That's just what happened on June 28, 2006, during Ultimate Fight Night 5, an event held by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and broadcast live on Spike TV in the United States and Canada. In a quick but fascinating middleweight bout, Anderson Silva crushed Chris Leben with a flurry of strikes, ending the barrage with a knee to Leben's head at :49 of Round 1.
Chris had never been knocked out in his Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) career before this fight. In fact according to a poll conducted by UFC.com, Anderson was the underdog coming into the Silva-Leben knockout match.
How do such things happen? On paper both men are rather evenly matched: both are 185-lb fighters, both are about the same age, and the 6'2" Silva only has a slight height advantage over the 5'11" Leben.
Perhaps it was the old sin of overconfidence on Leben's part. The apparent favorite with a strong chin, Chris seemed to wade into battle against Silva without an ounce of concern about his opponent--that was clearly a mistake. Like others, the UFC website remarked that one could immediately see that Silva's striking technique was "light years ahead of most MMA fighters, both here and abroad."
How did Anderson get that way?
"It's training," Silva later told UFC through translator and manager Ed Soares. "Everyone has their own talents and their own skills, and this just comes with hard work and training."
"We train to go for the kill. Chris is an excellent fighter, and all I did was try to capitalize on his mistakes, and it worked," added Silva.
The match belonged to the 31-year-old Brazilian, who has finally made his way to North America's UFC after six years in the MMA game.
"It's like a dream come true," Silva told UFC.com.
Now speculation will probably run rampant as a new UFC middleweight star is born, and people begin discussing such matters as who should be Silva's next UFC opponent. Many are already whispering of a possible clash between Silva and UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin.
The 31-year-old Silva was once a member of the famed Chute Boxe fight team, but is now part of Muay Thai Dream Team. He has competed in PRIDE Fighting Championship, Shooto, and "Cage Rage". He's beaten Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newton, and Lee Murray. Silva is often considered one of the top ten best MMA middleweight fighters, and is also thought to be one of the best strikers in the sport.
Yet it hasn't all been wonderful for Anderson. He lost his first fight to Luiz Azeredo by decision. After that match he went on an amazing nine-fight winning streak, even defeating Shooto Champion Hayato Sakurai. Silva became the first person to beat Sakurai, and was crowned the new Shooto Welterweight Champion.
Silva moved to PRIDE Fighting Championship in 2002, and did wonderfully at first. But like Leben, Silva seemed to take an opponent lightly at PRIDE 26. There Daiju Takase submitted Silva with a triangle choke in the first round. PRIDE spectators were just as shocked by this turn of events as UFC fans were after Leben's recent lost to Silva.
So how does a Silva-Leben knockout match occur? How is it that a Silva or a Leben may normally be such an overpowering fighter, only to lose so spectacularly to a certain opponent? Some have said that perhaps Leben was simply outclassed; others cry that perhaps he was somehow railroaded into fighting a man still unknown to the UFC fighters, and was manhandled as a result.
But such statements seem flimsy to me. For starters, these arguments sell Leben short. A single bad night in which he crumbled to an opponent doesn't mean he can't compete. But like Silva before him--and Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson long before him--a top-notch fighter of any sport is often setting himself up for trouble if he fails to properly respect his opponent.
In their first match-up, Ali failed to respect Frazier's abilities, and "Smokin' Joe" beat the living hell out of Ali. While still a champion fighter, Tyson failed to respect the relatively unknown Buster Douglas, who eventually knocked "Iron Mike" cold.
I think this is why Leben fell so quickly to Silva. Rather than getting a feel for his opponent's technique before getting serious, Leben charged in against a far more experienced MMA fighter. And when Silva began countering with his own dangerous flurry of punches and kicks, Leben tried to stand his ground after being truly hurt--itself a sure sign that he failed to genuinely respect Silva's abilities, or to realize the change of momentum.
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