Occupy The Throne – Edition #38

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I examine why Anderson Silva vs. Georges St. Pierre must happen.

Samer Kadi: In a sport where a single punch is sufficient to change the course of history, exerting anything beyond short-term dominance is a tall order. After all, there is a reason many look back at Fedor Emelinanenko, Wanderlei Silva, and Chuck Liddell’s historic runs with marveling nostalgia. However, all three men have had their fair share of naysayers, with the Russian largely criticized for occasionally taking on some laughable competition, the Brazilian for a collection of brutal beat-downs over some poor undersized Japanese souls, while Liddell, however unfairly, has had many downplay his stunning title reign due to supposedly enhancing his highlight reel through stylistically favorable match-ups.

Despite the criticism, the trio, along with Matt Hughes, was for the longest time considered to be the gold standard for domination in the sport. That all changed over the course of the past five years, as Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre gave the word “domination” a whole new meaning, and demonstrated what an out-of-this-world mixed martial artist truly looks like.

Silva and St-Pierre’s title reigns bear remarkable similarities between them as far as dominance, timeline, and duration. They both first captured the title around the same time, and while St-Pierre’s march was initially halted by Matt Serra, he has been unstoppable since, while of course, regaining his spot as the welterweight kingpin in the process. Meanwhile, for every five-round manhandling of an elite fighter by the French Canadian, Silva was making quick work of yet another middleweight contender.

For years, talks of a super fight between the two best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet were incessant, and we’ve finally reached the point where the fight is one affirmative answer from GSP away from coming to fruition. So what happens when the biggest fight in MMA history is upon us? Well, people complain about it, of course, and find one unconvincing excuse after another as to why it shouldn’t materialize.

Jeremy Lambert: There’s no debate about this: Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva are the two best MMA fighters of all-time. Their dominance against high level of competition throughout the years is unrivaled at this point. The only debate is: who is better? Even though the foregone conclusion seems to be Silva given his track record of finishing fighters in spectacular fashion, something has to be said for GSP’s 25-minute handling of the top guys in the division. Let’s not forget that Silva maybe hasn’t always fought the best guys at 185, while St. Pierre has always fought the #2 guy in the division.

This debate can finally be settled in 2013 if St. Pierre agrees to the fight and they can settle on a weight. Yet, despite the fact that we have a chance to see the two greatest fighters ever compete in what should be the biggest fight of all-time, not everyone is sold on the idea, for one reason or another.

One of those reasons is Johny Hendricks. Yup, Johny “Big Rig” Hendricks. After his stellar 46 second KO of Martin Kampmann, combined with his victories over Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Mike Pierce, and others, Hendricks is without a doubt the #1 contender for the welterweight crown. But is Hendricks getting his deserved title shot worth risking the biggest fight of all-time? No disrespect to Hendricks, but the answer is no. He’s not a draw (especially when compared to Silva) and his chances of beating St. Pierre aren’t any greater than any other welterweight who “Rush” has manhandled over the years. Hendricks has already stated that he’s willing to wait for his title shot, and even if he’s forced to fight again, would getting Hendricks vs. Nick Diaz along with Silva vs. St. Pierre really be a bad thing?

Samer Kadi: There can be no denying that Johny Hendricks has absolutely earned a welterweight title shot. Of all the arguments against Silva/GSP, this is the most valid one. However, it can be easily refuted with the following:

Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre have earned the right to fight each other, even if it is at the expense of a deserving contender. After all, while Hendricks’ accomplishments in the division speak for themselves, they pale in comparison to what the legendary pair has achieved in the sport. As such, if Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre want to square off, guess what? They’ve done more than enough to earn that right. Six years of dominance over their respective divisions are far more significant than anything any other mixed martial artist has done in the sport.

Granted, as off now, the fight may very well not happen, as St-Pierre has yet to commit, which falls in line with the attitude he previously showed vis-à-vis fighting “The Spider.” However, should the welterweight champion give Dana White the thumbs up, the rest of us need to be quiet and enjoy the ride. MMA is a sport where the amount of super fights to never materialize almost eclipses that of the ones that did, and now that the UFC is facing the possibility to make the biggest of them all, they need pull the trigger while they have the chance. Why endanger the bout by having St-Pierre fight Hendricks? The odds of the champion losing are indeed slim, but they are not the only risk at hand, as any injury sustained by “Rush” means a fight with Silva will be put on hold.
If anything has to wait, it should be Hendricks’ title shot. Talks of putting “the two divisions on hold” are blown out of proportion, as with Chris Weidman’s injury the middleweight division is hardly that contender-heavy – plus the fact that with Maia and Munoz as his top wins, Weidman isn’t a clear cut number one contender quite yet. At welterweight, Johny Hendricks can further solidify his status by taking on a returning Nick Diaz. Of course, Hendricks could lose that fight and therefore, his title shot, but what would that say about his chances against the champion to begin with?

