Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II was the fight that was on the lips of everyone immediately after their first fight in August 2010 with a MMA world in rapture at how agonizingly close Chael Sonnen came to defeating the hitherto untouchable world middleweight champion demanding another war to settle the score. While Silva emerged the clear winner, his come from behind submission victory left many in doubt about who was the better man given the challenger’s dominance over four and a half rounds.
Having previously planned to make the long-mooted Battle of Brazil between Silva and rival Vitor Belfort, Zuffa brass relented to public demand and in September 2010 announced the instant rematch. It would be quickly cancelled with the news that Sonnen had failed a drugs test, testing positive for elevated testosterone levels. Ironically it would set off a chain of events that today make Silva vs. Sonnen II perhaps the biggest fight in the sport’s history.
Anderson Silva would meet Vitor Belfort in a fight that would finally make the all-conquering UFC champion a superstar in his home country. Speaking to me last year, Silva’s manager Ed Soares described the impact of The Spider’s crushing victory over the Phenom. “[Vitor’s] a celebrity because he’s done so much plus he comes across well on interviews and knows how to market himself… Anderson Silva’s career was really catapulted to the next level after the Vitor Belfort fight, without a doubt”. Silva would become the holder of blue chip endorsement and the center of mainstream media attention in Brazil. And in August he was able to make a triumphant homecoming after defeating the Yushin Okami in the main event of the UFC’s first show in Brazil since 1998.
Sonnen had been meant to be in Okami’s corner for that match but one of Okami’s sponsors told Sonnen not to make the trip down due to fears about his safety. For months media outlets reported that the animosity towards Sonnen in a country that has been the butts of many of his barbs was running at such a height that the UFC would never have him fight in Brazil as they were unsure whether they could guarantee his safety.
But through the winter the sport continued to grow in Brazil, with Junior Dos Santos winning the world title against Cain Velasquez doing huge viewing figures on Brazilian television, Jose Aldo cementing himself as a star for the future by defeating Chad Mendes in Rio at UFC 142 and the announcement of Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort being the coaches for The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. And so the temptation to hold Silva vs. Sonnen II in the land where it would mean the most intensified.
In America Sonnen’s shtick verged on the self-parody, in Brazil it set him up as public enemy number one. With victories over Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, he earned his title shot and UFC President Dana White hinted that the fight would take place in Brazil. After problems with a proposed venue in Silva’s hometown of Sao Paulo, the fight has finally been confirmed for Rio’s Engenhao stadium. Boasting a capacity of almost 45,000 for soccer matches it is likely that the venue will play host to a record breaking crowd, eclipsing the 55,724 people who crammed into the Rogers Center for UFC 129.
Those tens of thousands of fans will see the biggest stadium fight since Julio Chavez defeated Greg Haugen at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca in 1993. Whereas the Klitschko fights in Germany too often lack emotion to match the glitzy presentation, the Brazilian fans will be passionately cheering on the hometown champion against the hated challenger. Unlike the Pride FC supershows that dominated the MMA landscape in the early noughties this will be the center of worldwide attention with the passion of the local fans matched by global interest. And if the UFC can break their attendance record then UFC 147 will almost certainly set new records for box office gross. Indeed if it performs on pay per view as hoped, it could make more money than any previous UFC event.
And at the center of all this is two men. Anderson Silva is unbeaten in fourteen fights inside the Octagon, a winning streak that nobody else in the organization’s near two decade history has come close to matching. Chael Sonnen is the only man to have come close to defeating him and has added fuel to the fire by berating the champion and belittling his country. For almost two years we have waited to see who is the better man, on June 23rd the wait will finally be over.
Tags: anderson silva, Brazil, Brian Stann, Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 134, UFC 147, Vitor Belfort, Yushin Okami