Monday, February 14, 2011

“Bigfoot” A Myth No Longer: Antonio Silva Emerges As An Elite Level Heavyweight

By Elton Hobson

For years, people the world over have tried to prove the existence of Bigfoot. That mythical man-monster, a grizzly bear on steroids with a Tiger Woods-level of press shyness. I guess conspiracy buffs will just have to wait until Mrs. Bigfoot catches the big guy sleeping around and tried to beat his two-timing ass with a nine iron.

What, too soon?

MMA has it’s own Bigfoot, and after last night there should be no doubt that not only is he real, but he’s coming for the sport’s best.

In front of a roudy, heavily Russian crowd at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva faced the toughest test of his career. It stood across the cage, certain of victory, as was his legion of fans. That’s because MMA has it’s own mythical beast and his name is Fedor Emelianenko.

Ok, so the invincible monster looked a little less invincible after that 1 minute, 9 second submission loss to Fabrico Werdum’s taint odor. Still, one loss didn’t diminish the decade of dominance Fedor Emelianenko brought to the table in this fight. Nor, for that matter, should two losses diminish it now, but that’s a debate for another time.

Fedor was the heavy favourite going into the fight. And really, it was only the Werdum loss that put doubt in the minds of bookies (and Fedor fans). Take away that loss, or pretend Fedor fought Bigfoot instead of Wedrum in his Strikeforce debut. The odds on that fight would be ridiculously long – like GSP-Matt Serra 1 of the Heavyweight division.

And really, why not? What does Antonio Silva bring to the table that Fedor hasn’t conquered before?

Size? Tell that to Hong Man Choi, or Heath Herring. Powerful Striking? Semmy Schilt hits pretty hard, so does Brett Rogers. Mirko Cro Cop does, or at least he used to. Good grappling? “Minotauro” Nogueria and Ricardo Arona are some of the best BJJ guys in MMA, and they fell to “The Last Emperor”. Skill, tenacity, and stoic Soviet-style determination would carry the day, as it always did.

In front of that hostile crowd and against the best Heavyweight in the history of the sport, Bigfoot did nothing less then take the next step. From “good” to “elite”. From “rising prospect” to “top 10 contender”. From “could possibly be something” to “yep, turns out you’re something”.

What a performance from Antonia Silva. Anyone who says this victory was all because of Silva’s size advantage are crazy, or just weren’t paying close attention.

Now, I’m not going to deny the 30+ pound weight difference wasn’t a factor, because it was in a number of ways. Carrying all that weight clearly tuckered Fedor out on the bottom, and going for sweeps must feel like trying to move a lawn tractor off your chest with only your legs and hips.

But look beyond that. On the feet, Silva was sharp, fast, and on point. He moved well whenever Fedor came forward winging bombs and he threw accurate counter shots. At multiple points in the fight, Fedor and Antonio exchange in a flurry of striking, going back and forth, staying in the pocket.
Watch closely. Silva gets the better of nearly every exchange. He tagged Fedor with some hard shots and kept his own Easter Island-esque noggin out of range of Emelianenko’s ICBM fists.

And Silva put it all together beautifully as well, mixing striking with clinch work and takedowns in one constantly varied offence. Watch how Silva controls Fedor, the Sambo master, in the clinch in round 1. Fedor is a master of trips and takedowns from the clinch and he can’t get anything going against Silva. When Silva opened round 2 with a swift double-leg, it was clear he had caught Fedor completely off-guard.

Think about that for a moment. Few in MMA have a more diverse skillset, and are better at putting it all together, then Fedor Emelianenko. And even he couldn’t read – let alone adapt – to Antonio Silva.

And once the fight hit the ground in round 2, it was a BJJ clinic. People have used Silva’s domination of Fedor in this round to argue that Sambo artists lack a strong bottom game, and that BJJ>Sambo more or less.

As far as I can recall, Fedor – having won several fights with submissions from his back – was renowned for his world-class bottom game up until, well, last night, about 2 seconds after referee Dan Mirgliotta called the fight.

Once again, in their rush to tear down the Fedor legend, most people seem to have missed the point. Fedor has an excellent ground game, from any position. He was just out gammed, out smarted, and out muscled by Silva in that fight. It wasn’t a matter of size, it was a matter of size meeting perfect technique.

Silva’s control of Emelianenko on the ground was solid and constricting. His transitions were slick, his guard passes tight and effective. He landed powerful shots from any position, and he was a real threat to submit when the opportunities presented themselves. He ran the BJJ gauntlet on Fedor, going from guard, to half-guard, to side control, to north-south, to knee-on-belly, to mount, to back.

I’m sorry, but size alone doesn’t give you that. No way. It takes a hell of a lot more then 30 extra pounds to make Fedor Emelianenko look like a first-day amateur. Antonia Silva vindicated his BJJ black belt tonight and sent a warning to every HW in Strikeforce, in the world even: this guy is a terror on the ground. Just ask Fedor’s face – I think he’ll need a couple of ice cream cones just for his eye.

Antonio Silva has arrived, ladies and gentlemen. This guy is a surefire top-10 ranked HW with this win, and can no longer be denied as one of the world’s elite heavyweights. His size combined with his diverse skillset and his continuing improvement under Ricardo Liborio and the guys at American Top Team – well, it all adds up to bad news for the heavyweight division.

Antonia Silva has every tool he needs to win this whole tournament. 2011 could very well be the year of the Bigfoot in MMA. I mean c’mon – anyone who has Fedor Emelianenko cranking on their leg and can be this badass is surely someone to be feared.

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