MMA: UFC 148

Weidman getting title shot is the right call

March, 7, 2013
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall

On July 11, 2012, Chris Weidman defeated top middleweight contender Mark Munoz without so much as absorbing a single significant strike in six and a half minutes of fight time. It was a headlining spot, and he made the most of it. The “Strong Island” native slipped a punch and landed a ridiculous elbow in the second round, and won via TKO seconds later.

And that’s how you make a statement.

That same night, with a perfect 5-0 record in the UFC (9-0 overall), he called out the champion, Anderson Silva, who four days earlier defeated Chael Sonnen with a TKO of his own.

“I want Anderson Silva,” Weidman said, in the most polite callout in the history of callouts. “Every time I’ve had a full training camp, I’ve gotten a finish. Give me a full training camp, and I’d love a shot at the man, Anderson Silva. I really think I could do pretty good. So give me a shot, please.”

Just 239 days later, Silva-Weidman has finally been made. Weidman will get a full training camp, and so will Silva. The clash of styles and experience is on. And after all that time, and through all that haze and speculation, the question becomes: What took so long to make this fight?

It’s complicated. Depending on whom you listen to, it was either because Weidman was too green, too threatening, too unknown, too audacious, or too ... eh. It was because of Weidman’s shoulder injury, and that little Stephan Bonnar thing that Silva handled in October. It was Silva’s contract being up. It was because Silva wanted Georges St-Pierre (unrequited), and then wanted Cung Le (fun fantasy), and then wanted Luke Rockhold (posturing?).

Officially, Silva’s camp said Weidman was too low profile. They wanted big fights, with big-name opponents and equal-sized pay-per-view dollars. Unofficially, Weidman’s camp thought that excuse looked like timidity. Weidman, with his All-American wrestling pedigree from his days at Hofstra University, looked like a nightmare matchup for Silva. In seven rounds of Sonnen-Silva, Sonnen won five by wrestling before making critical errors.

Weidman, at 28 years old, is a fluid submission grappler with better stand-up skills than Sonnen. He’s not likely to try a spinning backfist against Silva. There’s been a lot of optimism at the Ray Longo-Matt Serra Fight Team that a title could soon return to Long Island, if the fight would only be made.

Two-thirds of a year later, the UFC made the right call by booking it. In that time, Weidman’s intrigue has become a lot of fans' intrigue. And given his skill set, he does present interesting challenges to Silva. He beat Munoz, who at the time was a top contender. He beat Demian Maia before that, who’d had a title shot in 2010. Those are fine credentials.

But really, it's all about simple deduction -- there’s nobody else at 185 pounds who deserves it more.

Le was a Silva pipe dream. Hector Lombard hasn’t panned out. Tim Boetsch got done in by Costas Philippou (Weidman's teammate who replaced him on the UFC 155 card after a shoulder injury forced Weidman out of the event). It’s too soon for a Silva-Vitor Belfort rematch. Rockhold was willing, but his merit (and star power) didn’t trump Weidman's. Yushin Okami? No way -- not again. Michael Bisping, who was supposed to get the shot, lost in the penultimate spot against Belfort. St-Pierre didn’t want to mess around with his weight, among other concerns. Jon Jones is booked with Sonnen in April, and he has his own contenders at 205 pounds to deal with after that.

That leaves Weidman, who realistically felt like the guy all along. If a superfight wasn’t going to materialize for Silva, the UFC needed to take the next legitimate contender within the weight class. That was, and remains, Chris Weidman.

He’s healthy, and he’s ready. Silva needs an opponent. Boom. The pecking order wins out. Rev up the hype machine.

It might have taken a long time for everyone to get on the same page, but the bottom line is everybody finally did. Come July 6 in Las Vegas, almost a year to the day since Silva’s record 10th title defense at UFC 148, it’s on.

The whole thing feels so old-fashioned. Weidman gets his wish. And it’s for all of us to see what he’s able to do with it.

'Tis the season of curious call-outs

July, 29, 2012
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz says he wants current UFC titlist Anderson Silva -- when Diaz comes back from his suspension. The time away has apparently opened up his imagination, and out flies his always-fascinating fancy.

Silva’s camp says that a fight with Georges St. Pierre at a catch weight of 180 pounds is the only one that makes sense right now. Silva’s manager, Jorge Guimaraes, in stating his full slate of druthers to, was quick to add “in Brazil” to that reasoning.

