(The world’s "top pound-for-pound fighter" in the midst of proving his greatness at UFC 117. PicPops: Esther Lin/Fanhouse)
Whatever “demon effigy” Anderson Silva and Ed Soares really do worship, he certainly turned out to be the better God on Saturday night. If nothing else, Silva’s prayers were answered at UFC 117 when his Hail Mary triangle choke somehow found the mark around Chael Sonnen’s neck with a minute, 50 seconds left in a fight the challenger had dominated for four complete rounds. Sonnen kind of tapped, referee Josh Rosenthal kind of stopped the fight and Silva kind of proved he is still the best 185-pound fighter in the world. So much for the vengeful Christian God that Republican wrestlers from Oregon prance and dance in front of, we guess.
There will no doubt be more than a couple breathless accounts of Silva’s “miraculous comeback” in the MMA media during the next few days, but let’s make no mistake here: Anderson Silva’s greatness was not on display Saturday night. In fact, if the UFC’s so-called “performance-based bonuses” are actually in any way based on performance, Big DW should take that $120,000 he evenly split between the two main eventers for “Fight of the Night” and give about $90,000 of it to Sonnen. Because really, only one guy had the “fight of the night” at UFC 117. The other guy just sort of got lucky.
Instead, it was Silva who walked away from last night’s presser with $120K in total bonus money after his Doug Flutie moment also netted him the “Submission of the Night” award. The champ shared that honor with Matt Hughes, who prior to the end of the main event seemed to have the prize for the night’s most surprising sub locked up for himself. How Silva managed to have just about every hole in his game thoroughly revealed and exploited and still walk away with not one, but two bonus checks, we’ll never know. Chalk it up to another part of his “legendary” night, we suppose.
Yesterday, we published what seemed at the time like an overly optimistic hypothesis that Sonnen had a chance to beat Silva if he could fight a perfect fight. Honestly, we didn’t think for a second the guy would come so close to actually doing it. But there was Sonnen last night, not just beating Silva, but downright outclassing the man many regard as the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter for 20-plus minutes. In the process, Sonnen inspired some pretty uncomfortable feelings deep down in our brains’ hearts: We actually felt good for the guy, excited for him and when it was over we felt a great deal of empathy for him. As of about 7 p.m. last night, we wouldn’t have thought any of that possible.
The reason Sonnen’s performance was so stirring was not just because he appeared to be doing exactly what he said he was going to do in the fight – “dump Silva on his prissy ass and beat a hole in his face” – but also because it was a kind of bout we’ve never seen Silva in before. In the past, the middleweight champ has been criticized for being unmotivated, for being ill prepared and for showing a concerted lack of urgency in the cage. That’s not at all what happened at UFC 117. At UFC 117, Sonnen and Silva both showed up and tried their hardest and guess what? For nearly the entire fight, Sonnen was the better man.
In the end though, the Oregon wrestler did as the Oregon wrestler usually does. He got tapped out. Taking people down and letting them catch him in subs is basically the story of Chael Sonnen’s career. Eight of his 11 total losses have now come by some form of arm bar or choke. We’d say that’s a fair enough sample size to conclusively prove that Sonnen has a submission problem. Shoring that up might be something he’ll want to check out.
It also would not be totally accurate to say Sonnen “backed up” much of his prefight trash talk with his performance, since most of his promotional blather had nothing to do with fighting or with reality. No, the true greatness of Sonnen’s domination of Silva was that for those 23 minutes he managed to divorce himself from the Bobby “The Brain” Heenan character he’d been playing for the past few months and, just, fight. He fought his ass off. He fought the fight of his life which, when it was all over, wasn’t quite good enough to steal the UFC middleweight title.
We’d love to sit here and tell you that our lasting memory of Sonnen will be of the shockingly contrite and humble guy we saw in the cage and at the press conference following the loss. The guy who said he was “devastated” and heartbroken over the defeat. Unfortunately, we know that’s not the case. Give Sonnen a day or two to turn this one over in his mind and he’ll probably decide he never tapped out. He could decide that his loss was the result of a vast conspiracy against him. Hell, he might even decide that wasn’t even him in the cage at UFC 117.
Whatever happens, we sincerely hope we can all refrain from spazzing out about how great Anderson Silva’s “comeback” was last night. We hope we can give Sonnen the credit (and some of the disdain because, seriously dude, another triangle?) he deserves. If we can’t, well, maybe Chael Sonnen was right about us all along. Maybe we really are just a bunch of Anderson Silva marks.