Contemporary rematches are often dramatically over-sold as "the most anticipated rematch in UFC history!" but this one might actually be worthy of such garish praise.
Since the tires went flat on Fedor Emelianenko's bandwagon, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva (31-4) has become, unquestionably, the #1 pound-for-pound fighter and the most dominant champion and competitor in the solar system. The last time Silva was legitimately defeated was a freakishly unbelievable flying scissors heel-hook in 2004 courtesy of Ryo Chonan in Pride. Since then, barring a disqualification for cracking Yushin Okami with an illegal up-kick from his guard, Silva has been flawless. Record-wise, that is.
At the apex of Silva's resplendent tear through the UFC ranks, Chael Sonnen (27-11-1), the silver-tongued smack talker and Team Quest takedown artist, prophesied that he'd give the untouchable champ a prolonged and merciless beating. And that came true -- which would've been miraculous in itself, but Silva's 5th-round, Hail Mary triangle choke injected that once-in-a-lifetime mystique to the already simmering rivalry, provided one of the most exhilarating comebacks in MMA history and set the perfect stage for a marquee rematch.
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The vast majority of Sonnen's scathing pre-fight proclamations were written off as clever gamesmanship and cogent fight-hyping; that is, until he sauntered out of his corner and torpedoed Silva with a blistering left hand and flattened him with his trademark double leg. Sonnen's remorseless takedown frenzy recurred at the start of each round. The fight lasted 23 minutes and 10 seconds -- Sonnen's domination throughout the 23 minutes was inevitably trumped by the 10 seconds or so it took Silva to lace up the triangle, but those slanted ratios only bolster the salivating appeal of a do-over.
The question remains: was Silva, who normally sashays fluidly around the octagon with unparalleled footwork, just having an off-night? Or could his flat-footed sluggishness and sub-par takedown defense be attributed to Sonnen, his arch-nemesis, flat-out having his number?
Continued in the full entry.
Footwork and timing are Anderson Silva's secret weapons. He's probably the most precise marksman in the game but the key to his striking success is the way he launches missiles from unforeseen and unpredictable angles, which is set up by his uncanny footwork. His takedown defense is rock-solid but, again, his anticipation and nimble footwork is what typically prevents opponents from getting deep on his hips and his underhooks and defensive clinch just seal the deal on shucking them off.
This is what was noticeably amiss at UFC 117. In fact, it was Sonnen who shined with his timing and footwork -- he flashed out half-hearted low kicks and push kicks that caused Silva to either check them or take a step back, calculated for Silva's distance and sprang for explosive double-leg takedowns.
When he wasn't using that simple ruse, Sonnen relied on the signature Team Quest approach for securing takedowns -- employed frequently by Matt Lindland, Dan Henderson and the great Randy Couture -- which is to telegraph a giant haymaker, then change levels and and follow directly in its wake. 9 times out of 10, the opponent covers up to absorb the blow or pivots back or to the side, all of which result in having one foot planted. And that's how Sonnen, who covers an obscene amount of ground on his shots, penetrates deep into the pocket and runs the pipe well, capitalized on his high-level wrestling to contain the champion.
Sensational conspiracy theories sprang up, with many speculating that Silva's performance was so uncharacteristically shoddy that he intentionally allowed the takedowns in order to finish with a submission as payback for Sonnen's disparagement of Silva's BJJ black-belt credentials. Normally, that would be a foolishly desperate line of thinking, but Silva's motion and reaction time hasn't been that bad since he fought Travis Lutter whilst in dire need of knee surgery. It was just weird -- either Sonnen over-performed or Silva under-performed ... and we won't know which until tonight.
Regardless, the chess match of footwork, distance and timing will dictate this encounter as well. If Silva shows the same level of lackadaisical defensive motion, there's no reason to expect him to fare better, but recreating the miracle submission to save his skin at the last minute is a different story.
Therefore, Silva has a much longer list of adjustments to make whereas Sonnen just needs to do the same thing minus the fight-costing blunder at the end. 95% of the time, Sonnen showed the proper technique and savvy to evade Silva's torrent of strikes on the feet, maneuver him into a corner before unlatching a power double and muffle his submission attempts with technical defense and pestering ground and pound.
The oddsmakers view the first fight as anomalous by predicting that Silva will be victorious again and, though perhaps against common sense and logic, I am as well. Sonnen at his best is still an unruly domineer of position and control and Silva's offense is considerably more potent in every aspect.
Even if Sonnen remasters his first excursion, he'll likely have to enforce those career-defining heights for a full 25 minutes; Silva needs but a split-second to pull the curtains with a strike or submission. I also feel that Silva has the better chance of improving this time around and will be eager to make a strong statement. Sonnen's only 2 losses via strikes are due to a cut and his corner throwing in the towel, but I'm going bold with a guess that Silva will go ballistic on the feet.
My Prediction: Anderson Silva by TKO.