So, heading into their eagerly awaited rematch this summer, conventional wisdom holds the American wrestler again should own large portions of the fight. And, if he simply avoids making one big mistake, Sonnen will become the first man since 2004 to legitimately defeat the reigning UFC champion.
I'm not in that group. In fact, I'd argue the way things are set up, Sonnen seems headed for a big fall in front of tens of thousands of people who surely despise him.
Here are five reasons, one for each enthralling round the middleweights fought in 2010, why "The Spider" will cement his legacy as the best mixed martial artist yet by defeating his nemesis on a grand stage.
The ambush factor
What could Sonnen possibly do to Silva that he didn't two years ago?
OK, yes, not tap to a triangle. But in relation to offense and pressure and pace, Sonnen was simply brilliant. Silva, meanwhile, was near his worst and the UFC champion still endured during the final throes of their epic encounter.
The most unique element of the fight was the ambush factor. Sonnen, everyone accepted, was tough. Limited, perhaps, especially compared to Silva's multi-layered game, but he was good at what he did. And then he walked directly at Silva and slammed a punch into the Brazilian's mouth.
No one expected Sonnen would show up to fight in Oakland on Aug. 7, 2010, the way he did.
Silva had not been tested since early 2008, when Dan Henderson made him fight for just over a round. Following that it was walkover bouts and embarrassing displays manifesting out of sheer boredom.
Unlike James Irvin, Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, Forrest Griffin and Demian Maia, Chael Sonnen was not frightened by the site of the man standing in front of him. He started fast, put Silva on the defensive -- a neat trick few -- and rolled like a tank for 20-plus minutes.
Sonnen has no reason to be frightened standing in front of Silva in Rio, but at least the UFC champion knows what's coming this time. Silva understands that Sonnen can box. And Sonnen can take him down. But he also knows that Sonnen's top game, for all the staggering punch-output totals, didn't damage him.
Sonnen's effort in 2010 will bring out Silva's best in 2012. That signals trouble for the challenger.
Silva fights like a poet writes, unless he's hampered by bad ribs. Lest we forget, Silva wasn't near 100 percent heading into the contest in Oakland. Assuming this isn't the case when they meet in Brazil, that's a huge boost to Silva. The man relies on movement. Everything flows though his feet. Take that away from him and he's a shell of himself.
Sonnen clearly deserves credit for his forward momentum throughout the fight, but I'm not buying his ability to do it again against a primed up Spider.
Sometimes it helps, sometimes it hurts.
I'd suggest to you that walking into a stadium holding upwards of 80,000 of his loyal countrymen will be a tremendous motivation for Silva.
What effect will the surroundings hold over Sonnen? I don't know. I hope the challenger isn't spooked by the scene, which could greet him much like Brazil's favelas welcomed BOPE.
Silva has accomplished tremendous things in MMA. Beating his loud rival in a soccer stadium in Rio as his country eagerly watched: that's storybook stuff. I just can't envision it going the other way for him.
Silva is better
That said, It's not like I'm looking through a crystal ball here. Newsflash, I can't tell the future. The closest any of us can get is by peering into the past, and Silva's is a thing of beauty.
In his two fights since struggling against Sonnen, Silva scored one of the most impressive knockouts of his career against Vitor Belfort, and absolutely mangled the usually steady Yushin Okami. He's as sharp as he ever was.
Making arguments like "Silva is better" seems obvious and lazy. But sometimes obvious things need to be highlighted. Quite often, the obvious things tell us most about a person. And yet we tend to gloss over them, searching instead for small details that might or might not matter.
Silva is a better mixed martial artist than Sonnen. It's that simple.
One moment in time
Can Sonnen win when everything is riding on the outcome? We know Silva can. Sonnen, though, has yet to prove he's capable of doing the same.
The 34-year-old Oregonian won many competitions throughout his life -- just not the biggest. One failing of focus, judgement or technique is all it takes to lose at his level. A mistake against Silva when he was otherwise perfect cost Sonnen a UFC championship.
So, will Sonnen fight a mistake-free bout against a man he can't afford to make a mistake against?
I don't think so.