OAKLAND CA - AUGUST 07: Chael Sonnen punches Anderson Silva while on the ground during the UFC Middleweight Championship bout at Oracle Arena on August 7 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Wrestling has been said to be the most important base skill a fighter can possess when entering the sport of mixed martial arts. Not only have past champions such as Matt Hughes and current champions like Georges St. Pierre and Brock Lesnar dominated divisions with great wrestling, potential future champions such as Ben Askren have also used its infallible control to win consistently in their progression up the ranks. Brazilian jiu-jitsu can act as a counter to wrestling's dominance, but as we've seen over the years -- wrestlers involved in style clashes such as the Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen title bout on Saturday night have racked up slightly more wins versus their jiu-jitsu counterparts.
But the UFC 117 main event didn't prove that thesis correct. Despite Sonnen's absolute dominance of Silva on the floor for roughly 23 minutes, Silva was able to slip his leg over Chael's head, lock in the triangle choke, and hold on tightly -- pulling off one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history. Wrestling proved to be Silva's ultimate weakness, but Chael's inability to finish from that advantage allowed Silva the opportunity to win.
A lot of debate after the fight revolved around how both fighters implemented their gameplans in this battle. Silva's non-existent takedown defense was a huge oversight in my preview article, and while many fans have been making points that Chael is simply that good of a wrestler -- Silva's defense, stance, and strange 'go for broke' mentality in the striking department in the opening seconds of each round created an awful situation for him.
Let's give credit where credit is due. Sonnen's wrestling and defense against Silva's strikes was phenomenal for most of the fight. He blocked Silva's dynamic attacks on the feet early while simultaneously wading closer and closer for the takedown, eventually pouncing all over Silva as he backed himself into the fence. Silva seemed completely oblivious to the fact that Chael was moving closer to take him down. He almost never leaned into shots to sprawl effectively. He threw almost comical Kung Fu, straight out of Street Fighter II, flying kicks and close range, low percentage attacks, keeping him way off balance when Chael did decide to shoot. He actually got reversed at one point as he was leaning directly into Chael, which was a product of poor form from Silva. It was just awful, and to say that Chael's wrestling is just that great is absurd. Some of the blame has to be put on Silva's poor technical form in his takedown defense.
But that doesn't take way from the fact that this was the first proven wrestler that Silva has faced, possibly ever. Some would argue Dan Henderson is the better wrestler, but Henderson has never been a consistent positional fighter from the top. He loves to knock people out spectacularly, and thus -- his wrestling has suffered. Chael, on the other hand, realizes his stand-up is much weaker than most fighters in the division, and he relies heavily on his best skill to win fights.
With all of that said, I'm not truly focused on what happens next. I believe an immediate rematch could work out great from both a business viewpoint and a fan interest viewpoint, but I'd also like to know where Vitor Belfort sits with the UFC brass as well. In any case, I think Chael's performance hints at another interesting discussion. If Chael loses a rematch, who stands a chance against Silva in the future? More importantly, does Chael's performance create some interest from fighters, who once believed the division's title was out of reach, to think about moving into it?
Chael's performance could unlock the opportunity for a bevy of wrestlers in other divisions to make a transition as well. The once-thought invincible force in Anderson Silva has been exposed, and there are plenty of wrestlers in other weight classes that may be eying a shot at a different crown against an opponent they feel has a huge susceptibility to their primary offensive weapon.
The first man who comes to mind is Jon Fitch. He's claimed that if Josh Koscheck defeats Georges St. Pierre, he may move up in weight. There is also the possibility that Georges St. Pierre beats him a second time, forcing him to move to a different weight class. In either case, Fitch could prove to be a real threat to Silva's belt. He has phenomenal wrestling with the added bonus of solid submission defense. Where Chael failed, Jon Fitch could succeed.
Would light heavyweights drop down to middleweight to take a crack at the belt? The division is littered with solid wrestling talent, and Strikeforce even houses legitimate talent within both divisions. Ronaldo Souza, a fighter who has solid takedowns in combination with phenomenal Brazilian jiu-jitsu, could be a dangerous threat to Anderson Silva.
Obviously, those types of fights actually happening are speculative at this point, but I think Sonnen's dominating performance for those 23 minutes has changed the outlook on the division. Once thought to be completely locked down at the apex of the division, the UFC's middleweight division has had the door swung wide open for opportunity, especially for dominating wrestlers who can't succeed in other divisions.