Chris Weidman became the first man to defeat Anderson Silva inside the Octagon. | Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
It was a year filled with beautiful knockouts delivered on stages both great and small.
It will be some time before anyone forgets how Vitor Belfort unexpectedly adding a spinning heel kick to his arsenal at the expense of Luke Rockhold. Likewise, the memory of Antonio Silva blitzkrieging Alistair Overeem should not soon fade, nor should Junior dos Santos’ twirling triumph over Mark Hunt. Emanuel Newton caught his big break by short-circuiting Muhammed Lawal with a spinning back fist, and Tyron Woodley gave Josh Koscheck and unwanted, two-fisted master class in violence. Finally, Chinzo Machida mopped up on the local scene, violently ending Brian Wood’s night with a nuclear knee in November.
Each of these knockouts was special in its own right, and all of them received consideration in this year’s voting. Nevertheless, the competitive hearts and minds of the Sherdog.com editorial staff eventually settled on Chris Weidman’s stunning stoppage of Anderson Silva at UFC 162 as the “Knockout of the Year” for 2013.
How can one sum up Silva’s career? To say “The Spider” is one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport would be redundant at this point, thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship public relations machine spinning at full steam for the past several years. Even so, Silva’s list of accomplishments speaks for itself.
Silva began his professional career back in 1997 and then won Shooto’s middleweight title from the previously unbeaten Hayato Sakurai in 2001 before joining Pride Fighting Championships. There, Silva recorded one of the most famous knockouts in MMA history at the expense of Carlos Newton, but he also submitted to a Daijiro Takase triangle choke and a Ryo Chonan heel hook -- the second finish famously becoming the gold standard in Hail Mary submissions.
“The Spider” truly hit his stride in 2006, turning out Tony Fryklund’s lights with a cinematic standing reverse elbow that looked like something out of “Ong Bak.” Silva then vacated his Cage Rage title and joined the UFC, where he went on a rampage like no one ever had before.
Silva demolished Chris Leben in his Octagon debut and then ripped the middleweight title away from Rich Franklin. Many challenged the lanky southpaw over the next six years, but each was crushed in one way or another. The Brazilian defended his belt against the likes of Nate Marquardt, Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen and Dan Henderson, with the latter defense unifying the UFC and Pride championships. Silva was so dominant at 185 pounds that he occasionally jumped to light heavyweight, wrecking James Irvin, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar inside the first round. In all, Silva posted 16 consecutive Octagon wins, defending his middleweight belt a record 10 times and earning seven “Knockout of the Night” awards along the way.
Put plainly, Silva pieced together the most decorated title run in the history of the modern UFC, but that unrivaled streak of excellence would come to an end over the summer thanks to a particularly polished young gun from New York.
With just nine fights under his belt heading into his title bid, Weidman was viewed by some as a tenuous bet ahead of UFC 162. Others felt he should be the favorite, given his excellent wrestling base, his imposing physical strength and his ever-improving standup. The 29-year-old’s well-roundedness had powered him to a vicious knockout of Mark Munoz, as well as a slick submission of Tom Lawlor and a unanimous decision victory over jiu-jitsu master Demian Maia.
Weidman’s blueprint to victory appeared to have been laid out for him by Sonnen, who was able to put Silva on his back and punish him with ground-and-pound for the majority of the 30 minutes the men spent together over two fights. If the former Hofstra University wrestling standout could avoid succumbing to Silva’s well-documented mind games in the cage, his physical tools were expected to at least put him in the running to dethrone the longtime champion.
When fight night finally came, fans were thrown on an emotional rollercoaster for more than six minutes of action, with the shocking end coming a little more than one minute into the second frame.
As usual, the champion took his time approaching the Octagon. Once inside the cage, the men squared off in front of referee Herb Dean, who commanded them to touch gloves before trying to rip each other’s heads off. Weidman obediently extended his right mitt. Silva, his hands casually on his hips, glanced suspiciously at the gesture like it was an animal he was encountering for the first time. One of Silva’s trademark abbreviated bows would follow, which, naturally, made everyone other than the champion a little uncomfortable.
“Or not…” Dean said awkwardly, when it became clear that Silva was far more interested in touching Weidman’s face than his fists.
