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UFC 208 Cheat Sheet: Anderson Silva vs. Derek Brunson

At 41, former middleweight champion Anderson Silva soldiers on to face Derek Brunson on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 208 in Brooklyn, New York. Getty Images

The UFC will crown its first female featherweight champion Saturday at UFC 208 in Brooklyn, New York. That much is certain.

How the division will fare beyond this weekend is less clear. The 145-pound female weight class barely exists. Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie are natural bantamweights and both have stated they intend to return to 135 pounds eventually.

ESPN.com is here to break down everything you need to know about the top two fights of this pay-per-view event, including a middleweight co-feature between former champion Anderson Silva and Derek Brunson.

Anderson Silva (33-8) vs. Derek Brunson (16-4), middleweights

Odds as of Feb. 9: Silva +125; Brunson -145


Silva: 'Fighting is my life'

More than four years have passed since Silva's last official win. And although he still looks relatively good at age 41, the all-time great is starting to approach that "What's left to prove?" territory of his career, making it feel as though a bad result could shift that talk into hyperdrive.

Seven months ago, Silva made a surprise appearance at UFC 200, accepting a bout against UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier on essentially zero notice. The bout also occurred less than two months after Silva underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder.

Silva admits that after the fight, which he lost via decision, his team urged him to be more selective moving forward. It was advice Silva doesn't necessarily intend to follow.

"My coach says, 'Anderson, you're definitely crazy,'" Silva said. "'You take fights on two days. Next time, take more time for strategy. Please, Anderson.'

"And I say to my coach, 'Come on, this is my life. Fighting is my life. I'm so happy. I'm very happy to work in the UFC. I love my job and I go to fight because this is me.'"

This weekend's matchup with Brunson is another one that seemingly came out of left field. It was only announced last month, shortly after Silva concluded an extended trip to China, where he was working on a film.

Silva, the longest-reigning champion in UFC history, seems to be in a unique phase of his career. Leading up to UFC 208, he has created headlines by oddly stating he wishes to fight Conor McGregor, whom he outweighs by more than 30 pounds. He has said he might fight another "six to seven years" and is already eyeing another bout this summer, on a rumored pay-per-view event in his native Brazil.

Even though Silva has stated the belt is no longer his motivation, he has his eye on a rematch with current middleweight champion Michael Bisping, who defeated him via decision last year in London. A win over Brunson, who is coming off a loss, wouldn't push Silva into immediate title contention -- but his résumé, and that close five-round fight against Bisping last year, is somehow keeping him in the ballpark of the opportunity.

All of this makes his fight against Brunson more meaningful than perhaps even Silva would let on. A good performance against an established 33-year-old would not just allow him to hang around title contention, it would also put up a barrier between Silva and the "What's left?" discussion.

Already this year, the UFC sent another all-time great (and one of Silva's favorite fighters), BJ Penn, into a complete mismatch against a young, up-and-coming featherweight, Yair Rodriguez. The result, a TKO loss for Penn, further endeared the Hawaiian legend to his longtime fan base, but it was hard to watch and raised questions about whether he had any business taking a five-round main event against a ranked opponent.

Silva doesn't see a comparison between his current situation and Penn's. But a poor performance this weekend could produce a similar postfight reaction.

"I could have retired a long time ago," Silva said. "It's something I love to do and I've been able to do it, along with my other projects. For years, I dedicated myself 100 percent to fighting. I was the best in the world. Right now, I'm at a new moment where I'm able to do these other things. But I still love fighting and my fighting career is not over.

"Big name [opponents], small name [opponents], it really has nothing to do with that now. I come from a time when we accepted challenges. I want to test myself and show how effective my skills and martial arts can be."


Key stats

  • Silva: 33-8 record, 1 NC (16-4, 1 NC in UFC)

  • Silva: Has not won since October 2012 (0-4, 1 NC)

  • Silva: 22 wins by knockout, 4 by submission

  • Silva: Former UFC middleweight champion (2006-13)

  • Brunson: 16-4 record (7-2 UFC)

  • Brunson: 5-fight win streak snapped in last fight

  • Brunson: 8 wins by knockout, 3 wins by submission

  • Brunson: No. 9-ranked middleweight fighter, according to ESPN.com


Breakdown

There's still a case to be made that Silva is the most brilliant martial artist in the world -- but that it comes in short flashes of offense. And between those flashes lies more peril for Silva than there used to be.

Silva essentially knocked out Bisping with flying knee one year ago, but the simple (nevertheless, very important) matter of timekeeping robbed him of a victory. And he visibly hurt the 205-pound champion with a kick at UFC 200, despite taking the fight straight off the couch. Silva still possesses a countless number of ways to inflict damage, but it should be noted he has now gone 77 consecutive minutes in the Octagon without recording a finish.

In other words, "surviving" Silva's offense is apparently more manageable these days. That's probably a combination of the caliber of opponents he has faced, the strategies those opponents have utilized and Silva's own inability to close the deal. Silva has fallen into lulls of inactivity, sometimes famously, throughout his career and since he suffered a gruesome leg injury in 2013 against Chris Weidman, one could argue he has been a little gun-shy at times.

On paper, Silva is capable of knocking Brunson out. His speed isn't quite what it once was, naturally, but thus far that has shown up more defensively than anywhere else. Brunson is a fast middleweight in his own right and carries a ton of power in his left hand, but lacks the ring craft of a Weidman or the feinting of a Bisping. It has been technique, not necessarily youthful athleticism, that bested Silva during this losing streak. The word is still out on whether Brunson has both.

Brunson's wrestling credentials are definitely worth highlighting. This is the same Brunson who is credited with three takedowns against Olympic gold medalist Yoel Romero in 2014. Silva is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but he often has content to just tie up an opponent off his back and wait for a referee to intervene. Brunson has never been submitted and he's effective at posturing up and scoring points from top position.

Based solely on skill set, give Silva a slight advantage -- as he has so often had during his career. And despite the losing streak, he still has the Anderson Silva effect -- that knack of psychologically overwhelming an opponent to the point he makes a dumb mistake and pays for it. When Silva stepped back, smiled and waved Bisping to come forward in their fight one year ago, Bisping had the experience and smarts to refuse and reset. How will Brunson react to such moments?

That said, Brunson is eight years younger, his chin is less suspect and frankly, he's a little more reliable in terms of what exactly to expect on fight night.

Prediction: Brunson via second-round knockout.


You make the call