In hyping UFC 117′s main event, the UFC is doing their best to convince fans that Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen won’t be as painful to watch as Silva’s last three middleweight title defenses against Demian Maia, Thales Leites, and Patrick Cote. Sonnen has the perfect style to beat Silva (so the story goes) and Chael’s outlandish trash talk might even inspire the champion to actually handle his business in the cage for a change. Do you buy it? I’m not quite convinced yet — personally, I think all the factors that made Silva’s fight against Maia so awful are also present in the Sonnen matchup — but in the interest of fairness, I figured I’d lay out both sides of the argument. First, why Silva vs. Sonnen will be another infuriating bust…
1. Silva Will Want to Avoid the Mat at All Costs
From a technical perspective, what made Silva’s fights against Demian Maia and Thales Leites so dull? Silva understood that those fighters posed their only threats on the ground, and he simply refused to allow the fights to go in that direction, which is something you can get away with when you’re a genius on your feet. Silva can’t be baited into going to the mat if he doesn’t want to, and he won’t full-out brawl with a grappler, and run the risk of getting grabbed and taken down. So he keeps his distance, landing a punch to the knee once in a while just to keep himself entertained. As a wrestler, Chael Sonnen’s attack is a little different — he wants to be on top and grind you down — but winning fights still means landing a takedown and turning the action horizontal, and Silva knows that. So if you’re expecting a firefight between these two, keep dreaming. It’ll be another stick-and-move-and-move-and-move-and-move-and-move exhibition from the champ.
2. Silva Doesn’t Handle Insults Well
We all want to believe that Silva will respond to Sonnen’s trash-talk with brutality. That’s kind of how this narrative goes — Chael has been throwing rocks at a hornet’s nest, and he’s about to get stung the fuck up. Oh, if only. After UFC 112, Ed Soares explained Silva’s odd performance by saying Anderson felt personally disrespected by the things Maia said before the fight. Of course, Maia only said he was going to take one of the Spider’s eight limbs home with him — in between repeated claims that Silva is the best, most complete fighter in the world — but that was enough, apparently, to make Silva want to spend five rounds clowning Maia with an interpretive dance routine while verbally taunting him. Punching and kicking rarely seemed to cross his mind. So what will happen when Silva is faced with an opponent who has actually insulted him? I think Silva will want to humiliate Sonnen, but he’ll do it his way — dancing like a jackass and refusing to engage. Maybe the dancing will be even more ferocious this time, but the general strategy won’t be any different.
3. Silva Doesn’t Consider Sonnen a Worthy Challenger
One of the most common explanations for Silva’s horrible showings in his recent middleweight title fights is that he’s bored. Could there be something to that explanation? Perhaps the reason Anderson has sleepwalked through every 185-pound fight since his battle with Dan Henderson in March 2008 was because he hasn’t fought anybody like Dan Henderson since then. Cote, Leites, and Maia could all be described as one-dimensional fighters who didn’t have a mandate on #1 contendership. As for Sonnen, Ed Soares didn’t think he earned his shot yet. Silva has already dismissed Sonnen as a bit of an idiot who brings nothing new to the table. At this point, the only things that seem to motivate Silva are true competitive challenges. Silva knows he’s a better fighter than Chael Sonnen, and the opportunity to shut Chael’s mouth might not be a great enough incentive.
But hold on — could we be wrong? Will this finally be the fight that gets Anderson Silva to defend his belt with some measure of enthusiasm? Possibly. Here are three reasons why…
1. Silva’s Been Warned
Dana White was clearly upset after the Cote and Leites fiascos, but after being thoroughly embarrassed in Abu Dhabi by Silva’s non-fight against Maia, White really laid down the law, claiming that he will cut Silva if he puts in one more bizarre performance, champion or not. The UFC president is tired of making excuses for his main events and apologizing to the fans. Silva, who’s never been a substantial PPV draw, has now officially become a liability. Even he must understand that it’s time to fight like a freakin’ normal person, or else.
2. Brazilian Pride
As we pointed out earlier, UFC 117 is going to be well-stocked with Brazilian fighters, who will surely want to see Anderson take home a big win in the main event. Whatever the Portuguese equivalent of "kick his ass!" is, Silva will be hearing that all night in the dressing room. National pride is on the line — something that wasn’t a factor during his fights against fellow Brazilians Demian Maia and Thales Leites. Maybe that will be enough to convince Silva to end the night dramatically.
3. Sonnen Doesn’t Know the Meaning of ‘Buttflopping’
Okay, this is going to sound ridiculous, but maybe Chael Sonnen does have the perfect style to beat Silva. He’ll be under no illusions that he can hang with Silva standing. We all know that buttflopping into guard doesn’t work against Silva, and Sonnen wouldn’t try that approach anyway, you know, because he’s a Republican. His only hope — and the only thing Sonnen really knows how to do — is to push forward and shoot, shoot, shoot.
The last time we saw Silva clearly lose a round was when Dan Henderson took him down in the first frame of their fight at UFC 82; Hendo then spent the majority of the round covering Silva’s mouth and nose with one hand and smashing him with the other. This is basically what Sonnen will be trying to accomplish. You don’t think he can pull it off? You probably didn’t think he could pull it off against Nate Marquardt. Sonnen is not a timid fighter, and getting his forehead split open doesn’t deter him from his goals. He’ll be bringing Silva the kind of pressure that the champ hasn’t seen in a long time. And it might be enough to get Silva to snap out of whatever haze he’s in and start swinging again.