UFC 148: Anderson Silva v Chael Sonnen Preview
The fight between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen takes place this Saturday in one of the most eagerly anticipated rematches in combat sports history.
By Fergus Ryan
JOE looks at their thrilling first go-around and previewed this weekend’s epic encounter.
An unstoppable force meets an immovable object
For many, including UFC president Dana White, Anderson Silva is the greatest ‘pound for pound’ fighter the sport has yet seen.
This statement can be easily backed up by Silva’s undefeated run in the UFC, which has also resulted in him breaking many UFC records. His current 14 fight winning streak is the longest in UFC history. He also holds the longest streak of consecutive title defences in the UFC with 9.
Of his 29 career victories, 22 are impressive finishes, including 17 KO/TKOs, 3 submissions to strikes, and 2 submissions.
For many he is the ‘unstoppable force’ in MMA today.
I’m going to beat him out of the UFC. I’m going to make him pay for everything he’s said about me, my family and my country. I’m going to beat him maybe like his parents should have to teach him some manners. I’ll teach him those manners myself.
Chael Sonnen has barely featured in those same mythical ‘pound for pound’ lists. His second stint in the UFC began with a loss that cemented his reputation as a gritty wrestler who gets caught by skilled submission artists (Jeremy Horn beat him three times early in his career).
After picking up some wins and momentum Sonnen began to talk.
After destroying Yushin Okami and then Nate Marquardt in a contender eliminator people started to listen a little.
The only thing that has eclipsed his development as a fighter has been his development as a personality in the sport of MMA. This was underlined in bold when he beat up Silva for 23 minutes in one of the most lopsided performances the UFC has ever seen. Sonnen’s impressive record against the top 10 UFC middleweights and his performance in their first fight means some now consider him to be an ‘immovable object’ for Anderson Silva.
Silva v Sonnen I – Fight of the Year
When Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen first fought at UFC 117 in August, 2010 things were slightly different.
Silva was at the peak of his powers and Sonnen was tough, journeyman fighter on a good run.
Having all but cleaned out the middleweight division, the talk for Silva was either fighting Georges St. Pierre in a ‘super-fight’ or moving to light-heavyweight. Though Silva was coming off an erratic performance against Demian Maia, few saw this as a reduction of his powers, but rather a lack of interest in fighting people he felt weren’t up to the task.
Sonnen came into UFC 117 having destroyed Nate Marquardt over three rounds. He also began to whip up a storm by telling us he’d been poking Silva in the chest for 4 years looking for a fight and the champion had ducked him every time. “I became the number one contender on February 6th (2010) and on February 7th he put out a press release as to why he shouldn’t have to fight me… I’m here purely to win the world championship, period. It doesn’t have anything to do with Anderson, getting to beat up Anderson is just a bonus. I’m after the belt, he’s got it and we can’t all get along... I'll put Silva on his back faster than a pornstar with a mortgage”.
Having clearly gotten Anderson Silva’s attention, Sonnen broadened his aim to the Brazilian MMA community at large - “I want an easy fight. Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva. Any of the Silvas, Bigfoot Silva. They all suck. Gimme a Silva…I’d beat up Machida on the way to the ring to beat up Anderson, and I’ll kick Nogueria’s ass in the parking lot on the way to my after party.”
Sonnen told us the first fight wouldn’t be close, but most didn’t really take him seriously. We waited for the Silva backlash to the Maia performance at UFC 112 and the baiting from Sonnen. What we got was complete domination from Sonnen for four and half rounds.
With Sonnen yards ahead on the judges scorecard, Silva did what champions do; he found a way to win when it seemed like there wasn’t one. With two minutes left in the fifth round, Silva procured a triangle armbar from Sonnen’s sloppy position in the guard. Silva left with reputation and belt barely intact.
Sonnen had backed up nearly every word he’d said leading into UFC 117, but fallen just short in claiming the belt. He’d beaten up Anderson Silva for four and half rounds despite being a 4/1 underdog in the bookies and most peoples’ eyes.
The Rematch: Silva’s turn to talk.
The rematch on Saturday at UFC 148 in Las Vegas will be the biggest fight in the promotion’s history. Both men have looked good, winning twice each since their first fight.
Sonnen has been in trouble for testosterone use. Silva showed little interest in fighting the man he’s beaten already. There was also a little trouble with the schedule forcing the fight off the UFC 147 card in Brazil to UFC 148 in Vegas. With the formalities done the fight is on.
Normally when Joe Rogan asks a fighter “How happy are you with your performance tonight?” they proceed to explain the joy that comes with a win and thank those that helped them achieve the victory. At UFC 136 after submitting Brian Stann, Sonnen replied to that same question with his finest fight-hype quote. "Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck!” As Sonnen said himself, it was time to up the stakes.
