Editorial Spotlight | Why Chael Sonnen Will Defeat Anderson Silva (Again) at UFC 148
Every generation has its popular myths. From the body humors of ancient Greece and Rome to man-made global warming today, some boneheaded beliefs refuse to die quick deaths, waiting instead on history to correct them.
One such bit of snake oil being peddled today is the popular, but fatally flawed, idea that UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva will defeat consensus #1 contender Chael Sonnen in their highly-anticipated UFC 148 rematch July 7. As the story goes, Silva had an injured rib in the first bout, while Sonnen was hopped up on testosterone; in their rematch, Silva will quickly dispatch Sonnen, either via submission or KO.
If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in buying.
Let me get one thing out of the way, Silva is a fantastic fighter who is rightly considered one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. But the fight game is a game of matchups. For every guy you can knock out with a kick to the face, there’s another guy who will put you on your ass and punch you 300 times. Such is the world of mixed martial arts, and Sonnen, to be sure, is in the latter category.
Here, then, is my list of reasons why Sonnen will prevail over Silva in their rematch.
Sonnen’s Promise to his Late Father and his Destiny
Anyone who’s seen enough Sonnen interviews knows his father died of cancer years ago, but not before Chael promised him that he would win a world championship in his honor. This goal of winning a world title has since become the focal point of Sonnen’s life, as made clear by his remarks in the WEC and UFC and in the pages of his semi-autobiographical book “The Voice of Reason.” Sonnen, however, hasn’t achieved the feat. At least not yet.
Let’s not forget that two weeks ago, LeBron James hadn’t won an NBA title yet. Just because something’s highly anticipated, and the wait is long, doesn’t mean that it won’t eventually happen. Like James, Sonnen appears to be on a collision course with destiny that setbacks will not deter. Like James, love the guy or hate the guy, you cannot make Sonnen go away. And like James, Sonnen simply wants it more than anybody else.
Look at what Sonnen had to go through to get where he’s at. He pummeled Silva for four rounds in their first contest, only to be submitted in the waning minutes. Sonnen was subsequently suspended by the CSAC and convicted of felony money laundering. These things alone would break other men, but Sonnen responded with a vengeance, beating two Top 10 opponents in a row and solidifying his #1 contender status.
Sonnen is here, facing Silva for the world title that he promised his father he would win, because he belongs here, because this is his destiny. And there’s precious little you, or I, or even Anderson Silva can do about it.
Sonnen has Already Beaten Silva Once Before
To be clear, by “beaten” I mean that Sonnen imposed his will on Silva in their first contest, landing more than 300 punches on the champion and cracking the veneer of invincibility that has cloaked Silva throughout his UFC career. Perhaps more importantly, Sonnen is the only man to have ever done this to the champion, the only man to utterly dominate Silva for the better part of five rounds, and I believe the only man currently in the middleweight division who has the skill set to finally defeat him. Yes, Silva got the W in their first contest, but at what cost? How will his confidence against Sonnen be affected this time around? And more importantly, will Silva be able to land another Hail Mary submission again? Methinks not.
Sonnen exposed holes in Silva’s game people hadn’t seen before, laying them bare before the world. The man who was thought bulletproof now appeared human. Questions that were unanswered before their UFC 117 showdown were given clear answers. Yes, Sonnen can take Silva down. Yes, Sonnen can successfully work his ground and pound. And no, Silva didn’t have much of an answer for Sonnen’s wrestling, except for maybe the Spider’s submissions. But even that might not be enough the second time around, because …
Sonnen has Improved Submission and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Skills
Do the words Vinny Magalhães mean anything to you? If they don’t, they should. The ADCC submission wrestling gold medalist, world Jiu-Jitsu champion, and one time M-1 Global light heavyweight champion spent weeks with Sonnen tightening up the challenger’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills. Yes, the same Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that Sonnen has been mocking for more than two years now.
Magalhães believes Sonnen will win the Silva fight by submission. Is there any truth to that boast? I don’t know, but ask Brian Stann what he thinks about Sonnen’s submissions. Or better yet, watch that one-sided fight if you’ve got nine minutes to burn.
