Against all odds, they did it. The twenty-nine year-old with a thin resume is a threat to the Greatest. Betting odds on Anderson Silva have fallen. The whispers that Chris Wideman could win have become boasts that he will. All for a man without the impressive string of victories that so often precedes a championship win.
This bridge has sold before. Cooney was a threat to Holmes. Spinks was a threat to Tyson. Tito was a threat to Chuck. The public wants to think that the dominant champion is vulnerable. The people want to suspend disbelief.
But what if the truth mirrors the hype?
When a twenty-four year-old Manny Pacquiao challenged Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, HBO play-by-play announcer Jim Lampley warned the world of what was to come. Pacquiao was 37-2-1 with an unimpressive list of victims. His first thirty-four fights were in Asia against names that were unfamiliar to the mainstream of boxing. Five of Pacquiao's next six fights would end by knockout, but his resume was still thin. Yet, Lampley told the HBO audience that Pacquiao was a phenom. That people in the know at the Los Angeles gym where Manny trained would tell tales of a string of sparring partners walking out or succumbing to the little filipino supernova. Lampley compared Manny to Mike Tyson, who had developed a similarly fearsome reputation int he gym two decades prior.
UFC has its history of gym legends as well. Cain Velasquez was expected to tear through the heavyweight division long before he won the championship. But Cain's pre-championship resume could be picked apart if one was so inclined (and, at the time, the author was). Kongo failed to train wrestling. Rothwell was too slow. Minotauro Nogueira was a shot fighter. Then Cain whipped Brock.
Can Weidman whip Anderson? Are the gym tales true? Is he the dominant wrestler and the powerful striker and the disciplined grappler that insiders say he is?
Skeptics point out that the UFC middleweight division has a sad history of pretenders. Fighter after fighter was touted by the UFC hype machine as the greatest threat that Silva has ever known. At the weigh-ins yesterday Todd Martin pointed out that it has gotten to the point of hurting Joe Rogan's credibility. Rogan's line about Weidman being a man whose skill set is perfect for dethroning Anderson could have been looped from any number of previous countdown specials.
And about that comparison to Cain: Both men were gym dynamos with thin resumes heading into their championship fights. But Cain had knocked out five of his six UFC opponents. Weidman has knocked out one of five. They are not the same guy. Cain smothers you all day. Weidman looks for a big KO or submission as soon as he can.
The author has a long history of being wrong about Anderson Silva. There was the choice to drive nine hours round-trip to Las Vegas five years ago to see if Silva's foray into the light heavyweight division would be his undoing (when a Fedor fight was happening an hour's drive away in Anaheim on the same night, no less). There was the large wager on a top wrestler (Chael Sonnen) to upset Silva in Oakland. Time and time again the hype machine has convinced yours truly that this unforgettable reign might be ending, and time and time again it hasn't.
Tonight the choice is Silva. Every fighter gets old and every fighter has bad match ups, but that will come another time. Tonight Anderson will beat the hype machine and possibly move on to UFC's first true Superfight.