Tonight is the night that UFC fans have waited for since 3:10 into Round 5 on August 7, 2010. Anderson Silva attempts to defend his title against the only man to thoroughly whip him inside the Octagon, “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen, at UFC 148.
How big is the hype on this fight? At the official weigh-ins, Joe Rogan repeatedly referred to the fight as the biggest fight in UFC history. The card could exceed the estimated 1,600,000 Pay-Per-View buys of UFC 100, which featured the Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir rematch.
The normally stoic Silva has been frustrated, aggravated, infuriated, and insulted by Sonnen almost continually since the buildup to the first fight. Silva has finally responded, calling Sonnen disrespectful and threatening to beat the challenger’s face in. Emotion has exploded from Silva, culminating with a shoulder shot to the face at the UFC 148 weigh-ins.
“The Spider” has made his UFC run look easy. Many of the stats that Sonnen dominated in (strikes landed, time spent on top) were double the totals accumulated by all of Silva’s opponents throughout his UFC career. He has made the likes of Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin, Nate Marquardt, and Rich Franklin look like silly children in a playpen. His highlight reel knockouts and submissions have appeared in nearly every generic UFC promotional video.
But Sonnen is a man determined, and Silva is a man now out of his element. The typically respectful Silva has reached his breaking point after taking years of abuse focused toward his personal life, professional career, and native country. After the shoulder shove to Sonnen’s face at the UFC 148 weigh-ins, the aggravation was clear on the champion’s face. He’s ticked off and no longer interested in a fair game.
Meanwhile, Sonnen was the guy who looked the part of the champ. He took the shot and stood his ground. There was no emotion on his face, and during the post-stare-down interview, he delivered his carefully crafted monologue as if nothing happened. Sonnen was the epitome of stoicism, the same as he’s always been, while Silva seemed to be entering full rage mode.
That’s exactly how Chael wanted it.
Sonnen is a high level wrestler, an All-American from the University of Oregon, and an alternate for Team USA at the Olympics. While most opponents have shied away from taking down Anderson Silva because of his proficiency in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Sonnen attacked with his ground game in the first fight.
Still, he led with his boxing. He stepped inside Silva’s three-inch reach advantage and delivered some nice straight lefts, then closed the distance with aggressive takedowns. He didn’t sit back and let “The Spider” dictate the pace, instead pushing it himself. Sonnen will likely try to use a similar gameplan tonight.
Chael Sonnen’s weakness has always been submission defense. It has been his Achilles heel throughout his career, and he has been submitted eight times. He gave up a lot of opportunities throughout the first bout, but stayed calm and composed, methodically working his way out of all except the last.
For Sonnen to win, he must avoid the submissions and attack with the high level wrestling again. The ability to strike on the feet surprised Silva early and took him off his game. Sonnen needs to do that again.
The bottom line is that Anderson Silva doesn’t need to use one gameplan. He’s won by using nearly every strategy known to modern MMA. For Sonnen, it comes down to the same science as the first fight. An aggravated Silva may put himself in an awful spot early, which could give Chael opportunities throughout the fight.
The wild card? Silva has never fought while truly mad before. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to simply turn it off on fight day, as his anger has only manifested in the last week or two. A month ago, I think I would have picked Silva to win the fight by defending the takedowns. Now? I don’t think Silva will stick to his gameplan. I think Sonnen will absolutely stick to his.
Silva key: Stay calm and composed. Getting wild won’t knock Sonnen out any faster or harder. Silva is the champion. He needs to fight like it.
Sonnen key: Defend the submissions. When the fight goes to the ground, Silva will attempt submissions. Sonnen has to stay active in avoiding them, making sure he doesn’t give anything up.
Prediction: Chael Sonnen – Unanimous Decision.