Monday, July 2, 2012
Five questions in advance of UFC 148
By Josh Gross
You can't wait for Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen to stand nose-to-nose in the center of the Octagon.
If that's an apt description, we have plenty in common right now.
Saturday's UFC middleweight title fight gets the juices flowing. Which in my case means questions, too. Unresolved thoughts linger as we hit fight week, and there's plenty to churn through by Saturday night.
Fight week. Major fight week. Get excited.
For now, a few questions on my mind:
Chael Sonnen: champion?
When it comes down to it, barring something unforeseen and shocking, the answer to this question will trump anything else that happens late Saturday.
If yes, Sonnen is set up to cash in on one of the sport's most amazing turnarounds (in the cage and out). Two years of caustic talk aimed at the best fighter MMA has produced will be validated. And, probably and understandably most important to him, Sonnen's promise to his cancer-stricken father will be fulfilled.
Otherwise, Sonnen can't be any of the many things he claimed to be, most notably the best. That title is Silva's if Sonnen doesn't win in Las Vegas -- and he'll never hear the end of it. Also, not that anyone really believed him, he'll need to answer for promising retirement in defeat. (Bridge-to-sell situation.)
During one of the excellent TV spots Zuffa produced to promote Silva-Sonnen, the challenger, presumed gangster from West Linn, Ore., aptly describes MMA as a "game of heart." He also provides his view of how to win a fight. There are a "hundred reasons to give up but you gotta find that one reason to stay in the fight. That's the guy that wins every single time."
And the guy who doesn't? Presumably he loses just as much.
Sonnen lost for a reason the first time. His focus disappeared. But for a fleeting moment, Sonnen would have left the cage in Oakland with the title. But that's all it takes against Silva, who quite obviously retained his focus despite a million things working against him, despite a swarming, prepared and dangerous challenger. Silva hung tough and made a moment. It was wonderful to witness the heart of a champion.
If Sonnen matches that at UFC 148, the odds are in his favor.
This fight will greatly influence the way Chael Sonnen is remembered. Is he among a group of competitors who made good in the most pressure packed moment? (It's not like he's been automatic to this point in that department.) Or is Sonnen a choker?
Does someone need a perfect night?
Since the rematch was first conceived, after it was learned that Silva battled through a rib injury and despite the lopsided stats produced by Sonnen, I've believed the man who never tapped had to stage a perfect fight to win. We established last time that perfection for 23 minutes isn't enough. It's going to take something more.
The longer I thought about it the more sense it made to me. In the first bout Silva was at his worst. Surprised early with punches, he was immediately put on the defensive. He absorbed more than 200 strikes. And yet he still won. Miraculous as it was, he pulled through.
So what then if Silva is healthy? If he's free to move the way he wants? If knowledge of the first fight allows him to improve in the second?
That's how I see it, and why I'm picking Silva. We know Silva can be beat up and bruised for 20 or more minutes and still win. And we know that Sonnen can dominate for four and a half rounds and still lose.
That tells me Sonnen can't make one mistake. Mental or physical, it doesn't matter. He can't give Silva an opening.
Sonnen must be masterful on Saturday, not Silva. But if it happens that Silva is on his game, Sonnen better be ready to put on an iconic performance.
Should the middleweight rematch rank among the biggest sporting events of 2012?
It's the most important MMA contest this year due to the stakes, hype, history and business. Silva-Sonnen 2 has everything any promoter could ever want out of a bout.
I'm anxious to see how it's played up, because this bout should be looked at as an indicator of the interest ceiling in MMA (specifically UFC).
All this talk in the first half of the year about declining ratings, saturation, a drop in fan interest -- how real is that?
Silva-Sonnen 2 will serve as an important barometer.
From my perspective, Silva-Sonnen 2 deserves as much media attention as any Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao fight. There's a tremendous amount of international appeal. I figure Brazil will be glued to the tube on Saturday.
This is the kind of fight that should get Page 1 treatment on sports pages across America.
Saturday's least competitive fight will be?
Oh yeah, there are other bouts on the card.
In a way, it's fitting that the UFC had to scrap Dominick Cruz's bantamweight defense against Urijah Faber. There wasn't nearly enough oxygen this week to support a second title fight. Cruz and Faber wouldn't have received their due.
As for the least competitive contest on the card, I'm thinking Chad Mendes against Cody McKenzie. It's gotta be a rough welcome to 145 for McKenzie, right? Mendes and his camp know McKenzie well from time he spent training with them in Sacramento, Calif. Suffice to say, there's little anxiety emanating from team Alpha Male when it comes to McKenzie and his guillotine.
What story will be overshadowed by Sonnen-Silva?
Well, all of them. So be it.