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Fontana: Anderson Silva should move to light heavyweight

Anderson Silva has a track record of success

Anderson Silva has a track record of success in the UFC at light heavyweight. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Christopher Lee

If Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping had been judged under Pride rules during their UFC Fight Pass main event bout on Saturday in London, Silva likely would have gone home a winner.

But Pride is dead — apologies to the “Pride never die” mentality — and just about nobody allows each judge to simply pick the winner.

For all it’s faults, MMA is a 10-point must world. Each round counts equally, more or less. And because the bulk of Silva’s output that left Bisping a bloody mess was isolated to the third and fifth round, the Spider departed England with a deserved loss.

It’s fair to chalk up the first two rounds as Silva shaking off the accumulated rust of 13 months out of the cage due to a PED suspension. It’s equally fair to say if Silva had spent less time clowning and more time looking to hurt Bisping, he might have scored the finish he thought he had at the end of Round 3, when a hellacious flying knee had Silva convinced he scored a clean knockout — which he hadn’t.

Also a fair point: Silva, the former longtime UFC middleweight champion and one of the sport’s all-time greats, is getting old.

The Spider likely will be 41 by the time he competes again; his birthday is April 14. Incidentally, Saturday’s fight was his 41st in a career that dates back nearly 19 years. Aging is part of the game, and the loss to Bisping isn’t the first time Silva has looked a little older than he did in his prime.

Clearly, he can still compete at a high level. Bisping is an elite 185-pounder, and Silva is at or above the Brit’s level despite the loss. But he’s lost twice to former middleweight champion and next challenger Chris Weidman, and it’s hard to imagine he’d beat current champ Luke Rockhold at this point.

Silva simply has lost a step. He’s not as fast as he once was. The Anderson Silva of five years ago would have clowned Bisping, avoided every big strike and left his opponent crumpled on the mat. Instead, Bisping tagged Silva a number of times, and many — not all — of the Brazilian’s big strikes moved a little slower than they used to.

The current alignment of the middleweight picture has too many fighters who simply are too fast for a 40-plus Silva.

And that’s just part of the reason it’s time for Silva to abandon the division he lorded over from 2006 to 2013 and commit full-time to competing at light heavyweight.

Silva is 3-0 in the octagon at 205 pounds. His most recent win — not counting last year’s decision over Nick Diaz that was overturned — came in 2012 over Stephan Bonnar at 205. More impressive was his 2009 destruction of Forrest Griffin, in Griffin’s first bout after losing the UFC light heavyweight title.

At 205, Silva should enjoy a speed advantage over the vast majority of his peers. That could be even more pronounced if Silva doesn’t need to cut an extra 20 pounds each bout.

Current champion Daniel Cormier will be 37 when he defends his title against Jon Jones in April, evidence enough that a fighter of advanced age — from a combat sports standpoint — can rule a weight class. Even if Jones prevails for a second time, his future is at heavyweight.

Plenty of fun fights exist for Silva at the heavier weight class. Nostalgia matchups against former champions Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Rashad Evans are main event caliber, and both are still in the top 10. Powerful Anthony Johnson is a dangerous opponent, but also one who could catapult Silva into a championship fight. It’s reasonable to see Silva winning any of those matchups, and who’s to say he couldn’t upend Cormier too?

More likely than not, Silva will continue to compete at middleweight. It’s hard to blame him. He’s still capable of beating most 185ers. But if the former middleweight kingpin makes 205 his full focus, don’t be surprised if he’s fighting for the title before he turns 42.

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