter guard on the feet than he did during the first fight, but I do not believe this will be the case. Silva will be looking to keep the fight standing, and his two best chances of doing so are by keeping the distance via the utilization of the leg kicks that landed with ease during the first fight and also by keeping his hands low enough so that when he sees the takedown coming from Weidman, he can get an underhook and utilize Weidman’s own momentum to move out of harm’s way.

Weidman, meanwhile, has been dominant in the wrestling department throughout his career. This was no better illustrated than in his one-sided beatdown of Mark Munoz, a capable wrestler in high own right and previously the wrestling coach for Silva. In that fight, we saw Weidman persistently take Munoz down with impeccable transitions from the feet to the floor. His timing meant that Munoz simply could not stop the takedown. Weidman will be looking to draw upon the memory of the Munoz fight in the rematch with Silva by mixing in takedowns with his strikes, much like we have seen Sonnen do with great success against Silva in the past.

The Strategy

Weidman is perhaps the underdog, which is unusual for a current UFC champion. But what he does have in common with his fellow champions is that he has a great number of ways in which he can win any fight.

Long gone are the days where champions rise to the top based upon one primary martial art. Weidman, like Sonnen, has relied heavily upon his wrestling throughout his career, but the comparison with Sonnen ends there. We saw Sonnen hold Silva down for around 20 minutes during their first fight, and if it were not for Sonnen’s susceptibility to a triangle choke, then we would likely have never seen Weidman fight Silva for the title back in July.

Unlike Sonnen, Weidman’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is not deficient and could be well-suited to submitting Silva from the top, as evidenced by his countless submission attempts against Munoz.

Overall, Weidman needs to mix it up with Silva to make the all-time pound-for-pound king question whether he has the reflexes he once had. Then, Weidman will seek to take the fight to the floor and land vicious elbows and punches from inside Silva’s guard, which could in turn open up opportunities for a finish.

Photo: Chris Weidman (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.