If people are clinging on to the tired idea of both fighters needing to “clean out their divisions” before locking horns, they’re only setting the stage for infinite repetition: There will always be someone putting together a decent winning streak that can be deemed title-shot worthy. Consequently, a division is never fully cleaned out. Yet, with 17 title defenses between them, Silva and St-Pierre’s respective reigns of terror over their weight classes are as close as we’re going to get to “cleaned out divisions.”

Jeremy Lambert: While icing the divisions for a few months might be the most valid argument, the “fight won’t be competitive” argument is by far the oddest. Is Hendricks vs. GSP or the winner of Michael Bisping/Vitor Belfort (the likely next contender with Weidman going down) against Silva any more competitive? Hendricks is a wrestler with plenty of power, but GSP eats wrestlers for breakfast. I can’t envision a scenario in which Bisping defeats Silva and we already saw what happened when Belfort stepped into the cage with the champ.

While Silva looks nearly unbeatable, St. Pierre has all the tools to stop him because he is the more well-rounded fighter. Besides Silva, no one understands distance and timing better than GSP. Not only that, but we all know that Anderson’s biggest weakness is his takedown defense, especially from a distance. There’s not a better wrestler in MMA than GSP. He plants you on your back if you throw a kick, he covers a lot of distance with his shot, and he mixes up with striking and wrestling better than anyone. Moreover, GSP is an extremely smart fighter who will devise the perfect game plan to beat “The Spider.”

Sure, there might be a size difference, but hasn’t it been proven over time that having a size advantage in MMA is relatively moot? Speed is the new size and for the first time in his UFC career, Silva would be at a speed disadvantage.

The people who don’t think this fight is competitive are probably the same people who defend Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen because it’s a money fight or will at least buy the PPV. It’s not like the UFC is above booking mismatches if it means putting business first. Not only is GSP vs. Silva not a mismatch, it’s the biggest business fight in the company’s history.

Samer Kadi: If the argument against Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre is based on the supposed uncompetitive nature of the bout, then neither man should take a single fight in his own division for the same reason. Until Carlos Condit, Georges St-Pierre hadn’t had a tightly contested fight in years, and even that ended in a 50-45 decision on two scorecards. Meanwhile, with the exception of the first bout with Chael Sonnen, Anderson Silva has been making short work or simply toying with any man in his path.

Competitive or not, fights happen for a reason. Most challengers stand little-to-no chance against Silva and St-Pierre — that doesn’t stop the fights from taking place. As Dana White put it, Anderson Silva against Georges St-Pierre is a legacy fight to crown the greatest fighter in MMA history. The stakes don’t get much higher than that, and as long as they are willing to square off, the falsely projected one-sidedness of the affair shouldn’t stop it from materializing, the same way it doesn’t stop Silva and GSP from defending their titles against “inferior” fighters. Naturally, defending a title is an obligation, but a fight to crown the sport’s greatest of all time outweighs even the biggest prize in the sport.

Never mind the fact that the whole premise of Silva simply putting a death touch on St-Pierre, as well as the latter struggling to get any offense going due to the alleged insurmountable size difference is a dubious notion to begin with. To clarify, Anderson Silva should absolutely be favored to beat Georges St-Pierre, and would likely do so. However, the reasoning put forth by some of the detractors really puts a portion of MMA fans’ understanding of the sport into question.

They are still so consumed by the idea of size difference being all but impossible to overcome despite significant evidence to the contrary, to where skill is completely overlooked. This sort of logic neglects that Frankie Edgar’s lightweight title reign ever existed or that Rashad Evans was the light heavyweight champion, and falls in line with the belief that Brock Lesnar’s size will see him run through Cain Velasquez and dominate the heavyweight division for years to come.

Of course, Anderson Silva skills are light years beyond Brock Lesnar, or BJ Penn and Gray Maynard for that matter – the two men Frankie Edgar toppled during his title run. However, that is exactly what would make him a favorite over Georges St-Pierre: Skill. If Silva cleans GSP’s clock, it is because he is that good, not because he is that big. Ultimately, this fight will be decided by intangibles such as utilizing the reach, technique, ability to control distance, and speed — not size.

