Vitor Belfort file photo: Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
Chael Sonnen’s near victory over middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 117 Saturday in Oakland, Calif., has opened the door for a rematch, though it remains to be seen which road the promotion will take with its 185-pound titleholder.
In one of the promotion’s most stunning championship bouts to date, Sonnen, an Olympic wrestling team alternate, grounded and dominated the Brazilian striker for a good majority of five rounds before Silva pulled out a Hail Mary submission with less than two minutes left on the clock.
UFC President Dana White acknowledged that Saturday’s sudden finish could warrant a second go between the two middleweights, though he wouldn’t commit to making it happen before Vitor Belfort gets his promised title shot. Belfort was to meet Silva at UFC 112 in April, but withdrew with a shoulder injury and has since undergone surgery and successful recovery.
“It’s definitely a rematch people would want to see,” said White, referring to a slew of requests to his Twitter account directly following the five-round barnburner. “We’ll see what happens. Vitor (Belfort’s) waiting to fight right now, too. We could do the rematch with Chael. We’ll see what happens.”
Regardless, White had praise for both headliners.
“I love the fact that Chael went out and talked the smack that he did, the way that he talked about this fight, and then went out and backed it up,” said White. “The fight that happened tonight is the stuff that makes legends. (Silva) got roughed up and beat up for almost five full rounds, but finds a way to win.”
Though they adopted different approaches with their pre-fight promoting tactics, Sonnen and Silva both took somewhat somber tones regarding their performances.
“It’s devastating. I can’t sugar-coat it. My heart’s broken,” said Sonnen. “I wrestled for a world championship: I came in second. I fought in the WEC for a world championship: I came in second. Now, I fought in the UFC and again, I’m a runner-up and it hurts really bad.”
Sonnen, who rode a three-fight win streak into the performance of his career on Saturday, was unaware that he was 110 seconds away from claiming the UFC middleweight title just as Silva snagged the double triangle-armbar submission.
“I didn’t know how much time was left. I heard someone just reference that there was about a minute and ten seconds (left). I didn’t know that,” said Sonnen. “Frankly, you even get lost in what round it is. He hit me really hard a few times. You get a little disorientated. You’re just in the middle of a fistfight on a Saturday night.”
Though his own worst critic, the 33-year-old Sonnen had momentum on his side and gave the longstanding champion the fight of his life in the Octagon. Silva described his thoughts as Sonnen continued to ground the striker from round to round and pepper him with shots.
“I was thinking about my home, my family, my kids and my wife. I haven’t seen them in three months,” said Silva through his translator and manager Ed Soares. “I was thinking about my grandmother who had just passed away a couple of weeks ago. The whole time I was just thinking about my family and just couldn’t wait to get back home to see them.”
Silva said he applied the fight-ending move in honor of his Brazilian jiu-jitsu mentor Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Like he did in the Octagon, the 35-year-old champion also mentioned sustaining a “bad injury” to his rib training with Olympic judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii about a week and a half before the fight.
“The doctor told me I shouldn’t fight, but I believe the show must go on,” said Silva. “Again, it’s not an excuse, but I just wanted to come in here and put it all on the line and that’s what I did.”
Sonnen was unapologetic for arguably the most inflammatory pre-fight hype campaign in the promotion’s history.
“I’m not backing off my stance and if I did, I’d send myself a pink slip and move on in life,” said Sonnen. “I have one goal: it’s to be the world champion and I’m not backing off that goal because of tonight’s decision…I’m not Dog the Bounty Hunter and I don’t issue apologies.”
Silva, who remained silent for much of Sonnen’s vitriol, said he wasn’t bitter about his opponent’s choice of warfare.
“To be honest, I really don’t have anything against Chael,” said Silva. “This is a sport. What happens inside the ring, it’s a fight. But what happens outside the ring, whatever this is, it’s in the past…I don’t hold any grudges.”
Even in defeat, the one-time political candidate continued to deliver zingers.
“If it’s Anderson or I have to go up after the guys at 205 or go on a diet and go after (WEC featherweight champion) Jose Aldo, it doesn’t matter,” said Sonnen. “If you’ve got the belt, I’m coming after you.”
Both athletes were supportive of a rematch.
“I’m a fighter and I’m here for the UFC and whatever the UFC decides is fine with me,” said Silva.
Sonnen was equally receptive to the proposition of meeting Silva again.
“There’s true camaraderie when you compete against somebody. I don’t have ill will towards Anderson and I don’t wish him a bad life,” said Sonnen, “but here’s the truth. If the commission would sanction it and Dana would move, I’d fight him right now.”