Weidman, who saw his Long Island, N.Y., neighborhood ravaged by Hurricane Sandy the previous October, entered the cage as a 2-to-1 underdog. Nevertheless, the challenger pressed the action early as though he were the favorite, attempting to put Silva on his heels. Silva, meanwhile, bounced around in typical, cat-like fashion, looking to gauge distance and rhythm before dialing in his crosshairs.
After 30 seconds of pawing, the American quickly shot in deep on a double-leg, placing his head between Silva’s legs and planting him on his back. Weidman fired off two solid right hands and dived into the champion’s guard, but Silva tied up his opponent and remained calm. This did little to slow down his younger opponent, however, as Weidman passed to half guard and continued to fire stiff shot’s at Silva’s mug. “The Spider” managed to recover open guard, but Weidman used the position to land several more clean blows before inexplicably spinning for a kneebar. The Shamrock-esque attempt look good from the onset, but the champion slyly adjusted his hips, forcing Weidman to switch to a heel hook, which Silva promptly proceed to roll out of and then pop back to his feet.
With half a round now gone, the crowd erupted as the champion stood and dropped his hands, leaning forward and staring directly into Weidman’s eyes. This is where the fight changed, as Silva telepathically challenged Weidman to play the Russian roulette game from “Deer Hunter.” Putting his back on the cage -- as he had against Bonnar the previous October -- Silva did his best rope-a-dope impression, giving Weidman free rein to fire off punches as he saw fit. Weidman obliged, but the blows had no effect. Silva placed his hands on his hips and ate a hard right hand, which caused him to chuckle gleefully and motion for Weidman to try again. The Brazilian ripped off a pair of hard leg kicks and moved back into punching range, continuing to taunt his man as the pro-champion crowd chanted “Sil-va! Sil-va!”
As the round expired, the men slapped hands and smiled, though Silva also playfully slapped the side of Weidman’s face and kissed him on the cheek as if to say, “You’re doing really well for your first time.” Silva would then suddenly scream at his challenger from across the cage, apparently imploring him to put up a better fight.
Between rounds, Silva’s corner told him to calm down. Weidman’s trainer, Ray Longo, was more specific with his advice.
“I want you to punch a [expletive] hole in his chest,” Longo ordered. “Everything else looks good.”
It only grew stranger from there, as Silva continued to express his desire to put on a thrilling show for the packed crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas by throwing his hands up and motioning toward the raucous horde. The champion then began to shimmy and shake, dancing around his opponent and circling to his lead hand side in another likely homage to Muhammad Ali.
Like most watching outside the cage, Weidman appeared unsure of what Silva might do next, prompting the challenger to shoot for a takedown. Silva easily stuffed the attempt and once again began to jaw at his opponent, firing off another pair of low kicks and then launching a lead-leg outside crescent kick, of all things, that narrowly missed Weiman’s face.
To his credit, Weidman managed to keep his focus through all of this and continued to move forward. It was then that Silva’s control over both the bout and the title vaporized in an instant. Silva later referred to it as Weidman’s “magic moment.” The challenger caught the champ with a crisp left hook, which motivated Silva to feign that he was hurt. Weidman wasted no time in following up, launching a one-two that Silva dodged. It was then that the champion’s footwork failed him, as Weidman flicked out his right hand as a range-finder and then loaded up on a concussive left hook that instantly turned out Silva’s lights.
Off balance, out of position and with his hands by his knees, Silva fell limp to the canvas as his eyes rolled back in their sockets. Weidman jumped in for the kill and left nothing to chance, landing two more clean shots that caused the former champion’s skull to yo-yo off the floor. With a single combination, Weidman had completely altered the long-stagnant UFC middleweight division.
Though Silva diehards immediately jumped to their fallen hero’s defense, Weidman proved the victory was no fluke in their Dec. 28 rematch, as he knocked down the former champion with a hard shot to the temple before shattering his left shin bone while checking one of the low kicks which had been so effective for Silva in their first encounter.
While such an injury should never be cause for celebration from either fan or fighter -- especially when the victim is a man the caliber of Silva -- the results are difficult to argue against. Weidman’s history-making stoppage of Silva may not have been the flashiest knockout of the last 12 months, but it was undoubtedly the most important, earning it Sherdog’s vote as “Knockout of the Year” for 2013.
Number Two » Phenomenal Finish