Who Should Anderson Silva Fight Next?
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 06.10.2014
Anderson Silva is set to return some time next year, but who should he face in his first bout back? 411's Dan Plunkett takes a look at potential return opponents for the Spider!
Less than six months ago it was questioned whether Anderson Silva would ever compete again. The consensus greatest fighter of all-time suffered a gruesome leg break on December 28 against Chris Weidman. In short order, it became clear Silva is determined to step back into the UFC's famed cage. Silva will be in an odd position upon his return: the uncommon end to his last match and past success should put him close to a title match. However, nearing 40 and coming off a catastrophic injury, his return should be handled with care. Let's examine potential return opponents for "The Spider."
Michael Bisping: Three times in the past four years, Michael Bisping found himself one win away from a championship match against Anderson Silva. It was a match the UFC, yearning for significant popularity in the UK, wanted to happen, but never forced together. A championship match in England, maybe even inside a stadium, could have led to a strong television deal and been a real boon for UK MMA. First, Bisping was clobbered by Dan Henderson. Then, three judges took the title shot away from him after a tight bout against Chael Sonnen. Finally, a TRT-aided Vitor Belfort felled "The Count" and gave Chris Weidman his chance at history.
An early-2015 Silva vs. Bisping would not have the same meaning it could have had in 2010, but Bisping remains a name fighter despite splitting wins and losses in his last six, and Silva has ascended to legend status. However, it is not the most lucrative bout possible, and Bisping's recent loss to Tim Kennedy may have closed his title chances for good.
Cung Le: Gus Johnson's dream fight is still a possibility. Le, 42, has not fought since knocking out Rich Franklin in November 2012, but is not retired and has expressed interest in facing Silva. A Sanshou standout and strong wrestler, Le was spectacular in his first six MMA matches. Then fighting became second priority to acting and age took its toll. Of all the realistic possibilities, Le would likely be the worst-drawing. In his heyday he was a successful regional draw in the San Jose area, but he emerged on the national stage too late in his career to make an impact on a wide scale. The match may be spectacular visually, but Le's age and in-and-out fighting schedule make him a less-than-ideal option.
Vitor Belfort: Today, Brazil is UFC's strongest international market. Four years ago, it was hardly a blip on the radar for the leading MMA promotion. It was the February 2011 match between Vitor Belfort and Anderson Silva that was the breakthrough moment for the UFC in Brazil. Dubbed "The Fight of the Century," it drew an audience of 20 million that watched Silva crack Belfort with a now-famous front kick to the face.
Since that match, Belfort has lost just once, to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and last year rattled off three consecutive head kick knockout wins. Currently, Belfort it awaiting a hearing with the Nevada Athletic Commission on June 17 which will determine whether he will be licensed to fight in July after failing a February drug test. If he is not licensed, it could be anywhere from 5 to 12 months before he is able to reapply. Theoretically, he may be available when Silva returns.
Silva vs. Belfort II would be a giant match in Brazil and could serve as a middleweight title eliminator. It may be seen as throwing Silva to the wolves after a lengthy injury absence, but nobody knows how Belfort will perform post-TRT. Due to the uncertainty of Belfort's situation it is unclear how likely the match is, and Belfort's name was not among those listed by Silva's manager Ed Soares, but it is certainly a match to consider.
Nick Diaz: The most buzzed-about option, Nick Diaz has sat on the sidelines since losing a wide decision to then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre 15 months ago. By the time Silva returns, Diaz will be about two years removed from that title match. Even so, his name still draws attention like flies to a carcass. Monthly, it seems, Diaz's name is associated with a potential opponent, but each match is shot down due to his retirement and financial demands to fight. The Stockton native has made it clear he will return for no less than $500,000 or a title match.
That financial barrier is one the UFC could afford to leap; a pay-per-view main event match between Diaz and Silva would certainly draw well enough to justify that sizeable amount. Outside of Georges St-Pierre, Silva has consistently been the biggest draw in the sport over the past few years. Diaz has a shorter drawing history, but had a large part in drawing two impressive pay-per-view audiences. First, his interim title match with Carlos Condit, on an event with little undercard support, drew an estimated 400,000 sales. Only those recognized as UFC's main draws have beaten that number in recent years. Then, his title match against St-Pierre attracted 950,000 buys – easily the biggest number of St-Pierre's headlining career.
Although Diaz has never competed as high as Silva's usual weight division of 185-pounds, the fight still makes sense from a booking perspective. After a yearlong absence and nearing 40, Silva would be best brought back cautiously. Diaz is a tough and reputable opponent, but one "The Spider" should beat. A loss should be a signal of the end of Silva's fighting days. But should Anderson win, he could be put right into a title match. Conversely, should Diaz win, could walk right into the welterweight title match he so desires, giving UFC its first bankable welterweight title match of the post-GSP era.
The match-up is one that should bring excitement, as well. Silva is a counter fighter, while Diaz is an aggressive, proliferate puncher. And if there is any justice in the world, the match will be equal parts fighting and taunting. It would seem that Diaz is the strongest option.