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Bellator NYC: Wanderlei Silva vs. Chael Sonnen Toe to Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Silva vs. Sonnen for Bellator 180 and everything you don’t about borrowed time.

3rd Annual Fighters Only Mixed Martial Arts Awards - Arrivals Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen return to the cage this June 24, 2017 at Madison Square Garden this New York City, New York.

Single sentence summary

Phil: What happens when the fighter who prided himself on being the smartest guy in the room realizes that he can't do it anymore?

David: Bad blood between sad doodads.

Stats

Record: Wanderlei Silva 35-12-1 NC 1-Draw Chael Sonnen 29-15-1 Draw

Odds: Wanderlei Silva +150 Chael Sonnen -160

History / Introduction to the fighters

Phil: Chael had it all, until he didn't. That's been pretty much the encapsulation of his career since that first fateful time he fought Anderson Silva, and fell at the final hurdle. He made it back, and got destroyed. He fought Jones, and got close to winning by one of the most fortuitous injury TKOs I've ever seen, if only he could have held on for one single round. There was a place for him as an analyst and a reliable heel, but his massive drug test failure drove him out of the UFC. Now he's in Bellator, but it seems quite apparent that his heart is no longer in it.

David: I wish I could wax intelligent about Sonnen’s career but i’m pretty sure we tried to do that for the Tito Ortiz fight. All the nice things I could say I’ve pondered, labored over, and articulated. Truth is, Sonnen was less a heel, and more of a hoax. A politician in an athlete’s body - smiley glad handing his way into fights he didn’t deserve (Jones) because Dana White is a sucker for his white savior. I.E. “You’re crazy if you think Mayweather can’t be caught”. No really.

Phil: Man it's been a long time since Wanderlei Silva, Destroyer of Men was a thing. We're getting close to that potential Robert de Niro inflection point where the bad side of a career is longer than the good one. The whole story of Wanderlei's UFC tenure was that he was clearly on the downslope... but it started almost ten years ago! Anyway, these two were coaching a series of TUF against each other until Wanderlei ran away from a drugs test and Sonnen basically exploded the testing machines. Now they're both back, and it's time for the rivalry to finally be... oh whatever.

David: Let’s forget about all that great Pride nostalgia for a second. When Wanderlei came into the UFC, he wasn’t what he once was, like Chuck Liddell, but that fight between the two of them is a modern classic IMO. People would build shrines out of these men if it happened in Pride. Alas, it happened after Wanderlei threatened to have sex with Chuck, and neither man has been the same since.

What’s at stake?

David: LOL.

Phil: These guys are gimmicks to be used in legend fights or sacrificed to up-and-comers. Thus there are many directions they could go. Chael against Rory? A Fedor rematch for Wanderlei? I shudder to think, to be honest.

Where do they want it?

Phil: Where is less the question than "when", and the answer is "a long time ago". Once, Chael was a dynamic wrestler with an incredibly powerful shot and a number of sneaky trips. If he got people down on the mat, he was able to cleverly blend actual powerful ground and even top position submission attempts with absolute nonsense which he just threw in order to look busy and not get stood up. He was an underrated boxer, who had a slipping hook which Brad Pickett would be proud of. His problem was always mental. He could take licks and keep on coming, but it was an insecure type of willpower; the kind of perpetual motion machine which rammed him straight into walls if he got trapped. That is something which has gotten much, much worse over time, to the extent that I genuinely doubt he can function as a mixed martial artist anymore.

David: Sonnen’s boxing was adequate as long as it was connected to his wrestling. In a vacuum it’s pretty terrible. He doesn’t string combinations together, and doesn’t have movement nor the head space to deflect or pivot away from pressure. But that’s what his wrestling is for. And his clinch. He’s always been good at timing his clinch entries to avoid attacks and to setup his takedowns. Over time he’s lost two key things that made him efficient at this: his strength (TRT baby!) and his grip. He’s tough but he’s also one ill advised spinning back elbow from giving up position.

Phil: Wanderlei's clinch and kicks largely died in his UFC tenure, with the exception of a fight against Cung Le, leaving him mostly as a powerful, canny boxer, not a million miles away from his friend Shogun, basically. He's far more of a counterpuncher, basically waiting for his opponent to enter space, before winging short, repeated hooks. He can split an opponents guard with a jab, and is a better wrestler and grappler than he's given credit for. While he physically faded, he remained pretty cunning, and was essentially able to game Stann and Bisping into fights which he could win with sudden moments of offense.

David: I would argue his clinch began to fade a little even during Pride. I’d like to think Ricardo Arona had something to do with this - just so everyone else can remember him as fondly as I do. Matchups also played a factor. Wand never had to deal with the classic wrestle-boxers of the UFC. Ala grass versus clay. As you mentioned, Wanderlei has been an underrated grappler for years. Mainly from a defensive perspective. He’s good at scrambling, fighting for underhooks and countergrappling with his clinch acumen. He never got enough credit for fending off a prime Rampage, who was more or less neutralized in both of their first two bouts. I would say Wand has something similar going with Shogun on the feet as well - Chute Boxe in general ushered in a unique brand of striking that was raw, but designed well for MMA. Wand’s boxing may look a little sloppy, but I always thought of it as a bug more than a feature. He’s good at timing and cutting traditional archetypes of defense (like Jackson’s earmuff stance) with strikes, only really losing his mind if he smells blood in the water. Think controlled chaos. These assets have waned for Wand obviously, but still.

Insight from past fights

Phil: Look at any of Chael's semi-recent fights. All the way back to Jones, and including Shogun. He just doesn't want to fight any more. As soon as he gets pushback, he's toast.

David: Wand has been MIA since 2013. It’s hard to glean much insight into his past fights since his past feels absent.

X-Factors

Phil: Bellator doesn't exactly have the most rigorous testing regime in the world, so I'm morbidly curious to see how these two gentlemen look physically.

David: Clomiphene. Roid rage. Despair. Just the usual between two former alpha males from opposite ends of the white and blue collar spectrum.

Prognostication

Phil: I think Chael will try something, perhaps get some success, then get reversed and curl into a ball. Wanderlei Silva by TKO, round 1.

David: Honestly, I think this fight has the ability to be a complete bore. Who knows what Silva will look like. Sonnen likes fighting Brazilians and often looks competent doing so. He doesn’t like his “piglet tribes”. Wanderlei Silva by Decision.