Hey, when stating your preferences, go whole hog. Besides, they’re owed one after the whole Chael Sonnen switcheroo.

Jon Jones has a fight with Dan Henderson on Sept. 1. Should he defeat Henderson, he has no interest in fighting his mutual admirer Silva. He wouldn’t want to be the one to have to beat him, he says, which has its interpretations, ranging from cocky to tender caring. And besides, to listen to the UFC tell it, Jones’ next opponent will be determined next weekend in Los Angeles, where within the settling dust of Ryan Bader-Lyoto Machida and Brandon Vera-Mauricio Rua at UFC on FOX 5, a challenger is hoped to appear.

Where to begin in all of this?

That the Silva-St. Pierre fight makes sense is true, and the compromise of a catch weight does make it a little more foolproof, but it’s complicated. In fact, it’s so complicated that the fight makes almost no sense. Not right now. Truth be told, there is no "right now." There’s only “when possible,” which feels like “maybe never.” That’s the strange space we find ourselves in.

Forget about the middleweight division’s renewed intrigue over the last few weeks for a minute, and begin with the 170-pound picture. Carlos Condit is holding an interim title white-knuckle tight while waiting on St. Pierre to return from his ACL surgery. That fight has to happen for the unconventional logic of shelving an interim belt to prevail, and it’s still looking like the bout will happen in November at UFC 154.
[+] EnlargeCarlos Condit
Kari Hubert/Getty ImagesAll Carlos Condit has to do is sit and wait for his title shot ... right?

If we’re dissecting the circumstances in trying to accommodate Silva, the soonest a victorious St. Pierre would be able to fight him would be late first quarter 2013. And let’s not forget that this is St. Pierre, who doesn’t take the idea of yo-yoing between weight classes lightly (even at catch weights), so he would need the time to stuff himself with the right kind of muscular insulation. That could add some more months to the process.

As for Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks, the two who are fighting in Montreal for a shot at the welterweight belt? They would be recycled back into the fold, while Silva-St. Pierre played out. As would the crop of emerging contenders at 185 pounds -- guys such as Chris Weidman, Tim Boetsch and Michael Bisping, who are vying for their own shots, through recent actions and pitchmen.

All of that can be overcome. A few hurt feelings and a long time to think about it for a superfight like St. Pierre and Silva is just the condition of the thing. There will never be a perfect time for a superfight so long as contenders are in business -- and contenders are always in business. Cleaning out a division is next to impossible. Unless you’re Jon Jones and you fight four times a year and handle each confrontation as a weed whacker handles a bed of roses.

But the common link is the 185-pound champ. Slice it how you want, but this has become the Silva sweepstakes. The only one not holding a ticket is Jones, but he’s young and perhaps persuadable.

Diaz wants Silva out of left field, but he doesn’t have the merit. He is suspended for those pesky marijuana metabolites, for one thing, and for another he lost to Condit in his last fight. That means we mention him in the Silva sweepstakes only for fun.

St. Pierre has too many obstacles in his path to contemplate Silva. There’s the knee, then there’s Condit, and then there’s the promised Kampmann-Hendricks winner, and in the back of his mind is Diaz. All of this is great if you’re trying to avoid Rory MacDonald (as he sort of is), but not great if, as a fan, you want to see him fight Silva. For him to take the Silva challenge, he -- and the UFC -- will have to just close down the road and divert all traffic around him.

So, whom will the 37-year old Silva face next?

It’s very difficult to sort out, and it depends on the January “megacard” that’s being discussed. The simple thing to do would be to make the Weidman fight for ordinary pay-per-view and keep the divisions from bleeding into each other. But that’s so unimaginative, particularly after the immensity of the Sonnen rematch. Weidman is 9-0 overall. He’s still green. He’s not greatly marketable. And from Silva’s perspective, that singlet looks daunting for a fight that won’t generate the kinds of interest that St. Pierre would.

The fight that could make most sense to everyone is the one that the fighters themselves want nothing to do with. That would be Jones and Silva, should Jones beat Henderson. By the same logic as Silva’s camp is using for St. Pierre, it can be applied to Jones. And there are no conditions to it. Jones would be ready to roll in December or January, same as Silva. No timetables.

