Sonnen/Silva II: MMA's first "epic" bout

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
11:33
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Anderson SilvaMark J. Rebilas for ESPN.comAnderson Silva got all he could handle and then some from Chael Sonnen.
If Anderson Silva doesn’t win his fifteenth straight UFC fight, that means hell will have descended on Rio. That means the man in a foreign land, Chael Sonnen, went into Brazil and wrested the most elusive belt from the company’s most dominant champion.

How’s that for ultimate audacity?

Sonnen/Silva II is almost certain to be held in a Rio de Janeiro soccer stadium that holds somewhere in the range of 60,000-80,000 people.

Having seen firsthand the firestorm atmosphere of UFC 134, I have to think that the tension will be tripled in the larger confines. Partisan? That word fails to capture the loyalty and fervor that the Brazilian crowd exhibits for their own. It will be a high noon gathering of zealots, straining against their civil moorings. The reason? The American Sonnen will be dropped into the center of a cauldron that he alone helped heat to a burble.

This will be his comeuppance.

Or it will be something slightly more unfathomable. It could be the red, white and blue wrestler, Sonnen, getting fitted into a belt that has for so long belonged to MMA’s most lasting force. Either way, the scene at UFC 147 will be teetering on the brink of something -- celebration, outrage, relief, finality, disbelief. It’s the kind of scene that builds legend in a sport that could desperately use it.

And for this reason alone, it becomes the most dramatic event in MMA history. Think about it: Silva facing his only known rival in front of his countrymen. Sonnen, a journeyman-turned-star in his 30s, the interloper. Sonnen, the biggest threat Silva has known, his potential antidote. The bane of his existence.

Silva, the forever enigma. Possibly solved. Or order is restored, and he's once again triumphant.

It might be hyperbole to start comparing the outdoor fight to the “Thrilla in Manila” or Ali-Liston II or the “Rumble in the Jungle,” but maybe only narrowly. Who knows if in 40 years we’ll be talking about Silva/Sonnen II?

But as of 2012, it looks like the biggest fight in MMA history, with context filling in every corner. Their first fight, at UFC 117 in August 2010, was so one-sided as to become surreal for nine-tenths of the bout. Then came the late submission that has made Sonnen the butt of geometry jokes worldwide. Once again it’s Sonnen’s dogged wrestling against Silva’s violent grace. What buildup awaits. Sonnen knows what to do with a microphone, just like Ali did -- and he has his own parcel of scandals, too. In a bargain bin way, testosterone replacement therapy is Sonnen’s "Vietnam" references. Ali lived in turbulent political times. Sonnen is a politician (as well as real estate agent and author) with an uninspiring overall record.

Somehow, here we are.

Yet the better musical notes are just underneath. Don't underestimate how badly other countries want to score a win over Americans. We see this wherever the octagon goes, whether it's Brazil, England, Canada, wherever. The more benign the people, the more the situation intensifies. At UFC 129, there were 55,724 people at the Rogers Centre in Toronto letting up a deafening roar for Georges St. Pierre, their champion ... with an equally heated and communal display of disapproval for Jake Shields (possibly the most inoffensive American going).

It's real. Sonnen is everything that people dislike in Americans, even if he's the most exaggerated sample of perceived arrogance we have.

After all the talk, it's time that center stage becomes his ledge. He alone walks it.


Put all together, it’s a fantastic clash of elements for a mixed martial arts event. Whether the card is held at the Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange (a.k.a Engenhao, which can hold generously around 60,000 people) or the better-known Maracana (which is being renovated, and can hold up to 80,000), it doesn’t matter. The house will come down figuratively either way. For those who like to fling the word “epic” around loosely, here’s a chance for the adjective to stick.

Silva/Sonnen II is an epic event.

Or maybe it’s more like this: What’s epic is the fact that it’s actually happening in such a setting.

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