Let the Debate Begin: Silva/Sonnen

Chael Sonnen’s night turned into Anderson Silva’s moment.

After weeks of pre-fight trash talk that rivaled some of Tito Ortiz’s flurries before big fights, Sonnen backed up his words with a 23-minute performance that was undoubtedly the best of his career. The problem: UFC title fights last 25 minutes.

Anderson Silva shocked everyone by locking on a triangle choke and submitting Sonnen to retain his UFC middleweight title with just under two minutes remaining in the fight.

The ending was somewhat controversial in that it was Chael Sonnen/Paulo Filho revisited. Most will recall that in that fight it looked as if Sonnen tapped while in an armbar after dominating Filho for nearly two rounds, but then appeared to take it back when the ref stopped the fight. In this case, Sonnen clearly taps once after reaching for one of Silva’s hands, but doesn’t tap a second time. Referee Josh Rosenthal broke the two up with neither appearing to know what transpired. The fact that Sonnen tapped once does open the door to arguments that he wasn’t submitting as most see tapping out in MMA as two or three quick taps. However, any clear tap (and this was a clear tap, if only one) has to be interpreted by the referee as a submission when the fighter tapping is locked in a submission hold. After the first Filho fight, Sonnen must have known or at least should have known that, and that is likely why he didn’t fight the decision in any way after the fight.

Up until Silva locked in the triangle, the fight had been all Sonnen, who literally came at Silva from the moment each round started and was relentless in his attacks. Sonnen’s takedowns and ground work kept Silva not only at bay, but confused to the point where the fight became routine. The two slugged it out in some fashion for a very brief period, Sonnen takes Silva down, Sonnen lays strikes onto a grounded Silva. Wash, rinse, repeat for five rounds.

The only difference was that in rounds four and five, the necessity to do anything finally became clear to Silva who opened up a cut above Sonnen’s left eye during a flurry of elbows in the fourth round and then was somehow able to lock in the triangle in the fifth. It should be noted that Silva did go for the triangle earlier in the fight and nearly finished Sonnen with a kimura near the end of round two, but past that did nothing to make anyone believe he had a chance in this fight, let alone pull of the win.

After the fight it was revealed that Silva had come into the fight with injured ribs thanks in part to Satoshi Ishii’s participation in Silva’s camp, and that he was advised by several (including his manager Ed Soares) not to fight. How much the injury impacted Silva’s performance is up for question. The injury is cited as the reason for Silva’s inability to defend against Sonnen’s takedowns. However, that doesn’t explain how Silva let Sonnen set the tone for the entire fight with a first round that was the definition of a 10-8 round (if you believe in the ten-point system) in MMA. Sonnen nearly sent Silva to the mat and did send him into the cage with one punch and landed a one-two combination that was not defended by Silva as he looked to be out on his feet; Silva did have a glazed-over look in his eyes during most of the first round after that first big punch from Sonnen. That can’t really be blamed on the ribs, neither can the fact that Silva lost basically every standing exchange the two had at the beginning of each round. Silva’s one big win in a standing exchange did look to rock Sonnen and could’ve turned the fight around, but Silva didn’t act on it and the fight resumed the pattern of Sonnen taking it to the ground and dominating the action.

The rest of the show saw plenty of entertaining fights and moments with Stefan Struve’s big comeback in a very hard-hitting and surprisingly good undercard heavyweight tilt against Christian Morecraft. Another entertaining Clay Guida fight—this time with Clay winning—being mere appetizers to the main card attractions that made this a legitimate Event of the Year candidate.

Matt Hughes continued to elude retirement and all of the people who believed him to be done ate some humble pie as the wily veteran was able to choke out Ricardo Almeida to the point where Almeida passed out rather than tap. Almeida took the fight with a revenge motive for Hughes’ beating of Renzo Gracie earlier this year, but unfortunately met the same fate, albeit much more suddenly, as his teacher. Hughes said after the fight that he was done fighting in 2010.

Dennis Hallman was victorious in the event’s opener—a fight not on the pay-per-view broadcast—with a decision win over Ben Saunders. Many forget or just don’t know that Hallman is the only man other than Georges St. Pierre to beat Hughes twice in Hughes’ career. Even more noteworthy is that both wins were submission wins (one a technical submission win) that were achieved in a combined 37 seconds!

