Anderson Silva will enter the 153 main event as a prohibitive favorite. | Photo: Sherdog.com
It did not turn out like they drew it up, but considering recent events, the final lineup for UFC 153 on Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is not bad at all.
Things were looking bleak when featherweight champion Jose Aldo and co-main event attraction Quinton “Rampage” Jackson withdrew from the card on back-to-back days last month. However, a bevy of willing replacements -- including pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 pioneer Stephan Bonnar and former UFC and Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -- stepped up to fill the void.
Criticize the matchmaking that pairs Silva with Bonnar if you must, but the additions of “The Spider” and Nogueira, who squares off with Dave Herman, have to thrill the Brazilian fans. While the highly touted Glover Teixeira will not be tested against a veteran on the level of “Rampage,” his light heavyweight tussle with countryman Fabio Maldonado figures to be nothing if not entertaining. So instead of lamenting the bouts that were lost, try and appreciate the action that is yet to come.
Here is a closer look at the UFC 153 “Silva vs. Bonnar,” with analysis and picks:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 153 Free Fan Pick’Em
Anderson Silva (32-4, 15-0 UFC) vs. Stephan Bonnar (15-7, 8-6 UFC)
The Matchup: Just when you thought Silva was done working until 2013, “The Spider” returns to save an injury-ravaged event in his native country. If you are worried that the middleweight champion will be lacking for motivation, remember that a potential big-money super fight against Georges St. Pierre goes out the window with a loss. His longtime antagonist, Chael Sonnen, is in the rearview mirror, but there is still plenty at stake for the sport’s pound-for-pound king.
Bonnar, meanwhile, has not aroused such warm and fuzzy feelings since his memorable slugfest with Forrest Griffin at “The Ultimate Fighter 1” Finale propelled the UFC to unprecedented heights. While “The American Psycho” might not be the ideal light heavyweight to test Silva, it is almost a certainty that he will deliver a game effort.
The Carlson Gracie protégé will ride a three-fight winning streak into the highest-profile bout of his career. Bonnar abandoned his usual brawling approach for some dominant topside grappling in his last outing at UFC 139, as he worked over Kyle Kingsbury for 15 minutes. That followed a similar effort against Igor Pokrajac at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale. While neither Kingsbury nor Pokrajac serves as adequate preparation for Silva, it is encouraging to see that Bonnar has not completely abandoned his grappling roots. Superior grappling, ground-and-pound and positional control -- not a wild slugfest -- are Bonnar’s ticket to a monumental upset.
This will be Silva’s third Octagon appearance at 205 pounds. Previously, the Brazilian scored first-round stoppages of James Irvin in 2008 and Forrest Griffin a year later. The ease with which he disposed of Griffin, a former light heavyweight champion, was especially impressive. Griffin’s significant size advantage never came into play, as Silva was evasive and powerful, dropping his opponent on three different occasions, once while backpedaling, en route to earning a technical knockout at the 3:23 mark. Griffin looked slow and lumbering while landing just three of the 42 strikes he threw, and the Las Vegas resident has not looked the same since.
Bonnar, as Griffin’s former foil, figures to encounter similar problems. The Indiana native is big, strong and durable, but he will struggle to get inside against the dynamic Silva, who has the uncanny ability to land perfectly timed counter shots with numbing power against anyone who attempts to close the distance against him. Silva’s defensive wrestling remains a weakness, as anyone who saw the opening frame of his rematch with Sonnen can attest, but Bonnar is not a wrestler on that level.
Closing the pocket against “The Spider” also means Bonnar could be victimized by a series of knees in Silva’s deadly Thai plum. If Bonnar is somehow able to get the fight to the canvas, Silva is capable of sweeping and submitting, as well as attacking with elbows from his back.
The reality is that Silva is too quick to allow Bonnar any such opportunity. His ability to combine movement and angles with a variety of striking techniques is unparalleled, and Bonnar will likely be guessing from the opening bell. While Bonnar has never been one to turn down a firefight, he does not possess the type of knockout power to strike fear in the middleweight champion.
The Pick: Bonnar’s ideal scenario would see him pumping his jab before getting inside on Silva and wearing him down from above. What is more likely to happen is something similar to Silva-Griffin. Silva catches Bonnar with a counter hook as he moves forward and finishes the job with strikes on the ground for a first-round TKO.
Next Fight » Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Dave Herman