OAKLAND CA - AUGUST 06: (L-R) UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva refuses to face off with opponent Chael Sonnen at the UFC 117 weigh-in at Oracle Arena on August 6 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Note: We are reposting this piece, which originally ran August 7, 2010. Enjoy. Nate
We are hours away from Anderson Silva's most anticipated middleweight title defense since his fight with Dan Henderson in March of 2008. Since that fight, Silva has looked spectacular in two appearances at light heavyweight, and less than inspiring in three fights at middleweight.
Early in his UFC career, Anderson Silva's one clear weakness was his defensive wrestling. He was taken down by Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt, and Rich Franklin with ugly takedown attempts, and was also taken down by Dan Henderson. Of course, taking him down was not enough. None of the aforementioned challengers had the top game to truly put Silva in danger, and Silva stopped all of them inside of two rounds.
If Chael Sonnen has a chance at UFC 117, that chance hinges on the fact that Anderson Silva has not competed against a wrestler with legitimate wrestling credentials since he defeated Dan Henderson at UFC 82. Since March of 2008, Anderson Silva has fought men who either had no desire to take him down or no ability to do so. Chael Sonnen wants to take him down, and certainly has the ability to do it.
Dan Henderson is the best wrestler Silva has ever competed against, and while Henderson has incredible wrestling credentials, few would argue that his MMA wrestling is as effective as Chael Sonnen's. Chael's double leg covers a lot of distance in a short period of time, which allows him to take opponents down without first having to put himself in danger by closing the distance, unlike Dan Henderson.
Make no mistake about it: Chael Sonnen is the best offensive wrestler Anderson Silva has ever fought. Further, Silva fans should be concerned that Silva's main wrestling training partner for this fight, Mark Munoz, was completely unable to take down a fighter that Chael Sonnen took down with ease.
But is a great double leg enough to beat the best fighter on the planet? Probably not. Taking Silva down won't do the trick on its own; he is quite capable off of his back, and very good at minimizing damage while he waits for an opportunity to get back to his feet. This is the real reason a GSP fight is so intriguing: St. Pierre is perhaps the only fighter alive who possesses both the ability take Silva down and the ability to cut through his guard and threaten him offensively from top position. Chael Sonnen will have to do his work from guard, and it's hard to see him succeeding given his long history of poor submission defense.
Chael Sonnen's best hope at winning is to drag this fight into the championship rounds by securing takedowns and playing a conservative game from top position. Instead of posturing up and putting himself at risk for submissions, he should stay close to Silva while landing body shots and close range elbows. If the ref stands them up, rinse and repeat. If he can make it to round 3 and take one of the first two rounds, his odds of winning skyrocket. We've seen Silva in rounds 4 and 5, and he is certainly not the killer in those rounds that he is in rounds 1 and 2.
While it's true that a five round fight favors the man most capable of finishing, it's also true that there are very few instances in UFC history in which a striker comes back to score a knockout after being put on his back for multiple rounds. Intense wrestling and grappling is physically exhausting, and by rounds 4 and 5 a knockout finish becomes very unlikely after multiple rounds of wrestling.
Ultimately, getting past round 2 with Anderson Silva is easier said than done. Especially when he's angry. The most likely outcome of this fight is a submission win for Anderson Silva, and the second most likely outcome is a KO win for Anderson Silva. However, of all the men Anderson Silva has fought in the UFC, Chael has the greatest chance of scoring a decision victory. That chance is still very low, but it's real.