UFC President Dana White has never shied away from great expectations, and the rivalry between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and arch nemesis Chael Sonnen has afforded him the opportunity to beat the drum as loud as ever.
Silva will defend his crown against Sonnen in the UFC 148 headliner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, perhaps bringing closure to one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s most heated feuds. It also promises the potential of major success at the pay-per-view window, and White has aimed high.
“There’s no doubt that we expect over one million buys here,” he said during a pre-fight media call. “We expect UFC 100 numbers.”
UFC 100, which reportedly drew 1.6 million pay-per-view buys, featured the rematch between former heavyweight champions Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir. While the UFC has not promoted an event that has surpassed the one-million mark in buys in nearly two years, White has faith in the Silva-Sonnen rematch. They met for the first time at UFC 117, where the challenger controlled and largely dominated the champion for the better part of five rounds. However, Silva snatched a triangle armbar for the submission in the fifth, as he authored one of the most dramatic finishes in UFC history and kept his stranglehold on the middleweight division.
“Anderson Silva is a very big star,” White said. “This is a fight that a lot of people care about all around the world. Anderson is the best mixed martial artist ever. He’s a huge superstar in his home country, and he’s a huge superstar here. People want to see him fight, and people want to see him fight Chael all over the world.”
Silva will enter the cage on a 15-fight winning streak, a record 14 of them inside the UFC. Despite his dominance, the 37-year-old Brazilian has proven something of a hot-and-cold commodity for the promotion during his tenure at the top. Forgettable performances against Demian Maia and Thales Leites called into question Silva’s ability to shoulder a pay-per-view event on his own and drew the ire of media, fans and White. At one point, the UFC boss threatened to release the champion. Recent outings against Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami have cooled tempers, though some continue to question whether or not the Portuguese-speaking Silva has the drawing power of some of his contemporaries.
“People aren’t showing up to hear this guy give speeches,” White said. “They show up because of what he can do in the Octagon. He could be a deaf [expletive] mute for Christ’s sake. What he does in the Octagon is amazing.”
The usually mild-mannered Silva broke from character during the weeks leading up to the Sonnen rematch, as he threatened bodily harm against the mouthy American, vowing to break his teeth and legs. The public rant caught many by surprise, including White.
“I’ve promoted every Anderson Silva fight in [UFC] history, and he usually doesn’t get fired up like this,” he said. “He’s usually very respectful. He never talks like this.”
End of an Era
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz will enter the Octagon for the 27th and final time when he completes his trilogy with Forrest Griffin in the co-main event.
“I’m just preparing for the fight of my life,” said Ortiz, who made his debut at UFC 13 in May 1997 and has since become the most prolific fighter in the promotion’s history. “I’ve been waiting 15 years for this -- to give my last 15 minutes; three, four, five hours a day.”
Ortiz welcomes the opportunity to settle his score with Griffin. The two men have fought to a pair of split decisions: Ortiz won the first encounter at UFC 59, Griffin the second at UFC 106.
“I know how he fights and how he likes to fight,” said Ortiz, who has won just once in his last eight appearances. “I’m going to try to absorb as much as I can. I’m going to show how much this means to me. I’m not going to play around and talk smack. I’m coming to fight.”
This and That
Former featherweight title contender Chad Mendes, who toes the line against guillotine master Cody McKenzie, has compiled a 7-0 mark in fights that reach the judges ... American Top Team’s Gleison Tibau has landed 59 takedowns in UFC competition, according to FightMetric figures, second all-time to Georges St. Pierre ... John Alessio has recorded 34 professional victories but remains winless (0-4) in the UFC. The 33-year-old Canadian fought Pat Miletich for the welterweight crown at UFC 26 in 2000 ... Riki Fukuda has gone the distance 14 times in 23 career bouts ... Ivan Menjivar, who has rattled off three consecutive victories, has not been finished in more than a decade. He has lost six fights since 2002, all by decision ... Patrick Cote is a perfect 13-0 outside of the Octagon ... Fifteen of the 22 fighters on the UFC 148 lineup are 30 years of age or older. Former Strikeforce champion Cung Le is the oldest at 40, undefeated Russian lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov the youngest at 23.