If Chael Sonnen is to be believed, his rematch with Anderson Silva is the biggest sporting event of the summer. Everything else is merely background noise to be enjoyed over dinner. Although the self-proclaimed “Gangster from West Linn” is a master of hyperbole, he makes a valid point. When Silva and Sonnen square off in the UFC 148 main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday in Las Vegas, they will have the undivided attention of fight fans around the world.
Sonnen had fashioned a nice MMA career before his first showdown with “The Spider,” but the Team Quest wrestler has skyrocketed to superstardom since that near-miss, and all that appears to be lacking from his resume is championship gold. To get it, he will have to topple the sport’s pound-for-pound best, a man who is in the final stages of securing a considerable legacy.
Yes, there are 10 other bouts taking place at the event, including the last Octagon hurrah for another legend -- Tito Ortiz. Even that is dwarfed by Silva-Sonnen 2, a fight that is among the most anticipated in Ultimate Fighting Championship history. Everything else just feels like filler.
Here is a closer look at UFC 148 “Silva vs. Sonnen 2,” with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 148 Free Fan Pick’Em
UFC Middleweight Championship
Anderson Silva (31-4, 14-0 UFC) vs. Chael Sonnen (27-11-1, 6-4 UFC)
The Matchup: Twenty three months have passed since Sonnen took Silva to the brink of defeat at UFC 117 in Oakland, Calif. In the days leading up to the bout, Sonnen’s pre-fight bluster seemed foolhardy, an underdog’s lame attempt to stir interest in what was perceived to be a foregone conclusion. After all, Silva’s biggest issue to that point was combating boredom: five-round verdicts against overmatched foes such as Thales Leites and Demian Maia drew the ire of UFC President Dana White and fans alike.
For four-and-half rounds on the night of Aug. 7, 2010, Sonnen made good on his promise, as he beat up “The Spider.” It was only in the waning moments of the middleweight championship fight that the brash Oregonian’s most glaring weakness -- his submission defense -- was exposed, as Silva locked in a triangle armbar in easily the most harrowing of his nine successful title defenses to date.
Since then, Sonnen has applied for -- and received -- a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy from the Nevada Athletic Commission. After UFC 117, the Team Quest product was suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission when a post-fight drug test revealed that Sonnen had elevated testosterone levels. During a recent hearing with the NAC, Sonnen said he has received testosterone twice a week since 2008. While the issue of TRT remains an ongoing issue in mixed martial arts and will be decried by Silva fans as an unfair advantage, Sonnen has cleared the necessary hurdles to receive the treatment this time around.
Sonnen has done good work inside the Octagon since his return, besting Top 10 middleweights Brian Stann and Michael Bisping in his last two outings. Meanwhile, Silva returned to his usual form in 2011 with finishes of Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami. A shoulder injury has sidelined the champion since UFC 134, and a rumor regarding a knee injury recently created a wave of panic that the UFC 148 main event was in jeopardy. Silva has since said he is fine, but it would not be surprising if he did suffer at least some type of setback during camp. Unfortunately, this is going to be a cruel reality going forward for the 37-year-old Silva, who was hampered by a rib injury during his first meeting with Sonnen. For all his brilliance, even “The Spider” cannot defeat the inevitability of age.
With that said, it is critical that his knee is as close to 100 percent as possible heading into the rematch with his nemesis. The inability to utilize movement and angles would negate one of Silva’s greatest advantages and make him a much easier target for the wrestling-minded Sonnen. Along with imposing his will on the mat, Sonnen was surprisingly able to get the better of the standing exchanges with Silva in their initial encounter. It is unrealistic to expect a similar occurrence this time around given the Brazilian’s excellent use of range and varied striking arsenal. Sonnen likes to force the issue by moving forward, and he seemed to catch Silva off guard by adopting the same approach at UFC 117. Most fighters are extremely cautious when attempting to navigate the waters from striking to takedown distance against the champion.
The lack of a stout defensive wrestling base remains Silva’s biggest flaw, and it is also why many people believe Sonnen can finish what he started nearly two years ago. The Oregonian has excellent timing in transitioning from striking to takedowns, and he maintains a steady work rate once he is on the mat. He rarely passes guard from top position because he is so skilled at posturing up and landing strikes from there, but, as Silva demonstrated, it also leaves him vulnerable to an opponent’s submission game.
The Pick: Sonnen will not finish Silva; if he wins, it will have to be another grind-it-out wrestling affair. Surviving and winning the majority of another five rounds against a pound-for-pound legend seems like too much to ask, however. In the past, we have seen what a motivated Silva can do in the Octagon, and he should have no shortage of that against Sonnen. Assuming he is not hiding some kind of serious ailment, “The Spider” is too good to allow a repeat of what happened at UFC 117. He will make Sonnen pay early and often for attempting to close the distance, eventually dropping him and finishing with strikes in round two.
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