Following an incredible fight week in Las Vegas, which featured more than 8,000 fans attending the weigh-in and culminated at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with Silva keeping his belt andrecord streaks intact — consecutive wins (15) and title defenses (10) — we now have the answers.
Chael Sonnen: champion?
Musing on the possibility, I suggested the answer would trump anything else we learned on fight night.
Well, Sonnen came closer than anyone else in the UFC to beating Silva, but a champion that does not make. He won’t be remembered among a group of competitors who made good in the most pressure-packed moments. In fact, he’ll likely be remembered for exactly the opposite.
It’s important to say that there’s no shame in losing to the best fighter mixed martial arts has produced during the past 20 years. None at all. But that doesn’t absolve Sonnen for the way he lost. The first bout ended in a total meltdown. The second, pretty much the same.
If Sonnen were championship material, perhaps he wouldn’t have squandered a minute-long stretch in mount to close out Round 1. Rather than making the most of a dominant position, Sonnen remained tight to Silva, failing to threaten his foe. That just won’t do. Sonnen’s inability (or lack of desire) to go after the champion in that position could have cost him a title; it’s impossible to know for sure. What’s clear, though, is this: Sonnen walked into the fight intending to play a tight, controlling game. As such, he was unwilling to lodge his forearm in Silva’s neck and face, unwilling to lift his posture to attack, unwilling to do what was necessary to take the title.
Does someone need a perfect night to defeat Silva?
Sonnen obviously did, for all the reasons I laid out on Monday.
He was nearly perfect in 2010, made one mistake, and lost. On Saturday, he was solid in the opening round — save the final minute in mount, which came after a slick guard pass — before reverting to ordinary in the second. Takedowns didn’t come so easily. Silva defended and moved the way he was unable to do with an injured rib the first time around. It seemed only a matter of time before something decisive was going to happen.
The hourglass shattered when Sonnen moved forward with an awkward, out-of-the-blue spinning back fist that will forever be preserved among savvy MMA fans in .gif form. The strike was so out of character for Sonnen that, in the moment it happened, most people, including myself, didn’t realize what he was attempting to do.
Sonnen’s remarkably foolish attack led Silva to duck, move and attack in one fell swoop. The champion, eagle-eyed as he is, pulled off something very few fighters are capable of. Silva wasn’t perfect (he spent most of Round 1 on the bottom, defending with a long guard and avoiding most of Sonnen’s short shots), but he didn’t need to be. The onus was on the challenger, a challenger who can’t seem to get it right in the most important moments.
Should the middleweight rematch rank among the biggest sporting events of 2012?
Judging by UFC president Dana White’s reaction to predictive metrics Zuffa uses in establishing the moneymaking potential of an event, UFC 148 essentially blew away everything else.
There’s no question that as fight week wore on, interest swelled. Sonnen-Silva 2 was treated the way it should have been by the sporting press.
None of this means it will rank among the biggest sporting events of the year. MMA isn’t there yet. For as much as UFC 148 (and the entire week leading up to the fights) showcased how far the sport had come, it also served as a reminder that there’s a long way to go.
UFC set a record for gate, making Sonnen-Silva 2 the first MMA headliner in Nevada to register among the top 35 boxing cards sanctioned by the state. That’s a testament to the sport, the combatants and the promotion, but it also is a clear reminder of where MMA ranks relative to its fistic brethren (and other sports).
Silva-Sonnen 2 won’t be remembered among the biggest sporting events in 2012. Had the fight gone down similarly to the first, perhaps I’d be saying something else. Nonetheless, it was an unmitigated success, offering proof once again that when real stakes are at play with compelling figures, MMA can move the needle.
Saturday’s least competitive fight was?
Chad Mendes versus Cody McKenzie was the pick on Monday. I’m not trying to look smart here. It was just the obvious choice, and Saturday’s result exemplified why. This was a showcase for Mendes and he delivered.
What story will be overshadowed by Sonnen-Silva?
I thought all of them would be, and they were. Even still, I was a bit surprised how much oxygen Silva-Sonnen 2 took up. From Tuesday’s news conference, where Silva put his hands on Sonnen, to the mammoth weigh-in where Silva jabbed his shoulder into Sonnen’s mouth, this fight deserved all the coverage it could get, and certainly benefited from plenty.
Thankfully, Tito Ortiz still got his due — regardless of Forrest Griffin’s oddities at the end.