But if Rua, Bader or Machida is catapulted back into the title mix to spice up intrigue next weekend, even that doesn’t make sense. Not a lot does right now. There are too many promises and possibilities overlapping.

It’s UFC matchmaker Joe Silva’s job to make sense of it, and he’ll be right (and wrong) no matter what.

Like 'Ace', Sonnen forced into new ventures

July, 13, 2012
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Anderson Silva has lorded over the UFC’s middleweight division long enough to create dilemmas for challengers.

Dilemmas that look like specific little purgatories.

Dilemmas that look like harsh reality checks (to guys like Patrick Cote and Thales Leites).

Dilemmas that look like Rich Franklin trying to add body mass.

"Ace" was first to effectively get punted out the division by Silva, having fought "The Spider" twice and having lost spectacularly both times. A third fight in a lopsided affair was not and will never be in the cards. But then again gatekeeper wasn’t either. Reluctantly, and with the fresh dangling carrot of a different belt in play, he moved up to 205 pounds to see what havoc he could create there.

Turns out, not much.

Franklin’s (nearly all the way) back down 185 pounds with a set of new hopes. The problem is these are the kinds of hopes that have little to do with him. They are A.) that Anderson Silva retires, B.) that somebody (anybody!) dethrones Silva, or C.) that Silva bolts the division himself for 205 pounds.

Four years later and Franklin’s still at the mercy of Silva. And in a game flooding over with control freaks, playing wait-and-see can be harder to stomach than any kind of loss.
[+] EnlargeRich Franklin, Anderson Silva
AP Photo/David KohlA pair of losses to Anderson Silva forced Rich Franklin to rethink his place as a middleweight.

That’s precisely what Chael Sonnen wants nothing to do with, now that Silva has shot his star from the sky. Rather than settling for hopes like these -- hopes that are out of his control, and therefore intolerable -- he’s leaning towards a reinvention as a light heavyweight.

To paraphrase Sonnen, you don’t retire as a non-champion, you simply quit.

Sonnen’s not ready to quit. Instead, he’s gathering some things for his knapsack and headed north. The good news is that he isn’t reimagining himself into the WWE (yet) or anything drastic. Sonnen still has a driving desire to win a UFC belt, and he’s thinking of honing in on Jon Jones, is all. If not Jones immediately, then the people who might get him to Jones. Sonnen told UFC Tonight that “traditionally [changing weight classes] is a good way to get a fresh start and start over.”

That’s a fact.

We’ve seen it plenty in the fight game with everyone from B.J. Penn to Randy Couture -- and even with Tim Boetsch, who is closing in on a chance at Silva after a mediocre run as a light-heavy. Sonnen is as popular a star right now as anybody in MMA. He isn’t getting a third Silva fight with an 0-2 record head-to-head, but so long as he’s viable, he should capitalize on it. And so long as he can win fights, he can be accelerated in the new weight class because the UFC loves his ability to sell them.

There are plenty of consolations here.

But the question is: Can he succeed at 205 pounds? Though he presented a unique challenge to Silva by being 99 percent about dogged wrestling -- which made up 99 percent of Silva’s vulnerabilities -- the road to Jones is dotted with guys who won’t be bullied. Rashad Evans, Dan Henderson, Ryan Bader, Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira and so on. Not to mention Jones, who doesn’t get taken down and lose the way Sonnen wins.

The top at light heavyweight isn’t tailor-made for an upset like it was at 185 pounds. Sonnen’s strengths are a lot of guy’s strengths where he’s headed. It’s not a red carpet he’s looking at to Jones.
[+] EnlargeAlexander Gustafsson
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comContenders like Alexander Gustafsson will present a whole new set of challenges for Chael Sonnen.

But like Sonnen has made clear, competing in the sport is only meaningful if becoming the champion is the goal. At least at 205 pounds that can still be the goal. Just like it was with Franklin back in 2008. There are a lot of parallels. Sonnen debuted in the UFC as a light heavyweight against Renato Sobral in 2005. Franklin did too, against Frank Shamrock that same year.

Both were in their mid-30s when they attempted to perpetuate glory in bigger frames. That is, if Sonnen does what it sounds like he'll do by moving up.

The difference between Franklin’s move and Sonnen’s is that Franklin was at one time a champion in the UFC. Sonnen can’t say the same thing. He has the WEC belt that Paulo Filho sent him after not making weight for their title fight, which was a gesture toward something real. That one is legit -- if unofficial. He has the fake UFC belt that he paraded around with ahead of the rematch with Silva. That one had good shtick value.