Hallman is 45-13-2 with 1 no contest for his career and is one of many great examples of an MMA journeyman as he has fought in UFC, Shooto, Sportfight, IFL, King of the Cage, and Extreme Challenge. I am of the opinion that Hughes will never receive another title shot in UFC at welterweight and for that reason am in favor of these two having a third fight, thus giving Hughes one last chance to beat a man he hasn’t been able to in two chances. Extra reasoning: the second of the losses came early in Hughes’ UFC career, at UFC 29, ending an eighteen fight win streak by Hughes, and was the only loss Hughes has suffered in UFC not against GSP, B.J. Penn, or Thiago Alves, i.e. someone who has made their name in UFC.

After another issue making weight, it might be time for Thiago Alves to move up to 185 pounds. For the third fight in four years, Alves has had issue making the 171-pound limit for his welterweight fight with Fitch—most state athletic commissions allow for one pound over the actual weight-class limit.

The weight issue likely wouldn’t have mattered as Fitch turned the fight into a mat-based affair where he ruled Alves like a king. Yes the fight became a slower and less exciting fight because of this, but it was the key to a relatively easy win for Fitch. Those brief moments where the fight was standing saw Alves much more active and aggressive, but once Fitch scored a takedown the fight would revert back to Fitch dominating the action and Alves looking for a way back to his feet that he could never find.

Junior Dos Santos may have gotten himself a heavyweight title shot with his win Saturday night, but Roy Nelson gained a little bit of star power while playing the role of a punching bag. Nelson looked to be finished in quick fashion during the opening round, but somehow maintained his footing, fought back and persevered to the round’s end. The same could be said of rounds two and three, but those rounds (round two specifically) saw Nelson not only continue to take punishment, but dish out plenty of his own including landing two big overhand rights in round two that nearly sent Dos Santos down. The fight itself was an incredibly entertaining heavyweight slugfest that was both a test of Nelson’s stamina and ability to absorb pain, and Dos Santos’ ability to keep dishing out strikes in the face of an opponent who wouldn’t go down. That is something he will likely have to repeat when he faces Brock Lesnar or Cain Velasquez.

Heading back to the main-event, the immediate question was whether or not a rematch should take place. The immediate answer would be “yes.” There aren’t a ton of options for either Silva or Sonnen right now as both have beaten Nate Marquardt. Michael Bisping and Yoshihiro Akiyama are fighting later in the year, and Damien Maia showed he wasn’t ready for a title fight yet with his performance against Silva. Yushin Okami did get another win recently, a decision over Mark Munoz, but he was already in an even better position to get a title shot at this time two years ago and it didn’t happen. While Okami’s record and the people he’s beaten should speak for itself, he’s a bit too wishy-washy in terms of how his fights turn out (not crowd pleasing enough) for Dana White or Joe Silva to risk another middleweight title fight the likes of Silva/Maia or Silva/Leites where a good fighter had the most off-night of his career at a time when they couldn’t afford to.

And then there’s Vitor Belfort, the original opponent for Silva at UFC 112. An injury forced UFC to make the rash decision of inserting Maia as challenger, but since Silva appears to be done for the year because of his ribs, it makes the title situation even more complicated. The fact is that Sonnen was 100% right in his post-fight interview when he continually used second place metaphors like the fact that he only got a silver medal by losing the fight. Sonnen dominated the fight, but lost. However, Belfort has only won one fight since returning to UFC; yes that’s due to the injury, but that could mean at least one more fight to determine if he is a truly legitimate challenger. Marquardt, Okami, or Chris Leben—with some momentum thanks to the win over Akiyama July 4th weekend—would be ideal opponents for Belfort before the end of the year or at the very beginning of next year, depending on when Vitor would be ready. That would also help thin out the herd a little bit in the middleweight division, a division that has slowly become a compelling division within UFC again after being a one-fighter division the past couple of years.

As for any retirement talk or rumors surrounding Silva or Sonnen, I hope neither man wants to hang it up yet. I honestly believe Silva was motivated for this fight because of the many calls against his ability and his even wanting to be in a fight anymore, as well as Sonnen’s taunt at the Nogueira brothers.

I believe the fight went the way it did because Silva was not prepared for how Sonnen would approach him, possibly believing that Sonnen would be a bit more cautious in the biggest fight of his career. As for Sonnen, nobody wants to end a career on a “what if?” in any sport. Considering how the night went up until those final moments, there’s no reason that he should even consider retirement, especially if he can get a second chance and potentially finish what he started Saturday night in Oakland.

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