For this narrative to work, rational fans are supposed to ignore that Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin, Thales Leites, and Vitor Belfort all managed to put “The Spider” on his back. The same rational fans should also overlook that St-Pierre, who is a vastly superior wrestler to the aforementioned men, would absolutely be able to take Silva down. Unless of course, the extra pounds those fighters had over GSP bafflingly justify why they were able to secure takedowns while he wouldn’t, despite his near-perfect technique. It is also worth pondering that Chael Sonnen was able to pass Silva’s guard and get full mount, something that St-Pierre, who is renowned for his guard-passing ability, should be able to replicate.

Nevertheless, Silva’s footwork, power and otherworldly striking make him a firm favorite in a twenty-five minute fight, as his notorious ability to end his opponent’s night at any moment means GSP can ill-afford to get caught on the feet. That however, is no reason for the bout not to take place, especially given the stylistic challenge that St-Pierre has to offer. The fact is, Georges St-Pierre against Anderson Silva is more competitive than any fight either fighter can take part of against someone not named Jon Jones.

The latter is often brought up as a counterargument for this fight, with many preferring to see the light heavyweight champion square off against Silva, in what can only be described as a false dilemma. Why can’t Anderson Silva fight both Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones exactly? In fact, the suggested timeline for Silva against GSP coupled with Jones’ date with Chael Sonnen in April makes an eventual showdown between “Bones” and “The Spider” all the more viable. Moreover, bringing up Jones/Silva as a rebuttal for Silva/St-Pierre is a double standards-infested logic, as the same obtuse arguments pertaining to Silva’s size advantage over GSP can be applied to Jon Jones over Silva.

Jeremy Lambert: The reason people seem to want Jon Jones vs. Silva more than GSP vs. Silva seems to be due to the fact that Silva has competed at 205, which Jones currently reigns over, while GSP has never travelled above 170. This ignores the fact that GSP and Silva will likely meet at a catch weight or possibly even at 170 if Anderson and his management are to be believed.

It also ignores Silva’s competition at light heavyweight. In his three 205 pound bouts, Silva dispatched of James Irvin, Forrest Griffin, and Stephan Bonnar. Irvin and Bonnar are mediocre fighters at best while Griffin was stylistically a perfect match up for the Brazilian. It would be the equivalent of GSP moving up and fighting Drew McFedries, Rich Franklin, and Patrick Cote. While GSP may not put them all away in the first round and in impressive fashion, there’s little doubt in my mind that the Canadian would easily handle all three fighters.
The only drawback to Silva vs. St. Pierre is that one man will lose. But they’re both going to lose sooner or later, so they may as well lose to the best. Neither fighter’s legacy will be damaged, with the winner’s no doubt getting enhanced. And the notion that the loser will become less of a draw is preposterous as well. When you’re a draw of the level of a Georges St. Pierre or Anderson Silva, one loss, especially to the other pound-for-pound best, doesn’t hurt your drawing ability. When BJ Penn was destroyed by GSP and quit in the middle of the fight, he drew 900,000 buys in his next bout at UFC 101. When Chuck Liddell went through a rough stretch at the end of his career, he still did above the PPV average in his final fight. If Brock Lesnar returned tomorrow, he’d likely outdraw everyone on the roster except Silva and GSP despite coming off two humiliating losses.

People aren’t going to not want to see Silva or GSP just because they lose. Hell, people might be even more intrigued as the loser won’t be looked at as invincible, and people will want to see how they respond to the loss. The whole fight world had been clamoring for Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Paciquao for years now, and was constantly disappointed when it fell through. What’s the difference between that fight and GSP vs. Silva? Besides the fact that Manny and Floyd are the best two fighters in boxing today while Silva and GSP are the best two fighters in MMA ever.

Point is, if you wanted and still want Paciquao vs. Mayweather, you should want Silva vs. St. Pierre. And there wasn’t a soul in the world who didn’t want Manny vs. Floyd.

Samer Kadi: Despite being closer than ever, we are still a few steps away from an Anderson Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre super fight. The latter has never exhibited any interest in fighting Silva, and had generally danced around the issue when it was brought up. However, the fact that the UFC and Silva are vehemently pushing for this fight has forced St-Pierre to reconsider, and now the ball is in his court. A long, arduous negotiation process awaits all the parties involved.

In truth, we may never see these two giants of the sport square off, but as fans, we should only hope we do, instead of trying to come up with unconvincing excuses as to why it shouldn’t. Silva vs. GSP would be a fight between the two best fighters on the planet, and the two greatest mixed martial artists of all time. No counterargument could possibly be strong enough.


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