(Guys, seriously, you gotta stop this or I’m gonna have a harder time hiding this erection than Jean-Claude Van Damme.)
By George Shunick
This weekend, the MGM Grand Garden Arena will host the most highly anticipated fight this year when middleweight champion Anderson Silva faces off against, err, “middleweight champion” Chael P. Sonnen. As we all know, Sonnen was the man who almost took Silva’s title at UFC 117, dismantling the champion through punishing ground and pound and even rocking MMA’s greatest striker on the feet before succumbing to a triangle choke after winning the previous 23 minutes of the fight. Following the fight, it was revealed Silva fought with a badly injured rib and Sonnen had a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio of 16.9 to 1. Regardless, due to Sonnen’s trash talk and how close their last fight was, this fight has the potential to be one of the best fights of the summer.
However, will this be the “biggest rematch in the history of the business,” as Sonnen claims? Maybe, but I doubt it. You could argue Lesnar-Mir II is more likely to be successful financially, or that Liddell-Ortiz II or Liddell-Couture II/III were more culturally significant for a burgeoning sport, but virtually all lacked such a compelling narrative or contained the level of talent featured here. Moreover, in hindsight, they were rather one-sided matchups. Edgar-Maynard II and III were probably of a higher caliber that Silva-Sonnen II will be, simply by virtue of being two of the greatest fights in the history of the sport, but lacked the hype and context that this matchup possesses.
This matchup has the potential to rank alongside Fedor-Nogueira III, which saw the two greatest heavyweights in MMA history – and the two top-ranked heavyweights at that time – fight for the Pride heavyweight title; both fights possess a historic air about them, feature top level talent, and take place within the narrative framework of a rivalry. But I still think the gold standard for a rematch will remain Jackson-Silva II, which had every ingredient you could wish for in a rematch turned up to 11. It had two of the greatest fighters in MMA history, in one of the greatest rivalries in MMA history, in one of the greatest fights in MMA history, culminating in one of the greatest knockouts in MMA history. Suffice it to say, Sonnen-Silva II has a lot to accomplish to validate Sonnen’s comments.
First, it’s important to consider the impact that Silva’s injury had on him; with an injured rib, it became much more difficult for him to stuff takedowns, land punches and utilize the head movement that is so fundamental to his counterstriking strategy. As a result, not only was Sonnen able to take Silva down at will, but he was also able to shock many observers by landing a number of heavy punches on the feet. In this contest, Silva won’t be fighting with an injured rib, so I suspect that Sonnen will not find the same success on the feet as he did in their first encounter. However, Silva may be entering the fight with a knee injury. Although he and Dana White were quick to dispute this, if the rumors are true Silva might find his mobility compromised, and evading takedowns will be difficult for him.
But to be honest, Sonnen could very well find success with his takedowns even if Silva is not injured. Sonnen is a southpaw who favors power double leg takedowns. Anderson is used to fending off single legs from opponents fighting out of an orthodox stance; as his lead leg is closer to their lead leg, it’s the more natural way for his opponent to attempt a takedown. But as Sonnen is a southpaw, his torso is more aligned with Silva’s than most fighters, and this allows him to angle for a double leg, which Silva isn’t as adept at defending. True, he was successful in this regard against Yushin Okami, but Sonnen is a more powerful and tenacious wrestler. Injuries or otherwise, Sonnen can get Silva on his back.
But it’s not going to be that simple. To do so, Sonnen still needs to get in range and that means getting in the Spider’s comfort zone. Silva is more than capable of dismantling Sonnen on the feet, but there are other dangers than merely being humiliated. Silva can use precision jabs to momentarily halt Sonnen’s progress and shift his position so he is no longer vulnerable to a takedown using his extraordinary footwork. From that advantageous position, he can land harder strikes and try to injure Sonnen, though he will probably avoid leg kicks to prevent Sonnen grabbing a hold of his leg and forcing him to the mat. If he manages to discourage Sonnen’s offensive efforts – no easy task – the Spider will win handily.
Even if Sonnen manages to take Silva down, what then? Sure, he’ll be able to land some ground and pound, but Silva’s guard will be much more efficient now that he won’t be dealing with an injured rib. The odds are that Sonnen will not be able to replicate the amount of damage he was able to do to Silva the first time around, whereas Silva will be even more capable of submitting Sonnen than he was during their last matchup. You can make all you like of Chael training with Vinny Magalhaes, but it would be as foolish to assume that a career-long flaw in Sonnen’s game will be corrected over the course of a few months as it would to assume Dana White will grow hair tomorrow.
Best case scenario, this fight is a competitive, back and forth affair that lives up to the hype and helps maintain the attention of old fans and grab new ones while the UFC undergoes its painful expansion process. If that’s the case, this would cement the Sonnen-Silva rivalry as being one of the greatest in the sport’s short history. But if Silva dominates Sonnen to the extent that he manages to utter “Where’s your wrestling now, playboy?”, their last match will be considered more of an aberration than an indication of a truly competitive struggle for supremacy atop the division. I don’t think that will happen, but I do think Silva will win after an early struggle. He won’t knock out Sonnen – or his teeth – but he will knock him down, and finish the fight via rear naked choke.
Agree or disagree, Potato Nation?