Aside from his short-notice entry into UFC 200, which came immediately following surgery to remove his gallbladder, Anderson Silva has never been a bigger underdog in his life than he is heading into this weekend’s showdown against Israel Adesanya at UFC 234.
Adesanya is currently listed as more than a seven-to-one favorite to defeat the 43-year-old Silva on several online sportsbooks, and even Silva’s former training partner, UFC welterweight standout Stephen Thompson, is finding it difficult to think the Brazilian legend has one last magic moment left in his reserves for UFC 234.
“You know what? To be honest with you, I don’t think it will be [competitive],” Thompson said of Silva vs. Adesanya on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour. “I mean, from watching Anderson Silva’s last few fights, he just wasn’t the same. I think whenever he broke his leg, when he fought (Chris) Weidman, it took a lot out of him. I think he was out for a very long time, and he just doesn’t, I don’t know — I don’t know if he doesn’t have that drive or that timing like he used to have. He just felt very slow and just didn’t have that timing like he used to.”
Silva (34-8, 1 NC) is one of the greatest mixed martial artists to ever compete, but has struggled to recapture his former glory since losing his UFC middleweight title to Weidman in 2013. In the time since, Silva has won just one of his last six contests and also tested positive for banned substances twice, although the most recent of his failed drug tests ended up being the result of a contaminated supplement.
But in Adesanya (12-0), Silva meets an undefeated up-and-comer who has taken the UFC’s middleweight division by storm — and “Wonderboy” is worried that Silva could be in for a rough night in enemy territory at UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia.
“I spent some time with Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida when they were training at Blackhouse in California,” Thompson said. “This was before I was in the UFC. I was looking for management and my brother-in-law Carlos Machado knew the guys over there at Blackhouse, so I spent a few weeks up there training with Anderson, which was a dream come true for me. Me coming from a karate and kickboxing background, Anderson Silva was like my idol, and so was Machida, especially with his karate background. And from sparring with him and seeing him then, and to see him his last few fights with (Michael) Bisping and I forgot who else it was, it’s just, there is a difference. There is a big difference.
“I think Israel’s going to go out there and school him. I mean, it would be cool — I think it would be very cool to see Anderson, him being the veteran, go out there and just finish him. That would definitely put a smile on my face, but I don’t see it happening.”
Thompson, who makes his own return on March 23 against Anthony Pettis in the main event of UFC Nashville, also has some personal experience with the man whose name headlines UFC 234’s marquee: Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
Back in 2014, long before Whittaker reinvented himself as a destroyer of worlds at 185 pounds division and seized the middleweight throne, Thompson picked up a first-round TKO win over “Bobby Knuckles” in a welterweight contest at UFC 170. But that version of Whittaker is a completely different fighter than the powerhouse champion of today, and with Whittaker’s record at middleweight sitting at a perfect 8-0, Thompson is confident his former foe will be able to persevere against Kelvin Gastelum in UFC 234’s main event.
“Man, that’s going to be a great fight. I’m so looking forward to it,” Thompson said.
“Robert Whittaker is definitely a different fighter from when I fought him last. His takedown defense is ridiculous — ridiculous — and his cardio is out there. Like, the guy does not get tired. But Kelvin Gastelum is the exact same. He’s got very good hands, Gastelum does, he’s got great wrestling. But I think Robert Whittaker is going to come out with the win. He’s got a longer reach. I think his movement and striking, his combinations are put together well, better than Kelvin Gastelum’s, and if Kelvin Gastelum gets overwhelmed with the striking, he’s not going to be able to taken Whittaker down, I don’t think.
“And Whittaker is a beast, he’s huge,” Thompson added. “I remember standing in front of him facing off with him at 170. I mean, big barrel chest, big arms, big shoulders. And I saw him not too long ago, and he’s massive. He’s massive. He’s not a big, big 185er. He’s just solid, which is great. I’m taking Whittaker on this one.”