("All that punching and kicking is fine for some people. It just seems a little showy for my tastes." PicProps: MMALinker.com)
In some ways, you’ve really got to hand it to Chael Sonnen. Not only has the relentless torrent of bullshit that has spewed from his mouth during the last few months done a remarkable job rekindling the public’s interest in Anderson Silva, but it’s also distracted just about everybody from asking the one question that really matters about tonight’s UFC 117 main event: Does Sonnen have a chance in hell to actually win?
Answer: Yes, but he’s going to have to play it perfectly.
Given the sheer amount of nonsensical yell-talking Sonnen’s done prior to this bout, it would be a fool’s errand to go back and try to ferret out exactly how he’s prepared himself for the biggest fight of his life. He said earlier this week that he hadn’t yet watched any tape on Silva, said previously that he had “a strategy that’s never been beaten” in store for the champ and implied that he plans to simply will himself through Silva’s murderous striking attacks using toughness and rough-hewn country pride.
Of course, we have to assume all of that is lies.
Sonnen may well be out of his mind, but he’s not stupid. He knows if he spends more than 30 seconds on his feet exchanging punches with Silva, the fight’s over. He knows if he gets stuck in the clinch accepting knees to the grille, the fight’s over. He damned sure knows if he gets careless or tired or just a little bit sloppy … yeah, the fight’s over. Better than anyone else, Sonnen knows that his only chance to win this fight is to keep “The Spider” off his feet as much as possible. In fact, when Sonnen recently announced his intention to come out and “put Anderson on his prissy ass” with wrestling, it might’ve been the only true thing to come out of his mouth during the last six weeks.
The good news for Sonnen is that historically he’s been pretty good at forcing his opponents to play that game. When Sonnen loses fights, its typically by submission from the top – dude still acts like he’s never even heard of an arm bar – and despite that vaunted Nogueira black belt we’re always hearing about, Silva’s only tapped one guy with an actual submission hold in his entire career. That means that maybe, just maybe, if Sonnen can put Silva on his back and rough him up the same way he did Nate Marquardt in his last UFC fight, he has a glimmer of hope.
For his own sake, let’s hope training partner Matt Lindland sat Sonnen down and forced him to watch the first round of Dan Henderson’s fight with Silva at UFC 82 a couple hundred times. The one thing Hendo did right in that bout in March of 2008 was that he used the champion’s customary feeling-out period at the opening of the first to pressure Silva just enough to allow for a takedown before “The Spider” kicked things into high gear. Henderson won that first round, during which Silva did little more than hang on from half-guard and then lock up a defensive body triangle to keep Henderson from posturing up after the champ scrambled to full guard inside the last minute. Result: 10-9 Hendo.
In the second an emboldened Henderson tried to slug a bit too much with Silva and paid for it in short order. Let’s hope Lindland told Sonnen there was no second round, that both Henderson and Silva decided to call it good and just went home after the first, because in order to win tonight, Sonnen needs to repeat Hendo’s first round performance and ignore what he did in the second.
Can he do it? Maybe. Can he do it five times? Well, odds makers and gamblers sure don’t think so. After opening as a flat 3-1 underdog, betting websites now list the Oregon wrestler at anywhere from +325 to +380. Bodog.com has a straight bet on Silva going off at -500. That certainly does not inspire confidence.
But the truth is, we’ve never seen what happens when someone is able to take Silva down and pound on him for three or four rounds. We have no idea how he might respond to that and Sonnen is the first guy in Silva’s last five trips to the Octagon who has a real chance to implement that strategy. Are we ready to start talking about the great and terrible possibilities of a Chael Sonnen title reign? Hardly. But if he comes out and fights smart tonight, he has an opportunity to at least make things interesting.