It’s been almost two years since a big mouthed middleweight named Chael Sonnen stepped into the octagon to face the legendary Anderson Silva. The fight featured five rounds of drama, brutality, and intensity making it arguably the greatest fight in UFC history.
It is amazing to think that close to two years has passed since Sonnen vs. Silva took place at UFC 117. Quite frankly not a whole lot has changed inside the UFC for both fighters. Chael is still the brash, arrogant showman while Silva continues to dominate all comers, writing a legacy that may never be touched inside the world of MMA.
Looking back at the events leading up to their first fight is rather interesting when you do it in 2012. Chael Sonnen defeated Nate Marquardt via decision win to earn the shot at Silva. Marquardt came into the fight as a heavy favorite with fans and media already looking ahead to Silva vs. Marquardt. Sonnen’s win was arguably the biggest of his career yet most expected a lopsided cakewalk for Silva.
Things changed as time went on or as Sonnen started talking. Sonnen did a remarkable job, maybe the best in MMA history at marketing the fight and turning himself into an MMA household name. Sonnen started talking immediately but it was a Q & A where he mocked Silva and predicted a war in WWE fashion that took a fight from afterthought to must-see UFC.
I would put the hype and fight on par with only the Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz series. The biggest difference there was you had two guys promoting the fight where Sonnen was a one-man band when it came to promotion. Silva stayed quiet which I think only added to the mystique of “What is Anderson going to do to Chael” leading up to UFC 117.
The biggest problem about UFC fights in regards to hype is that most of these grudge matches turn out to be letdown. Generally the underdog does a lot of talking and is destroyed in an uncompetitive fight once the fight takes place. That is where this one differed from previous grudge matches like Ortiz vs. Shamrock or Liddell and Mir vs. Lesnar. This fight not only met the expectations of the hype…it exceeded the anticipation and turned out to be arguably the greatest fight in UFC history.
Ironically for such a classic fight, it was fairly one-sided for four and a half rounds. Sonnen did as promised and brought the attack immediately to Silva. Sonnen charged Silva from the open and took down the Spider at will. Sonnen brutalized and I mean brutalized Silva on the ground for the better part of four and a half rounds. I will never forget watching Sonnen smash his hands in a clapping motion against Anderson’s head in hopes that Silva would release his guard. Here is how I described it in the recap.
“The fight was about as one-sided as the UFC 117 odds indicated it would be. The only difference was that it was Chael Sonnen dominating. Sonnen was just brutal, but Anderson Silva never stopped coming. Silva is just not human. The punishment he took would have killed a regular man. At one point Sonnen was slapping the temple of Silva with open hands and yet Silva hung on. Silva could barely even walk as he left the octagon. Silva put on the gutsiest performance you will ever see in combat sports.”
I remember wincing as I watched yet thinking about how anyone could withstand that kind of punishment yet continue to hold his guard. Silva took a beating, but he was impressive in the way he refused to quit. Then came the fifth round and arguably the biggest choke and most shocking finish in Mixed Martial-Arts history.
After four and a half rounds of dominating Silva, Sonnen was on his way to doing the unthinkable. All Chael had to do was coast for one round and the fight, the title, and Anderson’s legacy was his. Instead Chael did what he did in previous situations and let his guard down for a brief but critical moment. Anderson seized that split second and sunk in a triangle choke that will never be forgotten. Watching Chael tap with two minutes to go in the fight was both the greatest comeback and the greatest mistake I have ever watched in MMA. I had butterflies in my stomach when he tapped due to the roller coaster of emotion that Sonnen and Silva had taken me on for 23 minutes. I have watched plenty of comebacks in sports but watching a legend pull out a miracle to save his legacy was as thrilling as it gets.
You would never know it listening to Sonnen and Silva now but these guys had plenty of complimentary things to say about each other after the fight. They sat together in the post-fight press conference with Chael even joking about doing a reality show with Anderson. Chael had even hinted at retirement citing such a devastating loss. I can’t imagine any jokes being told between the two men in the UFC 148 presser this Saturday night/Sunday morning.
The fallout from the fight didn’t stop with the tap for Sonnen. Sonnen crashed and burnt hard. It took Sonnen over a year to get his personal life and professional career straightened out. As for Anderson, he went on to earn two dominating wins following the UFC 117 fight. While nobody wants to wait, the two-year separation between fights almost adds to the intrigue as opposed to the initial plans for an immediate rematch.
Sonnen and Silva will have a lot to live up to at UFC 148. Can Sonnen replicate the vicious attack he laid on Silva at UFC 117? Is Chael really that good or was Silva really as hurt as he claimed following the fight? The beauty of sports is that we will find out this Saturday night in what may be the most intense rivalry in UFC history.
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