Most MMA fans shared a common experience on Saturday while watching the final round of UFC 108's the non-title main event. Knowing full well that Thiago Silva (14-2) was down on the cards and needed a KO to win, we saw him finally connect clean with Rashad Evans' (14-1-1) chin in the third minute. It was a devastating shot that landed hard enough to put Rashad on rubber legs. Then, nothing happened. Everyone expected Thiago Silva to rush in for the finish, but instead he just returned to taunting Rashad as he had been doing before. It was unfathomable and impossible to watch without cringing in embarrassment for Silva's blown opportunity.
The initial, obvious assumption to make is that Silva was too winded to pounce, which was Rashad Evans' explanation for it. While I think that is at least partly true, new information has been released from Thiago's camp indicating that he entered the octagon with a debilitating back injury.
To get to the bottom of this mystery, we need to go back in time a bit. In the weeks leading up to the fight, which took place on the most injury stricken card in UFC history, rumours began circulating that Thiago Silva would also soon pull out due to an injury. At that time, Silva's manager, Alex Davis, refuted those claims. He insisted that Silva was "%100 healthy" and ready to fight. Nowadays, Davis is singing a slightly different tune to MMAjunkie.com:
"What happened is that Thiago had a choice. His back was hurt, and he could not wrestle. He could not do takedown defense. He could not practice the exact thing that he needed most against Rashad. But we know the problems with the UFC. We could see everything that was happening, and we made the decision to take this fight and stay with it regardless of the fact that he wasn't able to come in in top shape for that kind of fight... American Top Team is a big team. You've got all these people around there, and all of a sudden you see Thiago Silva not taking part in normal practice. It gets out. I think that's pretty normal, (but) I'm not going to go and give Greg Jackson the advantage of knowing that my guy isn't in top shape. I'm not going to leave him comfortable."
Of course, it is risky to put too much stock in the litany of excuses a fighter or his management might make after a fight, but given how uncharacteristic it was of Thiago not to rush in when he had Rashad hurt and the fact that an injury to Silva had been rumoured before the fight, it's pretty safe to give story has some level of credence. In fact, Thiago should probably be commended for saving UFC 108 from completely unraveling by agreeing to compete. Speaking of excuses, Davis isn't really making any:
"Personally, due to the difference in the level of Rashad's wrestling, I don't think that in the takedown department, [being at 100 percent] would have made that much of a difference...People don't care, really, but the truth is the truth. This kid came in and he wasn't in top shape because of an injury, and he still took a very tough fight. He went at it, and he survived for those two rounds."
A classy move, indeed.