UFC 117 Post-Fight Analysis: Was Anderson Silva's Takedown Defense Really That Bad?

A lot of things are written in the aftermath of an important UFC event that may be slightly embarrassing when reexamined in the light of the next morning. Some are driven by emotion; riling up the viewer and getting adrenaline pumping is part of the sport's appeal after all. But, some articles are nothing more than pseudo-sophisticated analysis, as beta male bloggers try to be "first" to drive a point home.

Sometimes even the best of us fall prey to this urge. I wanted to be ahead of the pack pointing out Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin's weaknesses. So I jumped. This morning, our own Michael Rome wanted to jab home the truths he articulated yesterday in a post pumping up Sonnen's chances. But he may have stretched things a little far in an attempt to make his point:

It's been quite a while since Anderson Silva fought a wrestler.  As Sonnen took Silva down again and again with shots he did not bother to set up, I was not surprised in the least.

Having watched the fight twice this morning, allow me to rebut. Sonnen did a masterful job controlling the fight. An impeccable gas tank kept him on top once the contest hit the mat, and he was able to work hard enough not to have to worried about taking Silva down "time and time again." In fact, Sonnen never had to get up a single time after taking the fight down.

Sonnen, contrary to Rome's contention, didn't do well when he shot without setting things up first. A chronicle of his successes and failures after the break.

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Round 1: After missing an early takedown attempt (4:40), Sonnen shocks the world by winning a standing exchange. After landing several flush punches, Sonnen shoots (3:24) and takes the fight to the ground for the remainder of the round.

Round 2: Early in the round Sonnen catches a Silva kick and takes him to the mat (4:51). The two never return to their feet.

Round 3: Sonnen scores a great takedown (4:40), setting things up nicely with a jab and then stretching his entire body out to control a backpedaling Silva. The fight stays on the ground for the remainder of the round.

Round 4: Sonnen, looking a little tired, shoots in with no setup (4:47). Silva stops these takedowns easily. After a furious standing battle, Silva stuffs another shot (4:32), but makes what could have been a fight changing mistake. Instead of returning to his feet, Silva takes the top position. Seconds later, Sonnen reverses him (4:07) and stays on top for the rest of the round.

Round 5: Sonnen immediately looks for a takedown, but by not setting it up first, fails badly (4:54). As Silva looks for a desperation knockout, his feet get tangled and he slips to the mat (4:42). The fight is on the ground, with Sonnen leaving progressively more and more openings, until the finish heard around the world.

Rome also points out another weakness in Silva's game:

Perhaps the most stunning thing about tonight's main event was Anderson's complete inability to defend himself from guard for the better part of four and a half rounds.  His primary strategy was to try to stall for a standup, and when that didn't work, he had no answers...until round 5, when he pulled off one of the greatest comeback wins in UFC history.

On a second viewing, this point didn't seem as obvious as it did late last night. On the mat, Silva was almost as active as Sonnen was-he had to be to contend with the wrestler's seemingly bottomless gas tank. Both men were moving-a lot. And though you didn't see Silva actually go for much from the bottom, you could see his hard drive spinning throughout. It was a chess match in the best sense as Silva spent much of the fight trying to control Chael's arms and waiting for his moment to strike.

Beyond submissions, Silva's active striking from the bottom changed the dynamic of Sonnen's attack in the later rounds. Suddenly worrying about the elbows and punches from the bottom that were shredding his face, Sonnen had to get progressively more aggressive to keep the advantage. In the end, that's what cost him.

Looking back, it's not as simple as saying Anderson Silva is a bad wrestler. In fact, when Sonnen's wrestling wasn't accompanied by other techniques, Silva stopped it with ease. It was only when Sonnen was able to provide himself an edge with active striking and groundwork that his wrestling base was able to propel him towards victory. This was mixed martial arts in its truest sense. And if this fight proved anything it proved that two willing warriors, fighting with heart and determination for 25 minutes, can provide the kind of entertainment unparalleled in the world of sport.

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