Frankly, more than landing submissions, it will be avoiding triangle chokes and armbars that will present Sonnen’s biggest challenge. Yet for all the talk about how weak Sonnen’s submission defense is, he successfully avoided a submission for four-and-a-half rounds in his previous contest with Silva. Who’s to say he can’t do that for a full five rounds this time? And if the best defense is a good offense, Sonnen has plenty of weapons in his arsenal to help …
Constant Pressure, Olympic-Caliber Wrestling Will Prove too Much for Silva
The way Sonnen and Silva approach the first moments of a fight couldn’t provide any more of a contrast. Silva often starts slow, circles the cage and seeks to feel his opponent out and gauge his range. In time, this gives way to Silva dropping his hands, moving his head, and maybe even clowning his opponent before unleashing the lethal precision strikes he’s known for.
Sonnen comes out like a bull, gets in his opponent’s face, and doesn’t allow the guy to feel out much of anything, except for the canvas, on which he’ll likely end up within the first minute. Sonnen’s an NCAA Division I All-American, an Olympic alternate, and a men’s Greco-Roman wrestling silver medalist. The man eats and breaths wrestling and dominates fights with his takedowns.
Contrarians will say “Sonnen’s wrestling and takedowns didn’t look so hot against Michael Bisping,” and admittedly, they didn’t. But Sonnen isn’t fighting Bisping, he’s fighting Silva, and I’ve got 23 minutes of video to illustrate just how much better Sonnen’s wrestling is than Silva’s. Unless Silva has magically figured out how to stop Sonnen’s takedowns, the 37-year-old champion will be in for a long night July 7.
Sonnen’s Striking is Grossly Underrated
There is this crazy idea out there that Sonnen is pillow-fisted and can only win fights by tackling guys and leg humping them. If you hear anyone making this argument, it’s best to not even talk to them, because reason means nothing to a fool. Whether it’s Diaz-style pepper punches or significant strikes, Sonnen is landing them in far greater numbers than his opponents.
Our friends at FightMetric can help me better make this point, which I am perhaps inartfully making. Against Bisping, Sonnen landed 135 total strikes to Bisping’s (who is a kickboxer) 102. He also landed more significant strikes, 40 to 30. Against Stann, it was worse, with Sonnen landing 106 total strikes to Stann’s 24. Sonnen landed 28 significant strikes to Stann’s two.
This list goes on and on and on. Sonnen outstruck Nate Marquardt 214 to 37, landing 39 significant strikes to Marquardt’s 11. Against Yushin Okami, he had 144 total strikes to Okami’s 29, landing 91 significant strikes to Okami’s 25. Sonnen outstruck Dan Miller 133 to 32, landing 36 significant strikes to Miller’s nine.
Perhaps most telling are his numbers against Silva. In their first fight, Sonnen landed 320 total strikes to Silva’s 64, and 89 significant strikes to Silva’s 29.
And you may not have seen it lately, but Sonnen has won seven fights by KO or TKO in his career. Admittedly, Silva is no Kyacey Uscola or Tim Credeur, and perhaps few people expect Sonnen to knock Silva out, but Sonnen won’t get knocked out either. The challenger has never truly been knocked out in an MMA fight, and Silva won’t be the first to do so.
History Will Repeat Itself for Sonnen, not Silva
Silva fans will tell you that the Spider won his first fight with Sonnen, and next month, he’ll do the same. That’s not how I see history repeating itself.
Instead of 2010, let’s go back to 2007, when Sonnen fought undefeated, all-world Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu badass Paulo Filho for the WEC middleweight strap, eventually losing to Filho by controversial submission in a fight Sonnen was dominating. Sound familiar? Sonnen would destroy the WEC champion (again) in their rematch, winning a unanimous decision, but not the title, as a bloated Filho failed to make weight.
Sonnen looks to — and will — do the same thing in July by besting Silva, a BJJ master and world champion who is as-of-yet undefeated in the UFC. Being more of a professional than Filho, you can bet that Silva will show up on weight to the contest. And for his efforts, Sonnen will further help him trim some fat, as he relieves Silva of the 12 lbs. of gold that have been encumbering the Spider’s waist for too long now.
Pass the Testosterone, Please
Is allowing some athletes to utilize testosterone replacement therapy fair? I don’t have the answer to that question, which is beyond the scope of this column, nor am I (or most fight fans for that matter) an expert on the subject.
Here’s what I do know. Sonnen will be allowed to use TRT prior to his bout with Silva. He was granted a therapeutic use exemption in May due to his hypogonadism, and even Nevada’s own consulting physician, Dr. Timothy Trainor, said Sonnen should be granted a TUE. The NSAC will require Sonnen to cease testosterone injections at some point prior to the event, and will test him the morning after the contest, to make sure everything is on the up-and-up.
