Anderson Silva file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Chael Sonnen’s performance against Anderson Silva Saturday may have helped the event exceed business expectations: Dana White hinted to reporters that projections signaled a big pay-per-view number. Short-term gain is great, but you have to wonder what Sonnen may have done to Silva’s potential as an attraction down the line.
Prior to the Sonnen fight, both Silva and the UFC often spoke of hypothetical plans involving bouts at light heavyweight, heavyweight, and potentially against Georges St. Pierre. Now that Sonnen has proven Silva isn’t made of metal, those fights have lost a good deal of their appeal. There’s intrigue in watching an unstoppable 185-pound fighter try to compete in a heavier class, but little point in watching it after he’s been through what can legitimately be described as a beating.
Granted, certain fights wouldn’t have much opportunity to go the same way: Mauricio Rua isn’t likely to lay on Silva for five rounds, and St. Pierre may not necessarily have the size or power to do what Sonnen did. But that’s beside the point: in dominating Silva for so long, Sonnen calls into question Silva’s previously unquestioned dominance. You move up a class when you’ve steamrolled yours.
There are parallels being drawn between Silva and Brock Lesnar, another highly-touted champion who looked lost for a round against Shane Carwin in July before staging an impressive comeback. In both cases, the title-holders didn’t force a mistake out of their opponents so much as capitalize on their errors -- but Silva took far more of a stomping for a far longer period of time. There is now 23 minutes of footage that paints Anderson in an entirely different light. I feel no differently about him (if anything, my opinion has been elevated) but audiences looking for an invincible fighter taking new challenges against bigger athletes may be soured.
I -- and much of the UFC’s audience, I expect -- would still appreciate a Silva/St. Pierre superfight, particularly because it now seems more competitive and because it seems unfair to deny two of the sport’s greatest athletes a chance to compete when they’re contemporaries. If St. Pierre defeats Josh Koscheck and Silva rolls Vitor Belfort, it’s really the only fight of any significance left: seeing St. Pierre against Fitch again would be criminal.
The Sonnen fight may have harmed Silva’s potential for bigger box office, but the trade-off may be more success in his natural class: appearing to be human is one way to get more humans watching.