But he doesn’t have the real thing.

And in a pursuit to get it, he’s facing up to the inevitable -- switching to a weight class that doesn’t have Anderson Silva at the top. No sense is waiting around for Silva to lose, bolt or quit.

Besides, Silva won’t have to quit. By Sonnen’s standards, Silva can simply retire. Being a champion makes the distinction.

And the good news for Sonnen fans isn’t necessarily that he’s fighting on so much as he refuses to quit.

Jones and Silva need to see the big picture

July, 10, 2012
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Jon Jones doesn’t necessarily want to fight Anderson Silva. Worse, the feeling seems mutual. This is a set of preferences that can’t help but play games with the spirit of competition.

In fact, it seems all backward when you consider that the spirit of competition is the reason this sport -- and any sport -- exists in the first place.

There was a time when the actual best in anything wanted only to compete against the perceived best in anything to prove there’s only one best. In the contemporary sports world, people like to cue up Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the obvious example of this.

And why not? Their mutual respect was so profound that in the decade they competed, the idea of joining forces would have defeated the purpose of competing at all. When Michael Jordan came along, same deal. The last thing anybody wanted to do was co-exist as a hydra. Each wanted to prove they were better than the other, and it was not taken as a sign of disrespect that they didn’t want to let friendships trump individual greatness.

In 1992, the Dream Team was in part compelling because it broke down this basic barrier, and divided the egos by 12. It wasn’t alpha dog; it was alpha team. This was acceptable because it was short-lived. It wasn’t permanent; it was a temporary musing of power in the name of country.
[+] EnlargeMagic Johnson and Larry Bird
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry helped the NBA thrive throughout the '80s.

But, specifically, here’s what was great about Magic/Bird: they co-existed as professionals in a sport at the same time. It was the very fact that they coincided. That their timelines overlapped, and the possibility to compete against each other could be realized. This seemed like the greatest gift to basketball fans, this rare moment in time when two of the game's best were made to compete twice a year (and in the Finals). And because they did coincide, the Lakers/Celtics rivalry grew epic alongside them.

So did the NBA. That’s what fighters in MMA need to realize.

By being about individual greatness, the sport becomes great, too. If Magic and Bird had been about creating a juggernaut -- like today’s Miami Heat -- it would have done away with the essential purpose of competing.

Fighters aren’t teams, so they can’t join forces. They can, however, simply refuse to fight each other based on some awe-inspired mutual admiration. They can simply say, “no thanks, I’d rather not.” At some point, you’d like them to say, “People are saying that that guy’s better than me? Well, let’s find out.”

After all, the money is nice at the top -- but greatness is the public echo that rolls down the ages.

Silva just defeated the only threat he’s really known in his weight class via a second round TKO. Chael Sonnen is now in his rear view mirror. It was Silva’s 10th title defense, and his 15th win in a row in the UFC. Everybody knows that he’s the best MMA practitioner in the sport. Everybody but Jon Jones, and people who’ve watched the 24-year old destroy everybody he’s faced. Standing between them is curiosity.
[+] EnlargeSilva/Munoz
Marcelo Alonso/Sherdog.comA bout between Mark Munoz, front, and Anderson Silva doesn't have the same clout as one between Silva and Jon Jones.

And if ever there was going to be a chance to roll out Silva versus Jones, this would be it. Jones still has to fight Dan Henderson. If he defeats Henderson, then he will have come very close to cleaning out the light heavyweight division. It will require imagination to think that Alexander Gustafsson or Glover Teixeira present any sort of challenge.

The same is true for the 37-year old Silva, who can wait to see how that Jones/Henderson fight plays out in early September. The names Mark Munoz, Michael Bisping and Hector Lombard have some intrigue -- but not the intrigue.

The UFC has hinted of a mega-event in January, possibly at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The greatest MMA champion in history could be available, along with the greatest phenom the sport has seen. The fact that they are both fighting in the UFC right now, that they’re greatness and timetables can intersect -- well, that should be reason enough for the fans to get behind it.

And that the prize of ultimate greatness dangles in the balance should be enough for the competitors. They are, after all, competitors -- they are in this to be the best. Deep down, each guy knows he can beat the other, even if they’ve enjoyed each other’s work from afar.