Does this give Sonnen an edge going into the Silva fight? I don’t know; maybe so. But those of us fortunate enough to not suffer from such a medical condition cannot fully appreciate how much of a setback it truly is. What is clear is that Sonnen was granted his TUE, consulting physicians agreed to and even recommended the exemption, and whatever disadvantages he may face on fight night, abnormally-low levels of testosterone won’t be among them. Advantage Sonnen.
What Happens in Vegas (is Better for Sonnen)
Sonnen in many ways seemed disappointed when his rematch with Silva was moved from Brazil to Las Vegas. But believe you me, he shouldn’t be. Yes, selling out soccer stadiums and setting attendance records is fine and good, but wouldn’t winning the title be better? Consider the facts.
The challenger is 5-1 in contests occurring in Las Vegas, with his only loss coming to Filho, which he avenged. However, in fights occurring outside the U.S., Sonnen’s record is a less glamorous 3-2-1. And take away the pushover Bodog fights in Costa Rica and Canada, and Sonnen’s record outside the U.S. stands at 0-2-1.
My point isn’t that Sonnen can’t win fights outside the U.S., it’s just that he’s less likely to, statistically speaking. Thus, the change from Brazil to Vegas, which Sonnen calls “the fight capital of Earth,” is a very good thing if you’re a Sonnen fan.
Sonnen Represents Hope and Change
Some in the political sphere make promises and throw around buzzwords like hope and change, but don’t deliver. Bumbling chief executives aside, Sonnen represents a sea change from Silva, a new regime that will put a refreshing new face on the middleweight division.
Sonnen is colorful, articulate, interesting, and even polarizing, but all in a way that makes fight fans want to tune in and see what he will do next. Many fans love Sonnen, and others despise him, but very few are indifferent to him. Moreover, the challenger is media savvy in a way the champion is not. Where Silva offers garbled Portuguese and an interpreter, Sonnen offers clever, intellectual humor, often spoken in verse.
Plus, people get tired of the same things over and over again. Filet mignon might sound good, but how about having one three meals a day, seven days a week, four weeks a month, 12 months a year? At some point, what was once good loses its flavor. What once satisfied fails to satisfy. This is the law of diminishing returns.
Silva has been champion since 2006, and he’s been a hell of a champion. But six years is a long time, and perhaps it’s time for some change at the very top of the UFC middleweight division. Many feel that change is coming. Silva himself has been openly talking about retirement and his increasing age. He’s said he isn’t looking for a superfight with UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones, because he doesn’t think he’d win.
Who better to pass the torch to than the hungry Sonnen, who has made clear he won’t rest until he wins a world title? And if Sonnen wins and Silva isn’t ready to retire, how cool would a rubber match be? Change, my friends, is in the air.
Sonnen has Nothing to Lose
In the end, it all comes back to the promise Sonnen made to his father before the elder Sonnen left this Earth: that Chael Sonnen would one day be world champion. In the intervening years, things both good and bad happened to Sonnen, who has seen his fortunes change with the winds of circumstance.
Not too long ago, you could argue that Sonnen didn’t need fighting. He was a successful realtor, he was making inroads into Oregon Republican politics, and he was also a fighter. He not only had a lot going on, but he was successful in multiple avenues of his life. Then disaster struck, not just in the form of the TRT scandal, but more damningly, in the form of a federal money laundering conviction.
Now, not only is Sonnen no longer a force in Oregon politics, he can’t even vote. A successful career in realty? Sonnen no longer has a realtor’s license. Doors that Sonnen once found wide open have slammed in his face. All, that is, but one …
Sonnen’s UFC career, as we all know, is alive and well. But therein also lies the rub. If Sonnen is to succeed, it must be on this stage. He can’t succeed in politics or real estate; that part of his life is over. But he’s still got fighting, and perhaps more importantly, he’s got nothing to lose. Sonnen isn’t passing up other opportunities to focus on fighting — fighting is all he has left.
There are only a handful of opportunities like this in a man’s life, and Sonnen is about to have his second shot at the UFC middleweight strap. There is no guarantee he’ll ever get a third. I am convinced Sonnen won’t need it, that he’ll make the most of this opportunity.
For his part, Silva has had six years of gold and glory, six years of holding onto what Sonnen wants as his own. The fact remains that at some point, Silva will no longer be the middleweight champion, and regardless of when that time comes, his career will be seen as an unmitigated success. Sonnen, however, is still on the outside looking in, still hungry for the title.
Come July 7, I believe all that changes. My prediction? Sonnen by unanimous decision.