In case you didn't hear, a pretty big fight is happening in Las Vegas Saturday, a rematch of a bout roughly two years ago that turned out to be much better than most expected.
For the second time in as many months, two men that have clashed before will headline a UFC pay-per-view with Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen promising to give the company their largest buyrate of the year.
When the two first fought in August 2010, things were quite different. Then 28-4, Silva was riding an 11-fight win streak and had broken the UFC record for consecutive title defenses with six. But it was that sixth defense that was the most discussed: a universally panned unanimous decision win over Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi that nearly resulted in Silva's dismissal from the UFC.
Questions surrounded what Silva fans would get in Oakland, California, at UFC 117. There was a feeling that another poor performance would cost the Brazilian star his job, a mind-numbing thought considering his credentials. His dance partner to help prevent that was a formerly vanilla middleweight who found the gift of gab was a key in rising above his peers.
Then 25-10-1, Chael P. Sonnen hadn't made his UFC return a memorable one, getting submitted by Maia in the first round of their February 2009 tilt. But after decision wins over Dan Miller and Yushin Okami, he was seemingly thrown to the wolves against alpha dog Nate Marquardt. The odds were against him to win, but he ripped through Marquardt in a dominating three round decision to earn his first UFC title shot less than two years after being shafted out of the WEC title because Paulo Filho couldn't make weight.
A suspect Silva against an underdog headlining a pay-per-view based out of a non-UFC stronghold? What could have been a recipe for disaster turned out to be one of the biggest fights in UFC history instead. Open up a new tab to watch the fight free on UFC.com and after the jump, read more about how it went down.
Sonnen: 33 years old | 6'1" | 185 | 74" reach
Silva: 35 years old | 6'1"| 184.5 | 77.5" reach
Round 1: Both men were active early, gauging distance through punches and kicks. Sonnen shot for his first takedown 20 seconds into the fight and connected on a few combos that hurt Silva. Both men hit the ground early to no real consequence, but the usually sure Silva looked surprised with what his opponent was giving him.
Sonnen got his first takedown at 3:22 and unveiled what fans would see for nearly the duration of the fight. The crowd was going ballistic with what they were seeing: Silva on his back defending against Sonnen's ground and pound. Sonnen stayed active, but wasn't inflciting major damage with his hands. Perhaps a nod toward his injured rib, Silva wasn't trying to escape but did defend as best he could, even opening up a small cut on Sonnen's nose.
Round 2: Silva opened up the second by quickly going for a leg kick, but Sonnen exploded and got the takedown just ten seconds in. This was more of the same from Sonnen: controlling Silva on the ground with the champ powerless to do anything to reverse. Sonnen boxed Silva's ears and paintbrush punched him, but action stalled several times. In many fights, referee Josh Rosenthal would likely have stood both men up but he decided not to.
Another nod toward the eventual ending: Silva began to tease submissions from the bottom, trying to set up an armbar, kimura and heel hook later in the round. It wasn't enough to turn the tide as Sonnen won his second round of the fight.
Round 3: Silva connected on a hard right to open the round and also hit a spinning back kick, but Sonnen got a takedown less than 30 seconds in. The pace considerably slowed from the first two rounds and the crowd started to boo. Rosenthal was looking close at a stand up and there were more spots where action simply died. Silva was still on his back, but did clamp on a figure four body lock to help gain more control. Sonnen's production slowed, as did the power on his punches.
Round 4: Silva went headhunting and slammed Sonnen with a painful standing elbow strike. He swarmed and eventually got top control as Sonnen went for a takedown. Sonnen survived, cinched him in and reversed to the crowd's delight. Silva kept trying to wrap up Sonnen's arms to get some sort of standup, but no go. Sonnen remained on top, landing enough shots to not get stood up. Silva was throwing some elbows from the bottom, busting Sonnen up above his left eye. Sonnen was winning four rounds to none, but looked much more worse for the wear.
Round 5: For a guy that was getting beat up, Silva still looked fresh but slipped throwing a punch and Sonnen was on him. Joe Rogan asked, "Is it too early for Chael to start celebrating?" Yep, it was. Sonnen briefly went for a head/arm choke and then reverted to his normal attack. Silva had his right foot on Sonnen's hip, giving enough space for what was to come. With 2:02 left, Silva effortlessly sneaked in his left leg and clamped on a triangle choke in the blink of an eye. Sonnen tried to escape but tapped 12 seconds later.
It was a fight no MMA fan will soon forget. Since that night, Sonnen (27-11-1) had his license suspended by the California State Athletic Commission for elevated TRT levels and subsequent hearings were bizarre to say the least, bringing Nevada State Athletic head Keith Kizer into the fray as well. He finally returned to action last October, finishing Brian Stann and followed with a controversial decision win over Michael Bisping in January. Now 35, his second shot may be his last.
Battling injuries, the 37-year-old Silva (31-4) has been nothing short of dominant in his own two fights since the Sonnen bout. He crushed Vitor Belfort via an infamous first round KO in February 2011, following that with a one-sided second round TKO of Okami last August.
Following their first fight, Silva got on his knees, black belt in hands and bowed to Sonnen. Given all that has been said since that time, it's less than likely that happens again Saturday in Las Vegas.