Admiration for each other is fine -- and believe it or not, admiration stays intact after competing. But nobody should feel content as parallels when the idea is to be the best.

When you’re the best, there are no parallels.

Gaffes continue to plague talented Sonnen

July, 9, 2012
Dundas By Chad Dundas
In the immediate aftermath of his second-round TKO loss to Anderson Silva on Saturday at UFC 148, a dazed and disappointed Chael Sonnen didn’t seem to know exactly what had happened.

“You know, he got me with a good shot,” Sonnen told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan inside the cage, his voice betraying the uncertainty of a man still trying to piece together how things had gotten away from him. “I was on the ground and he got me with a good knee; other than that, I’m just going to have to look at the tape.”

No shame in that, really. A total of 13 guys have tangled with the UFC middleweight champion in the Octagon, and in the end they’ve all probably come out feeling pretty much the same way. When Sonnen does go back to review the footage, however, he’ll see something few of Silva’s previous opponents will have seen, something a lot more heartbreaking.

He’ll see a winnable fight undone by yet another careless mistake. He’ll see one more bout lost because of the unforced errors and mental lapses that have plagued him throughout his entire career.

The first 6 minutes of “the most anticipated rematch in UFC history” looked a lot like Sonnen’s first meeting with Silva at UFC 117 in August 2010. The challenger dominated the opening round with his trademark wrestling skills, and in the early stages of the second round he continued to pressure and muscle the champion around the cage, nullifying most of Silva’s attack when “The Spider” didn’t have a big, fat handful of tights.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan.

Then came the spinning backfist that might well haunt Chael Sonnen for the rest of his days.
[+] EnlargeSilva-Sonnen
Al Powers for ESPN.comThe second Silva-Sonnen fight was starting to look a lot like the first -- until this happened.

As is so often the case with immediate postfight interviews, Sonnen’s initial account of how things ended failed to tell the whole story. Truth is, with 3:31 left in the second, he had Silva right where he wanted him -- on defense, pressed against the chain link, fighting off an array of takedown attempts -- when Sonnen inexplicably launched into that wild, spastic backfist, missed by a mile, and fell down.

It was an out-of-character moment of flash from a guy whose offense is typically meat and potatoes. If Sonnen had landed it, we’d probably still be talking about how cool it looked.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he fell on his butt, his face suddenly stricken with the terrified look we might all get if we’d just spent two years talking a raft of trash about the greatest mixed martial arts fighter in history and suddenly found him standing over us with his fists clenched.

Twenty-eight seconds later, the fight was over.

In retrospect, that spinning backfist comes off looking like a needless risk in the midst of a bout Sonnen was solidly winning. With the benefit of hindsight it looks, frankly, dumb.

And yeah, maybe it’s unfair to criticize a guy for a split-second, spur-of-the-moment decision made in the heat of battle, one that was surely more the product of instinct than forethought. Maybe it’s wrongheaded to think that if Sonnen had just played it straight, he might be walking the mean streets of West Linn, Ore., right now with the real UFC title belt, instead of a $30 knockoff.
[+] EnlargeMaia-Sonnen
AP Photo/Tom HeveziA history of mistakes: Demian Maia capitalized on a Chael Sonnen error at UFC 95 back in February 2009.

But the fact remains, this is how Chael Sonnen loses fights. This is how he’s always lost fights. He starts fast and gets ahead, only to make some critical error that costs him everything.

There was Silva’s triangle choke at UFC 117, which came just minutes before Sonnen would have claimed UFC gold. There was UFC 95, when he tapped to the same choke from Demian Maia after controlling the first two minutes of the fight. There was December 2007, when Sonnen conceded with a scream to Paulo Filho’s arm bar in the second round of a WEC title fight the former Oregon wrestler was winning. Keep going back, keep looking at the losses, and you'll find many of them are eerily similar.

On Saturday night, it was a slightly different kind of mistake, but the end result was the same.

It’s strange to think that a guy so talented and so good at the mental part of the fight game outside the cage could be so prone to such blunders during his bouts. It’s perhaps the weirdest kind of hole a fighter can have in his game, and it's one that Sonnen has been incapable of closing while racking up a 27-12-1 record during a 15-year career.

If it seems odd to us, imagine how frustrating it must be for him.

