Anderson Silva Wants To Fight For The Title Again – But Can He Win It?

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Legendary UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva recently backtracked on his statement that his days of fighting for the belt were over. On the sidelines since sustaining a broken leg in the second round of his rematch with Chris Weidman at UFC 168, Silva is now set to return to the Octagon at UFC 183 on January 31, 2014.

He’ll face off with fellow returnee Nick Diaz, and if he wins, the UFC will probably have no problem booking him into an immediate title shot.

And why wouldn’t they? “The Spider” is one of their top-level pay-per-view (PPV) draws, who, along with longtime welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre, has been sorely missed throughout the injury-plagued 2014.

Silva stoked the fire this week by saying that if he earns the chance to fight for the title, he will. That really shouldn’t be a surprise at this point in time because he has a long history of saying one thing and doing another.

He even said that he’d be willing to fight Weidman again if need be. However, with the UFC middleweight division populated by a top-heavy arena of elite challengers, can Silva return to the unstoppable glory days of years gone by?

At 38 years old, it will obviously be an incredibly tough challenge on the surface. Not to take away from Silva’s accomplishments as arguably the greatest fighter of all-time, but wins over names like Travis Lutter, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, and Nate Marquardt are hardly the same as the murderer’s row he’d be forced to traverse to stay atop the 185-pound division today.

He would have to beat Weidman, Vitor Belfort, Luke Rockhold, and possibly Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and/or Lyoto Machida if he was willing to fight them. By comparison, those are two incredibly stark contrasts in terms of competition. MMA has simply changed and evolved so much since those days, and middleweight now has one of the most crowded Top Fives in the sport.

Silva sustained the only two losses of his Octagon career against Weidman in 2013, and although both bouts were mired in controversy due to “The Spider’s” clowning in the first bout and injury in the second, he just didn’t have much for the young champion from Long Island.

Weidman controlled the grappling game, he knocked out Silva on the feet in the first fight, rocked him in the clinch in the rematch, and the only thing that Silva had success with, leg kicks, are most likely not as much a part of Silva’s weapons after his broken leg.

Has Silva got enough back to defeat Weidman, who seems to have more and more injuries with each passing bout? It’s hard to believe that’s true with any degree of measured certainty. If Weidman beats Belfort next February and Silva gets by Diaz as most are predicting him to do, however, we’ll probably see it happen again.

After all, it would be one of the biggest bouts in MMA history, even though trilogy bouts where one fighter has won the previous two are often tough sells. The strange endings to the first two fights would lend to the legitimacy a bit.

But if Silva were to lose, where would he go from there? He could fight Rockhold, but the former Strikeforce champion has looked quite dangerous in 2014. We’ll have to see how he does against Michael Bisping in the main event of UFC Fight Night 55.

Silva could rematch Belfort, whom he knocked out with an infamous front kick at UFC 126 in early 2011. At the end of the day, he probably just doesn’t have that many fights left.

So perhaps it is in both the UFC’s and Silva’s best interests to give him an immediate title shot if he looks good against Diaz. “The Spider” is a legend; it could be time to give him one last shot and see if he still has what it takes.

Weidman noted that Machida, who spent much of his UFC career fighting the best light heavyweights in the world, felt much stronger than Silva. And the surging “Jacare,” who has won seven straight fights, is an absolute monster right now. It seems like it would take a Mack truck to knock him out.

The deck is stacked against Silva making another illustrious title reign. He looks in great shape during his lengthy recovery, but there still doubts about his surgically repaired left tibia.

He also has nothing left to prove other than that he’s still the best. Chances may be slim that he returns to his old form, but if anyone can do it, it’s Anderson Silva.

Do you believe “The Spider” will regain the championship in this era of top-flight middleweight talent?

Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea for USA TODAY Sports