Since he first stepped into the Octagon seven years ago, picking Anderson Silva to lose has been a fool's errand.
Sixteen fights. Sixteen wins. A record.
The past 10 have been title defenses. Also a record.
In the UFC, Silva defeated every kind of fighter in all sorts of ways, and save for two decisions -- he looked bored to tears against Thales Leites and Demian Maia -- everyone was emphatically, sometimes preternaturally stopped. In fact, Silva, who turned 38 in April, hasn't had a competitive match go the distance since he went three rounds with "Lightning" Lee Murray in London in 2004.
Next in line Saturday night in Las Vegas at UFC 162 is 29-year-old American Chris Weidman. At the point Weidman made his entry into MMA, Silva had already defended the UFC middleweight belt thrice, finishing Nate Marquardt, Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson -- three of the most accomplished fighters in MMA over the past 10 years.
Weidman, by comparison, is just getting started. Yet many media, fans, trainers and fighters -- especially fighters -- have taken to speaking about the grappler from Long Island as if he's the truth, the answer and the man to end Silva's unprecedented reign.
Why? Well, a few reasons.
Mixed martial arts does not lend itself to such things as long unbeaten streaks, certainly not against the caliber of opposition Silva managed to dispatch in his time. Since the stinker against Maia in 2010, "The Spider" willed his way past bruised ribs and Chael Sonnen to score his most dramatic win, slammed a foot into Vitor Belfort's mouth and proved in a rematch that, when healthy, he's far superior to Sonnen, whose wrestling-heavy style was thought to be problematic for the long-legged Brazilian.
There were no signs of slowing, no fraying of accuracy and speed. Yet Silva, nearing 40, can't continue to do what he's done. He has to get old eventually. This is the thinking, at least.
Coupled with what Weidman appears capable of and you begin to get a sense for why the UFC sent out a press release on Monday touting no less than 18 fighters, including several current and former champions, engaging in the previously foolish game of picking against Silva.
"Anderson has shown one weakness -- he can be controlled on the ground by powerful wrestlers -- and Weidman is the most powerful wrestler there is in the division," said former heavyweight champion Frank Mir. "Everyone is making the comparison to Chael Sonnen, but while Chael controlled Anderson on the ground and landed shots, he couldn't hurt Anderson and that was his undoing. Weidman can hurt Anderson with ground-and-pound and he can submit Anderson."
True, when Weidman lands a punch or an elbow, it tends to be damaging. Moreover, where Sonnen succumbed several times to low submission IQ, Weidman appears acutely aware of where he is on the floor relative to his opponents.
So you have a potent grappler, with terrific top control, who can land thudding strikes on the floor. As Mir made clear, Weidman possesses all the makings of a terrible matchup for Silva.
On top of his strength, smarts and preparation, Weidman possesses the confidence of a man who has never tasted defeat in a cage.
This can be a powerful elixir.
But does any of it make him the toughest test of Silva's iconic career? Is Weidman more capable of beating Silva than Henderson? Than Belfort?
How can anyone possibly know based on Weidman's body of work, which one year ago added a destruction of Mark Munoz to the New Yorker's ledger? (It should be noted that Munoz was ravaged by injuries, and his reputation as a dominant MMA wrestler is belied by the takedown statistics.)
Silva has said he doesn't know, nor does he care, whether or not Weidman should be perceived as the greatest threat to this title. He has faced all comers and dispatched all comers, and this, appropriately, is his frame of reference for what happens in the Octagon.
Still, as the fight approaches, consensus seems to hold that Weidman possesses the antidote to Silva's venom. Silva's manager Ed Soares isn't clear why. Not after everything he's seen his fighter do in the cage. Perhaps, Soares said, Weidman is the "great white hope." And he would be within his rights to wonder that sort of thing. The promotion of mixed martial arts lends itself to hyperbole. To the grandiose. So many matchups and cards and events are the best. Until the next.
This train of thought does not include Silva. We know what he is, and what he has been for years.
"My concern is to better myself," Silva said. "My opponent doesn't matter. I want to overcome everything."
Because he has, at least in the UFC, which is where his reputation has been cemented, it's no stretch or hyperbole to call him the greatest of all-time.
"He's done things no one has done in this sport," Weidman said of Silva.
Nonetheless, Weidman's numerous skills and traits lend the challenger something beyond the air of hope against this type of monumental challenge. Hope is necessary, because without it he wouldn't have a shot. And on any given night, that's all a fighter needs.