Seconds after succumbing to Silva’s strikes on Saturday, Sonnen may not have been able to put it all together in his mind, but when he watches the tape what he finds might look all too familiar.

When he sees it with his own eyes, I think he’s going to want this one back.
The likelihood of a potential super-fight between Anderson Silva and Jon Jones continues to look slim after the pair extended their friendship in the aftermath of UFC 148 on Sunday. More
Michael Bisping has put his name firmly in the pot for a future fight with Anderson Silva, insisting he would have provided much more of a challenge than Chael Sonnen managed at UFC 148. More

Five answers following UFC 148

July, 8, 2012
Gross By Josh Gross
On Monday, I offered five questions related to UFC 148, most of which, unsurprisingly, revolved around Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen.

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 and record 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.
[+] EnlargeSonnen/Silva
Al Powers for ESPN.comChael Sonnen's inability to do damage late in Round 1 proved costly.

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.

Sonnen not giving up quest for title

July, 8, 2012
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
LAS VEGAS -- Chael Sonnen got two bites at the UFC middleweight title, and each time he came up short. And at 35 years old, it's likely Sonnen might never get another 185-pound title shot, especially if Anderson Silva remains champion.

Sonnen tormented Silva for more than two years. He talked about Silva personally, his wife, his country (Brazil) and his training partners. Anyone or anything associated with Silva was fair game for Sonnen’s attacks.

Despite the insults, Silva found it in himself to attempt to bury the hatchet. He had kind words for Sonnen after defeating him by second-round TKO on Saturday night at UFC 148.

The idea of Silva agreeing to give Sonnen a third shot at his belt, however, is difficult to fathom.

But what separates Sonnen from most other fighters is that he isn’t beholden to the long odds. And the loss Saturday night did nothing to diminish his goal of one day becoming middleweight champion. Quitting isn’t in Sonnen’s DNA. He has no intention of relinquishing his title aspirations.

“You get knocked down sometimes in life and you have to put one foot in front of the other,” Sonnen said. “You’ve got to learn to shake things off and you have to keep your eye on the ball.
[+] EnlargeSonnen
Al Powers for ESPN.comExpect Chael Sonnen to dust himself off and get back on the horse real soon.

“You can’t get down. You can’t get depressed. Every single day you get up, you’ve got to make the most of it. I really believe that if you’re going to be in this company [UFC], and take up a spot, you’ve got to be chasing a championship.”

Sonnen will use the next few days to allow his wounds -- both emotional and physical -- to heal. He will then get back in the gym and begin working toward his goal of winning the title.

“I don’t need a vacation, definitely not,” Sonnen said. “I like work.

“It’s tough but, unfortunately, it’s not my first athletic defeat. In this sport you have a 50 percent chance of failure. So you get out there and put in your mouthpiece and you do the best you can. You’ve got to man up sometimes.”

Sonnen made comments about Silva leading into both of their showdowns that offended many people. Some fans, however, enjoyed the spark he gave to the promotions leading into bouts. While UFC president Dana White credits the first Silva-Sonnen affair with raising the profile of Saturday night’s rematch, there can be no refuting Sonnen’s gift for gab also played a key role.

Sonnen can dish it out verbally, and he often backs up his comments inside the Octagon. He's a very talented fighter, and UFC isn’t closing the book on him anytime soon.

Love him or hate him, mixed martial arts fans haven’t seen the last of Sonnen.

Sonnen helped bring best out of Silva

July, 8, 2012
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
LAS VEGAS -- The greatest mixed martial artist of all time did his thing Saturday.

Anderson Silva conquered his most difficult adversary for the second time, defeating Chael Sonnen via TKO in the second round of their highly anticipated rematch at UFC 148.

A beautifully placed knee to Sonnen’s sternum, fit into such a tight spot it appeared illegal at first, highlighted what was a stunning finish. In a post-fight interview, Silva capped off one of the most bitter rivalries in UFC history in a truly unique way.

Just one week removed from a conference call during which he promised to break in Sonnen’s teeth, Silva extended a different kind of offer.

“If you’d like to come over for a BBQ, I’d love to have you,” Silva told Sonnen, still inside the Octagon.

Sonnen, who has spent the past two years verbally attacking Silva in front of every camera and audio recorder available, had no excuses or apologies for the outcome. He had said prior to the fight, "there can only be one.’"

He wasn’t the one.

