It's Sonnen fever out there, folks.
Usually I like to take my time with a fanpost, as it's a great medium to really dig through some deeper MMA question that's been bothering me. On the matter of Chael Sonnen as a legitimate challenger to Anderson, I don't really think that's required. I'm gonna keep it short and sweet, though I've included a lengthy infographic to further my point.
Here is my rough argument for why I think the "Sonnen will upset Anderson" hype is completely inflated. Let's bullet this out:
- Chael Sonnen made a resounding, impressive argument on Saturday for the continuing relevance of the Tito/Yushin/Hughes archetype - the "ground control" wrestling gameplan (as opposed to sprawl-and-brawl, which seems to be the current trend for fighters with a strong wrestling base). Everyone was hyped on the evolution of Nate Marquardt into something new and exciting at 185, and it hardly even seemed plausible going in that such a frankly old-fashioned approach would pay the dividends it did. This made the upset amazing to watch.
- A lot of folks are applying this same picture to Anderson's past follies in the UFC octagon. Specifically that Lutter and Hendo gave Anderson fits on the ground at some point in their fights. There's a very, very important key difference between Lutter/Henderson and Sonnen though. And I don't mean this as a slight to Sonnen, but... these other two have the threat of a finish.
- Lutter is a threat with submissions. Hendo drops anvils on people. Chael Sonnen, simply put, doesn't finish fights at this level of competition. I know everybody has their time, and Sonnen does own his share of stoppage victories. But if you'll forgive me for going all FightFinder on everybody, in Chael Sonnen's entire Zuffa career (WEC and UFC) he's never won by stoppage. He said it himself a couple different ways in interviews. Specifically that he thinks it's a sign of weakness that people want to end a fight early, and that he quite openly didn't have the striking power to put Nate Marquardt away.
- There's almost nobody who can claim to be a more dangerous, sophisticated or diverse opportunist in the history of MMA than Anderson Silva. In each one of his fights, the same plotline happens; Anderson feels out opponent for the first minute. Opponent, with varying degrees of success, makes his case. Anderson, if significantly threatened, grabs a single opportunity and parlays it into a fight-ending stoppage. If not, well, there will be boos. I actually wrote a whole flow chart to support this, which I've included below. Having some trouble getting it to format to show up in the post, so you'll want to click on the thumbnail and view separately to get the legible version (hit me up in comments if you know how I should fix this).
- To the above, what I mean is basically this; the Sonnen-Anderson matchup, while seemingly compelling from a style-vs-style perspective, is in fact terrible for Sonnen based on his track record of securing stoppages. Anderson needs but a split second to put his opponent into fight-ending danger, and nobody finds ways to do this as creatively as Anderson. Sonnen can win this fight in the 25th minute of the encounter, and that's it. Minutes 1-24 of the fight can only go to Silva, even if he's on his back (I strongly believe that Sonnen has none of the guard-passing ability to put Anderson out on the ground). This means at least 5 times in the fight where Sonnen has to risk the hands of Anderson, EVEN if he comes out and shoots immediately. If you've seen Sonnen's standup, and if you've seen Anderson's striking, that puts the fight pretty strongly in the Brazillian's corner.
-But for further fun, play it out in the flowchart! Envision a fight that loops continually through clinch, takedown attempt and scramble, with Anderson having an opportunity to unload everything he's got every time we hit the "scramble" and "clinch" portions. This is the danger of fighting a guy like him, who can solidly connect in less-than-optimum conditions on the feet. "Laser-beam accuracy" in the words of Rogan. I know it's just a sketch (and some of these results don't match perfectly), but I'm just sayin'. If we assume Anderson brings his strengths convincingly, and Sonnen does the same, it's a bad night unless Sonnen breaks out of his proven comfort zone.
As always, I'm really just looking to start a conversation here. So agree or disagree, hit me up the comments, I'd love to hear your take. Thanks for reading.
Also: for reference, here's a previous fanpost featuing my attempt to pop the hood on some Spider-psychology following the Leites fight, and how he responds to a truly threatening style matchup.