Silva is usually respectful and sportsmanlike and does most of his talking in the Octagon. However, on the June 25th media conference call Silva took the opportunity to sound a warning to the man who came within two minutes of taking his title in August 2010.
“I’m going to break his face and every tooth in his mouth,” Silva said through his interpreter and manager Ed Soares. “I know he’s on the call listening to this and playtime is over. There’s no more talking from him. I’m going to beat him out of the UFC. I’m going to make him pay for everything he’s said about me, my family and my country. I’m going to beat him maybe like his parents should have to teach him some manners. I’ll teach him those manners myself.
No more sh** talking from him. Chael Sonnen's going to get his ass kicked like he's never gotten his ass kicked before. What I'm going to do inside the Octagon is something that's going to change the image of the sport, I’m sorry. I'm going to beat his ass like he's never been beaten before. This is going to be violent and I am sorry. I'm going to make sure that every one of his teeth are broken, that his arms are broken and his legs are broken. He's not going to be able to walk out of the Octagon by himself. I can guarantee that. He will need a plastic surgeon afterwards.”
Clearly aghast at what he’d heard, Dana White said: "I've promoted every Anderson Silva fight since he's been in the UFC in 2006, and I've never heard him talk even remotely like this. He is usually so respectful and doesn't say anything negative or disrespectful. I've never heard Anderson talk like this once – and I’ve never heard Chael be so sincere about how bad he wants to win this fight and what it means to him to be the UFC world champion.”
Head to head
Both men match up incredibly well. Both seem to have the goods in striking and grappling departments, but in different aspects of each skill.
Anderson Silva is renowned for pinpoint accuracy with his strikes. His significant striking accuracy of 69% is the highest in UFC history. In his entire career (not just UFC career), Silva has never had a fight in which he landed less than 50% of his significant strike attempts.
Sonnen does a great job of avoiding his opponents’ strikes. His 69% striking defence is the second highest in middleweight history (Michael Bisping with 73%). While not thought of as a striker, Sonnen has dominated that aspect of his fights as well. He has landed more significant strikes and total strikes than his opponent in every one of his UFC and WEC fights (14 fights). Sonnen holds the UFC record for most total strikes landed in a fight with three-hundred and twenty against Silva at UFC 117. Sonnen landed more significant strikes against Silva in Round one than any UFC opponent had in an entire fight against Silva.
Anderson Silva has successfully defended 80% of all takedowns against him. In his middleweight fights, that number rises to 84%, the highest total in middleweight history. Sonnen controls his opponents with tenacious takedowns, averaging 4 takedowns in a normal three-rounder. Sonnen’s 34 landed takedowns are the most in middleweight history.
It will be interesting to see if Sonnen remains in Silva’s guard or even tries for submissions. In the past he has been happy to ‘ground & pound’ while in the guard, but prone to submissions from careless positioning of his arms. His arm-triangle submission victory over Brian Stann at UFC 136 was his first win by tapout in four years and only the fourth of his 27 career wins. It also may have point to an area of his game his has been working on most.
Sonnen outstruck Silva everywhere, even at distance and in the clinch Sonnen did a masterful job of controlling where the fight took place, ensuring that he was nearly always in the advantageous position. This meant keeping the fight away from the places where Silva is strongest, namely at kickboxing distance or in the clinch. There was less than three minutes of fight time spent standing in the fight, but Sonnen managed to get the better of those exchanges, outlanding Silva 17-12 on the feet.
Throughout their first fight, Sonnen’s constant pressure and positional control were matched by his high volume of striking. Coming into the fight, Silva had been hit 166 combined times by 11 UFC opponents. Sonnen surpassed that total mid-way through the third round. This is probably the key differentiator between the two. Sonnen is a work horse; his MO is to do more than the other guy. Sonnen will smother you with attacks as long as the fights last and wherever it takes place. Anderson Silva is a martial artist. He holds Black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and Tae Kwon Do, he has a Yellow rope in Capoeira and has a pro-boxing record. Silva assesses his prey before picking his way to win, usually in spectacular fashion.
After UFC 117 Silva complained of a broken rib, which may have taken the power out of his strikes and the snap out of his takedown defence. Both were clearly lacking to Sonnen’s advantage. His last fight with Yushin Okami at UFC 134 saw the Silva we know and love. Evasive head movement and rolling fists combined to distract and unsettle Okami and allow Silva strike with power.
For what it’s worth
Taking all of the above into consideration, I’m going with Chael Sonnen to win by decision. The fight will be more competitive than the first from Silva’s point of view, but wrestlers can dictate where a fight takes place.
A combination of takedowns and work-rate will see Sonnen get his hand raised. This will set up the final instalment in the greatest trilogy the UFC will ever see.
Disagree? Let us know what you think. Drop a comment in the box and get the discussion going.