“The better guy wins every time,” Sonnen said. “The better guy won tonight.”

And just like that, perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen to Silva during the six years he’s spent with the UFC was over. Say what you want about Sonnen, but the Silva picture had started to grow bleak before he came along.

Long revered as the greatest fighter of all time, Silva had hit a streak of truly awkward fights. Wins over Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia were easy -- but uninspiring.
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva
Al Powers for ESPN.comBy pummeling Chael Sonnen in their rematch, Anderson Silva proved he's the best in the business at what he does.

At one point, UFC president Dana White referred to an Anderson Silva fight as the most embarrassing moment of his entire tenure with the promotion.

Enter Chael Sonnen. August 7, 2010. Sonnen accomplished what no other fighter in the UFC had before him -- he pushed Silva to the absolute brink of defeat. Ever since the beginning of that fifth round with Sonnen, Silva has been as untouchable as he was when he first entered the UFC and gained his reputation as the world’s best.

He demolished Vitor Belfort with a front kick in the first round of a title fight in February 2011. Six months later, he followed it with a one-sided TKO victory over Yushin Okami.

Saturday might have been the best of all, taking on and finishing an opponent with the only skillset perceived to give him problems. It was Sonnen’s skillset, White said, that sold the rematch; the very idea that another man might beat him.

“The crazy ass-whooping (Sonnen) put on Anderson in the first fight and the way that fight ended is what sold this fight,” White said. “After that fight, I said this is the type of fight that makes legends.”

Coming off the heels of the only challenge at 185 pounds that has given him a hard fight, many would love to see Silva move up in weight or meet another UFC champion -- welterweight Georges St. Pierre or light heavyweight Jon Jones -- in a super fight.

When asked if he’s considered a fight with Jones, Silva replied, “Nope.”

The Brazilian champion has shown no signs of slowing down, but has reached an age (37) where a realistic decline in his athleticism is expected.

White, while he sympathized with that concern, said Saturday that Silva has proven beyond doubt he’s the best in the world at 185 pounds. If that’s where Silva elects to finish his career, so be it.

“This is a young man’s game. It really is,” White said. “As you get up in age, one day you just show and you’re old. It happens that fast. You don’t move the way you used to. You see things coming but you can’t get out of the way. Anderson Silva has shown none of that.

“I don’t ever tell guys whether to move up or down. This guy does things to people that other people can’t do. He already did fight at 205 [pounds], he said he didn’t want to do it. If he’s that talented at 185; it’s the weight he loves and the weight he’s completely dominated.”

UFC 148 tops MMA gate receipts in Nevada

July, 7, 2012
Gross By Josh Gross
Saturday's eagerly anticipated UFC middleweight championship rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen is expected to set a record gate for mixed martial arts in the state of Nevada.

Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer told that UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena will earn near $6.5 million in gross ticket sales, besting a 2006 rematch in the same venue between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz by $1.1 million.

The gate for Silva-Sonnen 2 will be barely more than half the $12.1 million record figure UFC established in 2011 when 55,724 fans packed Toronto's Rogers Centre to watch Georges St. Pierre defend the welterweight title against Jake Shields. However, UFC 148 is the first MMA event in Nevada that will register among the state's top 35 boxing gates. Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s split decision over Oscar De La Hoya in 2007 tops the list at nearly $18.5 million in gross sales.

Zuffa, which owns and operates UFC, maintains 33 of Nevada's top 35 MMA gates. Before being purchased by Zuffa in 2007, Pride, Japan's most successful MMA organization, delivered consecutive $2 million gates at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Under Zuffa ownership in 2001, UFC's first card in Nevada -- the first MMA event sanctioned by the NSAC -- featured a main event between Tito Ortiz and Vladimir Matyushenko which brought in a paltry $816,660.

Silva, Sonnen and the clash of styles

July, 5, 2012
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
If there is one fundamental aspect of mixed martial arts that will never change, it’s that styles make fights.

The first televised UFC bout took place Nov. 12, 1993, between 216-pound Dutch striker Gerard Gordeau and 410-pound sumo wrestler Teila Tuli -- neither of whom fought for the UFC past that one night.

The entire event was built around the concept of pitting one style against another. In the case of Gordeau and Tuli, it was referred to as “savate versus sumo.”

