Jack Slack has produced a thorough analysis of how to beat Anderson Silva:
Something which should have become apparent in Anderson Silva’s fights with Demian Maia, Patrick Cote and Thales Leites is that Silva is almost completely averse to leading. Leading, in striking terms, is to attack first, and it is something which Anderson Silva very rarely does with the actual intention of hurting his opponent. Most of Anderson’s leads are simply intended to draw an attack from the opponent which he can counter without worrying about being taken down.
The reasons for this are two-fold: Silva does his best work on the counter, and Silva’s early career was plagued by being taken down off of his offense. Daiju Takase took Silva down as Silva lunged at him with a jab, as did Tetsuji Kato. In fact much of Anderson Silva’s earlier career was spent on the offensive, backing opponents into corners and winging punches at them, attempting to physically stuff their shots as they dived under his punches. It was a very hit and miss game, and is completely alien when watched next to the Anderson Silva of today.
Notice here, against Tetsuji Kato, Anderson is trying to implement a traditional sprawl and brawl strategy, rather than his modern, movement based one. In the octagon, Anderson has been able to develop a style in which he can simply move backward and try to draw his opponent’s strikes. In the ring and during his pre-UFC career, the traditional mindset was that strikers should go foward, cut off the ring, attack, and try to sprawl on the opponent. Wanderlei Silva and Cro Cop were enormously strong and able to pummel for underhooks on anyone. Anderson, a much less stocky fighter, struggled with this. Notice how he throws a body kick from far too close, which Kato simply smothers and takes him down off of.
Improvements in wrestling skill did not alleviate this problem, improvements in strategy did. Silva very rarely leads with commited strikes today. Anderson’s sprawl looks excellent when he is defending a wild shot, but he is not a great sprawler while on offense. You will notice that when Silva’s opponents do not lead, he tends to stick to long, showy strikes that cause little physical damage but win him points with the hope that this will force the opponent to come forward later in the fight. He will very rarely step in with power strikes against an opponent who has not acted first. Some of Anderson’s signature leads are the long jab, the thrust kick to the knee and the spinning back kick. All very long techniques which are hard for the opponent to score the takedown off of.
The top two frames show Anderson’s modern kicking game against competent grapplers — focusing on the calf. A kick on the thigh can be caught or forced to ride up the leg into the hand of the opponent, Anderson does this himself (most notably against James Irvin), but a kick on the calf is almost impossible to catch. Also the distance between the two fighters is much greater — giving Silva time to sprawl without committing too much to the attack. The middle left frame shows Silva’s spinning back kick — a powerful strike which forces the opponent to stay at a distance. It is very hard to smother a spinning back kick and clinch — the kick is simply too powerful and long.
The middle right frame shows another low, low kick — this time to the shin of Maia. This kick is rather counter-intuitive because it is a shin on shin collision — something that is to be avoided at all costs in Muay Thai — but it scored points. The bottom left frame shows Anderson’s jab — notice how far back his hips are as he leans forward at the waist. This is not a powerful jab, or one that is correct by traditional standards — but if Maia attempts to duck under and shoot (as most grapplers would) Anderson is already half way to a sprawl. All he needs to do is move his front leg back, level with his rear leg and Maia will have an impossible task in finishing his shot. This is an important development in Andersons game — Daiju Takase took Anderson down as Anderson attempted to land a powerful jab. Anderson sprawled on Takase, but was unsuccessful and was taken down and submitted. His modern jab, which is not a committed power punch, makes it much easier for Anderson to sprawl effectively by keeping his hips away from his opponent. The final frame is Anderson’s side kick to the knee — Bruce lee was a major proponent of this technique because it is the longest technique against the closest target. It is also almost impossible to catch.
While there is no denying that Silva’s wrestling has improved, the vast majority of improvement have come from his counter-striking style against grapplers. They cannot shoot from out in the open because Anderson can simply run backwards, they cannot corner him because there are no sharp corners in the octagon (unlike in Anderson’s early career), and so they are forced to strike their way towards him. Often they do this by timidly jabbing which normally results in Silva mugging and avoiding all their blows. After Silva had dropped a round to Chael Sonnen, he came out for the second round with a visible urgency; immediately throwing power punches at Sonnen. As soon as he threw a hard kick, Sonnen took him down with ease. This wasn’t Sonnen’s elite wresting, this was Anderson’s tactical error. As Silva was flustered and needed to make up for a dismal first round, he abandoned the safe tactics which have made him such a force against most grapplers.
Notice how Anderson is clearly too close to kick safely, yet does so because he is flustered and wants to hurt Sonnen. The kick connects before it reaches it’s ideal velocity and rotation, and is therefore muffled and easy for Sonnen to catch.
Anderson Silva’s refusal to strike first is an integral part of his style, and when he does lead it is almost always with techniques designed to keep his weight away from the opponent and encourage them to strike back at him. This reluctance to lead does not hurt Silva in most fights because nobody is going to outpoint Silva, and point deductions for inactivity are very rare. Patrick Cote attempted to force Silva to lead, but ultimately accomplished little.
Is there any way this reluctance to lead can be exploited? Not really. But if Anderson can be flustered, by dropping a round convincingly, he will be forced to lead — and that will expose him to the takedowns that he avoids so well when he is patient.
There’s much more.