Before Anderson Silva became one of the most dominant champions in UFC history, his rise to success was a bumpy one. Growing up as an impoverished youth in Brazil, Muay Thai was an outlet and a way to make money. It was only a matter of time before MMA caught his attention, and Silva began racking up wins in Brazilian Vale Tudo events. These humble beginnings led him to where he is today, wearing the UFC middleweight title around his waist and living the life he always dreamed. In spite of that, fans still love to remember one of the biggest losses of his career against Ryo Chonan, a submission-finish that will never cease to make it into fan-made highlight reels.
Silva and Chonan met at Pride Shockwave 2004 on New Year's Eve inside the Saitama Super Arena. Anderson had gone 3-1 in his first stint with Pride FC 18 months prior to this meeting, defeating former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton, Alexander Otsuka and Alex Stiebling, but suffering a surprising loss against Daiju Takase (who was 4-7-1 at this time) via triangle choke. Silva parted ways with the Japanese promotion and took a trio of other international fights, including a bout in Cage Rage against Lee Murray for their Middleweight title.
While taking these matches, "The Spider" was struggling to stay afloat financially, working at a McDonald's in between training. During all of this, Silva had a falling out with his camp, Chute Boxe, due to allegations of his manager, Rudimar Fedrigo, hoarding his prize money, as well as feeling like he was not being treated like the star he wanted to be. Anderson felt held back compared to the popularity of Wanderlei Silva or Murilo "Ninja" Rua. It was also said that the UFC offered Silva a contract, but Rudimar turned them down. Eventually, Anderson left the team to try things on his own (and later joining forces with the Nogueira's, who had left the Brazilian Top Team to forge their own path, much like Anderson).
The trio of victories for Silva and his new perspective helped get him back into the eyes of Pride FC officials. A fight was made for his return to the promotion against Ryo Chonan, who was then 7-4. A fan-favorite, Chonan had just beaten Carlos Newton in October at Pride Bushido 5 and also held wins over Hayato Sakurai and Daijiro Matsui, with his energetic style of fighting helping the local crowds love him more.
On the same night that saw Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira face off for the Pride FC heavyweight title, Chonan and Silva met in a fight that was (at the time) critical for both of their careers. Silva wanted to cement his place back in the company where the big money was at, as did Chonan who also wanted to kick off his road to stardom.
The fight was a back-and-forth affair that fans still debate about as to who was ahead and would have taken home the win if it had gone the distance (the comments section is below for you to argue about that). Neither fighter backed down and had the audience on the edge of their seat. However, at about three minutes into the final round, Chonan leapt into a leg scissor takedown that would have made Cung Le offer him a round of applause, and followed it up quickly with a tight heel hook. Anderson had no choice but to tap out immediately , and thus sealed his fate with Pride FC.
After the fight, both men were quite emotional in their respective victory and defeat as you can see in this video above. Even though Chonan had won the fight, he was in a ton of physical agony, complaining about his legs and the elusive strikes that landed on his face. Silva was incredibly distraught and nervous about possibly suffering a serious injury from the submission.
Years later, Chonan discussed the win over Anderson, and claimed that hitting that picture-perfect maneuver was purely thanks to "good timing". In an interview with Ariel Helwani (seen below at 2:30), Chonan claims that he is "over it" and felt that the fans put too much importance in that one fight, and added that if he fought Anderson today, he would be "dead".
Silva returned to Cage Rage to defend his title, which he did with impressive wins over Jorge Rivera and his world-famous elbow knockout over Tony Fryklund. This caught the attention of UFC officials, who signed him to make his debut against Chris Leben at UFC Fight Night 5, and the rest is history.