If you’d have said two years ago that a top tier middleweight who had never quite made the leap from gatekeeper to the top would be a part of one of the biggest rematches in UFC history then you’d either have been Chael Sonnen or related to him. Going into his fight with Anderson Silva at UFC 117, no one took Sonnen’s remarkable volume of trash talking seriously. Anyone who tried picking who would win was inevitably figuring out which round Silva would finish him in. Sonnen going in was given fairly drastic odds; people were speculating on when he would eventually move up and dominate the light heavyweight division as opposed to his fight with Sonnen, just another member of the “Bum of the Month” club that Silva would dominate like he did many times previously.
And then something no one could’ve predicted would happen.
Sonnen battered the champion for 23 minutes and Silva pulled off a miracle submission to win in one of the champion’s defining fights. It was a high point for both men; Sonnen became a star overnight and Silva was given intrigue as a champion. He was human and two decisive victories over Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami later he’s looking at the end of his career and his ultimate legacy.
Two years later and the landscape for both of these men is now changed dramatically in some ways. Anderson Silva is still the best fighter in the division, the champion and perhaps the best fighter pound for pound. The light at the end of the tunnel for his career is now closer than the one where he started it. Sonnen is now not just another fighter. He’s the reigning king of trash talk in MMA and the #1 contender for the same belt that was within 120 seconds of his grasp almost two years ago. He moves the needle because he was no qualms saying outrageous things to get attention.
As we get closer and closer to perhaps 2012’s biggest fight of the year, there are five things that will go a long way in determining the outcome of the fight.
Anderson Silva’s Physical Status
The one thing that hasn’t been said, especially in light of Silva having to reschedule and delay fights because of injuries, is whether or not Father Time is starting to catch up with “The Spider.” Silva is a fighter than mainly relies on a lot of reflex movements to set up his counter-striking style. If he’s slowing down at all that could work against him in the rematch. Guys who rely on fast reflexes tend to age faster as a fighter once they slow down; a huge part of his game is his ability to move and counter. He hasn’t looked like he’s slowing down, in all fairness, but hasn’t fought in a significant amount of time either.
He’ll also be coming off a 10 month layoff going into UFC 147, his longest in some time. Things like ring rust exist; Anderson is enough of an experienced veteran that his muscle memory will be intact but a long layoff and an aging body aren’t good things.
Which Chael Sonnen Shows Up?
There’s no denying that Sonnen did not look good against Michael Bisping at UFC on Fox 2. Rumors of a bad weight cut, amongst others, plagued the contender but the fact of the matter is that Bisping had him gassed after three rounds. He looked sensational earlier in 2011 against Brian Stann but Sonnen’s cardio is suddenly a potential issue.
It never has been and most likely won’t be but it has to be something we take into consideration; if that Sonnen shows up in Brazil then Anderson Silva will take his lunch money before sending him back to West Linn, Oregon. If the one that looked like he could go for five more rounds at UFC 117 shows up, Anderson’s in trouble.
The Pressure on the Champion
It’s one thing to fight in the U.S if you’re from Brazil like Silva. He lives here year round in L.A but he’s far more recognizable in his native Brazil than he is in the States. The media attention, et al, is going to be significantly bigger than it was the first time he fought under the UFC banner in Brazil. He’s also fighting his biggest nemesis in his backyard; the mental pressure is going to be significantly higher than it was before.
It’s also a bigger arena, et al, so everything by necessity is going to be bigger. The pressure cooker will be turned up significantly higher than normal for the champion and how he responds will go a long way in determining whether or not he keeps the belt. It can also change the way he reacts when the adrenaline kicks him; if he catches Sonnen and 60,000 people scream en masse that’ll do more for his temporary rise in adrenaline than 10,000 would. He might also press more if he thinks he can end the fight; the pressure will be higher than normal considering whom he is fighting.
Can Chael Duplicate UFC 117 Again?
Going into UFC 117 his game plan was the same then as it is now; grab a hold of the champion, drag him to the ground and beat him up as long as he can. Sonnen knew this, Silva knew this and yet for almost 24 minutes Sonnen got him to the ground at will and for the most part kept him there. A momentary lapse was all that stood between him and a world title. His aggression got him in trouble by leaving that arm out and got him caught & submitted. Up until that point he put on a clinic of ground strategy; good aggressive guard passes, tons of strikes and using positional control to keep Silva from doing anything.
To beat Anderson he’s going to have to replicate that strategy and grind out a fifth if he’s up on the scorecards instead of going for guard passes, et al. It’s what got him caught the last time and could do the same this time. He essentially has to get up by a dramatic fashion like he did last time and then lay and pray a fifth round away, more or less, instead of actively trying to finish the fight. Can he do so? That’s the question.
To Be the Villain on the Hero’s Home Turf
While the pressure is on Anderson in his home country, the thing some forget is that Chael will know explicitly what it’s like to be the most hated man in the world at a specific point. Yushin Okami got a decidedly negative reaction and that was mainly because his opponent was Brazilian; Sonnen has run his mouth about Silva, Brazil and a number of things the 60,000 plus in attendance will have not liked for roughly two years now. While I doubt he’ll be intimidated, as soon as his music hits and he has to make that walk he’ll be the most hated man in Brazil.
A record might be set for volume of booing based on his entrance to the cage alone. He may relish it when it happens, we don’t know, but a Brazilian crowd of small magnitude in comparison has been remarkable to see in the UFC’s last two stops in the country. Imagine a stadium show jacked up for one of the biggest rematches in UFC history?