Friday, July 12, 2013

MMA Junkie's "Twitter Mailbag" and the strategies of Anderson Silva

Ben Fowlkes over at hardly ever says anything even vaguely intelligent, but he brought up a point about the Silva-Weidman fight.  It's not a good point, but it is certainly a point.

People like me asserted that Silva held his hands down and clowned because Silva thought it was the best way to win.  It wasn't arrogance, but a strategem, one that Silva had used in the past quite successfully.

Fowlkes rejoinder was, on MMA Junkie's July 11th Twitter mailbag, is that it had to be arrogance because Silva could have no doubt employed other strategies against Weidman.  Silva tried this strategy, it didn't work, it clearly wasn't working, so to keep doing it was arrogance.

A few points.  The fight was barely six minutes long.  Something like two-and-a-half of those minutes were Weidman in total top domination.  Silva had barely three minutes of striking time.  My first rejoinder to Fowlkes would be that's not a lot of time to do something.  It isn't like Silva said, "Oh, this didn't work, I'll try this other thing, instead!"  It was more, like, "I'll clown him, HOLY SHIT I'M UNCONSCIOUS!"

Second, well, most fighters have only got a few effective strategies.  Silva has four.

1.  Striking from the outside.  Silva is a really good striker, very accurate and with KO power.  On the down side, he's not very aggressive and prefers to counterpunch.

2.  Striking from the outside plus clowning.  When a fighter won't engage aggressively, Silva taunts them into striking.

3.  Muay Thai clinch.  Silva had murderous knees.

4.  Bottom game Brazilian jiu jitsu that he employs when he's been taken down.

He has a fifth, ineffective strategy:

5. Jazz hands.

In his effective strategies, he tried three of them against Weidman.  He came out, in the first, in his usual stance.  He did not clown.  Weidman took him down.  Then Silva tried his bottom game BJJ.  Weidman was having none of that and utterly controlled Silva, passing his guard pretty easily.  Then, after Silva got out of a pretty rough spot with a kneebar, he got up and employed the striking plus clowning.

It's been a while since Silva has seriously gone for the plum clinch at all.  I'm not sure why he's gotten away from it, but he has.  However, it was the only common strategy Silva had left, though trying it with a wrestler wouldn't be the smartest move in his career, either.

I grant that the strategy that Silva committed the most to was the clowning.  But he did it for around three minutes.

The hands down strategy has the very good advantage for Silva of having his hands, right there, to push away an attempted takedown, too.  I think that was the primary reason Silva did it - because, no, he couldn't think of another way to win.  He has four effective strategies.  He tried outside striking but his raised hands left his legs too vulnerable to the shoot.  His BJJ was trivial compared to Weidman's top control.  Clinching with a wrestler is just asking to get taken down, and it isn't something Silva does, anymore.

I don't imagine that Fowlkes will read this, but I ask him: what is this magical new thing that Silva would do, that he hasn't done in 38 fights?  Is he really learning new techniques, especially when those four strategies have been enough for him to dominate middleweight?  I grant that his style has shifted, from the aggressive style typical of Chute Boxe fighters to one of the purest counterstrikers in MMA, but the development was reasonably slow.  It wasn't like he just tossed out the aggressive plum clinch and developed jazz hands, it was a progression, it was incremental.

In short, there was no reason to imagine that Silva would come into the Weidman fight with a hot new strategy.  He did come in with a modest revision of his hands down, clowning strategy - he's much better as using that to counter takedowns, which he also did against Sonnen in the second round of their second fight.  Part of that incremental change was an even more outrageous clowning than we've seen in the past, but it wasn't a tidal change in his style.  It was fairly vintage Silva, really.  I think it's facile to say that Silva had lots of options and it was his arrogance that made him choose that one.  I think he really thought it was the best way to win the fight, better than his other traditional strategies, because they had already failed.

I admit that Silva didn't test them very hard, but he tested none of them very hard, not even the clowning, because Weidman beat him so fast.

I suppose that is the structure of the piece, though.  "Twitter Mailbag".  What you do is take 300 characters that someone else has written and devote as much space as you want on a forum where you're the one in charge to refute those 300 characters.  It makes it very easy to appear clever when the person could neither fully develop their point in the first place due to Twitter's character limitations while you can respond at length in a forum where you're the authority figure.

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