Finally: after months of speculation, confirmation, denials and rumours, the bosses at UFC have announced that the eagerly awaited rematch between Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva and “The Gangster” from Oregon, Chael Sonnen, will take place at UFC 147 on 23 June in Brazil.
Rejoice! We thought it would never happen. Certainly Sonnen made the most of Silva’s recalcitrance to sign for a rematch since his return from a drugs ban. And certainly all the noise coming from the Silva camp was that Sonnen was unworthy of another shot at the champion.
In separate interviews, both Silva’s manager Ed Soares and his long-time Black House teammate Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, have said that Sonnen's loss in the first match and subsequent failed drugs test, should mean that he’s at the back of the queue for the middleweight championship.
But not many people were buying it. Dana White for one has been trumpeting a Sonnen/Silva rematch ever since the painstakingly close fight between the two at UFC 117, where a dominant Sonnen lost in the dying minutes of the final round with an inspired triangle armbar from the Spider.
Having been a long-time Silva fan myself, on that night I was witnessing a sight I’d never seen before: the man many consider the Michael Jordan of MMA being outclassed, out-thought and out muscled by Sonnen.
And perhaps, everything Sonnen had said leading up to the match was true. That Silva does have an undeserving mystique. That when someone takes the fight to him, “gets in his face” so to speak, the champion wilts.
It’s true, Silva claimed to have a broken rib during the fight, which accounted for his poor performance. But I’m not buying it. Silva immediately announcing his “broken rib” and his decision to fight despite reservations from his doctor, inside the Octagon, straight after the fight, rings like the face-saving ploy of a humbled star. And I’ve fought with a broken rib. I’ve fought with more than one broken rib: it ain’t that big of a deal. Sure there’s the stabbing pain when you cough or sneeze, and your torso shakes, but when it comes to injuries that fighters carry into the ring, it impairs you less than what most people would think.
No, what we saw at UFC 117 was Silva hopelessly perplexed as to how to deal with the charging Sonnen. Sonnen not only out-wrestled him, he also, in many instances, out-boxed him.
This surely helps explain why Silva seemed reluctant to talk about a rematch with Sonnen, despite White’s best efforts and despite, no doubt, lucrative offers on the table.
And in that time Sonnen has been convinced the champion has been ducking him. Eager to see out his career with a couple of easy “w’s” in his stats, and retire as the champion. Of course Sonnen still wanted the rematch, he even paraded around with a fake middleweight belt just to taunt him. And now Sonnen has that rematch.
The fight will take place at a 60,000-seater soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where the UFC is expecting a record crowd, and where the atmosphere will no doubt be electric.
So what will be the outcome of this match? I gotta be honest. Sonnen won me over. I hated him, but he walked the walk. He was thrown obstacles on his way to the rematch, and stepped up on both occasions – steam-rolling Brian Stann and winning a closely fought decision against Michael Bisping. Both times he came to fight. He was willing to take heavy shots from both fighters in his efforts to press the action.
Silva, who is so adept at the counter-striking game and fighting on the outside, even in retreat, is unused to such opponents. Those who have played his game, such as Yushin Okami last year, have paid the price.
But this time Silva will be more prepared for what Sonnen has to offer. He knows Sonnen’s style, and has had the last two years to reflect on his near loss. So there is every chance that the fight will play out differently.
In the seminal research on expert predictions, psychologist Philip Tetlock surveyed 27,450 predictions by political scientists, economists and journalists, which were followed up to determine their accuracy. He found that the average expert was about accurate as a dart-throwing chimp. So this chimp is going to throw a dart – Chael Sonnen, unanimous decision.