Anderson Silva made a successful return to the Octagon 399 days after suffering a gruesome leg injury that threatened to end his legendary MMA career. The former UFC middleweight champion scored a one-sided unanimous decision victory over former Strikeforce and WEC welterweight champion Nick Diaz at the main event of UFC 183 at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas Nevada on Saturday night.

Shaking-off Ring Rust

The bout had an awkward start and a long feeling out moment as both fighters were coming off long-layoffs. Silva last fought at UFC 168 in December 2013 in a rematch with current UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman. During that bout, the 39 year old Brazilian legend broke his left leg while throwing a kick, causing him to lose via TKO to Weidman for the second consecutive fight. On the other hand, Diaz has been on a self-imposed hiatus since his lopsided loss to Georges St. Pierre during a UFC welterweight title bout in March 2013.

Playing Mind Games

After being unexpectedly quiet during the weeks leading to the fight, Diaz came off the gates taunting Silva who was also known as a master of mind games in the past. Diaz repeatedly put his hands down and offered his cheek to Silva, urging the Brazilian to engage. Within a minute into the fight, Diaz threw himself down to the mat as if he were knocked down and then turned his back on Silva as he stood up. He also backed-off and leaned on the fence, calling Silva out but the Spider had nothing to do with Diaz’s bizarre antics and mind games. He was too focused on getting his rhythm and confidence back.

Precise Striking

Diaz landed a couple of solid shots to Silva’s face in the competitive and entertaining first round and he mixed those punches well with leg kicks to Silva’s lead leg. But as the second round started, the volume of his punches as well as his trash talking had diminished. It wasn’t because he was out of gas, but it was perhaps out of respect for Silva’s supreme counter striking skills. The Spider was slowly starting to connect with his punching combinations. His left hand was very effective and he set it up with precise jabs and right hooks that caused Diaz’ left eye to swell. The swelling turned into a cut the following round and bled profusely at the end of the bout. Diaz was never in serious trouble at any point in the fight, but it was clear he was outgunned by the better fighter. Silva out landed Diaz in total strikes 108-80.

Breaking The Mental Barrier

Silva landed 37 out of 43 kicks, but most were from his right leg. He did throw at least one kick per round from his surgically repaired left leg, but it was obvious that he was tentative at the start of the fight. As each round passed, Silva got more comfortable. He moved lightly on his feet and circled around the octagon with ease. By the championship rounds, he was throwing high leg kicks and began kicking with his left leg with force and authority. It looked frustrating for his fans to see him struggle to put away an opponent who was a natural welterweight and who looked naturally smaller than him. But for Silva, it was more than getting the stoppage. It was about breaking the mental barrier. Silva broke down in tears after the verdict was announced by Bruce Buffer.

More Questions Than Answers

 Silva was promised a title shot if he won against Diaz, but a few days ago he said he was several fights away from being title-ready. Silva also said that he once doubted he’d be able to return to the octagon and was even discouraged by family members from making a comeback. Silva looked far from his legendary self, but it was enough to put away the game Nick Diaz.

Silva’s triumph was a moral victory, but it led to more questions than answers. He was at his pinpoint best but could he still handle the much younger middleweights like Chris Weidman? Would the leg hold up if it becomes a target or would it hold against bigger opponents? With Weidman out, will Silva fight for an interim title against Vitor Belfort who refused a Lyoto Machida offer?  Only time will answer those questions. For now, the UFC is a much better place with the greatest mixed martial artist of all time back in action.

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