Savate turned out to have sumo’s number that night. Gordeau ended the bout with a single kick to Tuli’s face when the sumo wrestler, for whatever reason, forgot to defend himself after his first (and lone) takedown attempt. It was all over in 26 seconds.

Nearly two decades and thousands of UFC fights later, the way in which styles alter fights might not be as visible, but it is still just as important.

If styles didn’t make fights, making a case for No. 1 middleweight contender Chael Sonnen against reigning champion Anderson Silva this weekend at UFC 148 would be difficult. Silva is widely regarded as the best fighter to ever live. Sonnen is a high-level athlete, but his résumé doesn’t compare to Silva’s and it likely never will.

To dismiss Sonnen’s chances in this fight, though, as so many seem to be doing despite how successful he was in their first meeting, is to somewhat forget what the entire UFC was built around.

“People do overlook the fact styles make matchups,” said Las Vegas-based grappling coach Neil Melanson, who has worked with Sonnen since early 2010. “I don’t care how great Anderson is, we’re still a bad matchup for him regardless.

“Chael’s approach, as far as he’s relentless with the takedowns, he wins rounds and he throws a lot of strikes, is difficult for everybody. He has elements we hadn’t seen used against Anderson except for when they fought and it was very dominant.”

At UFC 112 in April 2010, B.J. Penn left the cage without his 155-pound title despite entering that night as a 7-to-1 favorite over challenger Frankie Edgar. The outcome was seen as such a fluke, Penn was booked for an immediate rematch, where he was once again listed a significant favorite at 3.5-to-1.

Penn’s trainer, Jason Parillo, who believes Penn is the greatest lightweight of all time, says he entered both Edgar fights with confidence but saw the challenge ahead. Knowing Penn inside and out, Parillo figured Edgar’s style would be a nightmare.

“In all honesty, I truly believe B.J. has the ability to beat Frankie,” Parillo said. “But I’ve been with B.J. for so long and I knew the kind of style that would give him problems would always be a fast-footed guy.
[+] EnlargeFrankie Edgar
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comFrankie Edgar's fleet feet and safety-first style gave B.J. Penn fits during their two bouts.

“If you don’t want to stay and engage with him -- if you want to run from him a bit, you can give him problems. Frankie is tough enough to do that and he’s got the heart and skill to get away with it.”

Edgar ultimately won the rematch far more convincingly than the first. In some ways it reminded Parillo of a scenario he saw in boxing, when the highly touted Vernon Forrest ran into Ricardo Mayorga twice in 2003.

Forrest, the welterweight champion of the world at the time, was coming off back-to-back wins over Shane Mosley and was, in Parillo’s eyes, a far more technical fighter than Mayorga. It didn’t show when the two met in the ring that year, however. Mayorga finished Forrest in the third round of their first fight, then won a majority decision six months later.

When Parillo watches the first fight between Silva and Sonnen, his eye falls on what he refers to as the “rhythm” of each. What he sees, he’s seen enough throughout his years in combat sports to recognize. Sonnen’s rhythm disrupted Silva’s.

“Of course I give Chael a shot. It appeared in that first fight he had Anderson’s number,” Parillo said. “There’s some stuff you can’t develop in the gym and I think it goes back to the word ‘rhythm.’

“Some rhythms off-beat other rhythms. No matter how talented one guy is, he’s got a problem with certain guys because of the natural rhythm they have. It’s not something you can pick up. It’s what’s in you.”

Some rhythms off-beat other rhythms. No matter how talented one guy is, he's got a problem with certain guys because of the natural rhythm they have. It's not something you can pick up. It's what's in you.

-- trainer Jason Parillo, on how certain styles can derail even the best of fighters

Sonnen and Silva have spent five rounds in a cage together. Sonnen successfully landed a takedown in each. He landed 320 total strikes and became the first fighter in UFC history to knock the Brazilian down, which he did in the fifth frame with a straight left hand.

He accomplished more on his feet than any of Silva’s previous opponents in the UFC. As Melanson noted, it’s not necessarily because Sonnen’s striking is more advanced than that of a Rich Franklin, Forrest Griffin or Vitor Belfort -- it’s that his particular style doesn’t allow Silva to dictate every move of the fight.

“I think Forrest Griffin is a great fighter but style-wise, that fight was tailor-made for Anderson,” Melanson said. “[Griffin] got clowned in that fight and he’s great. Anderson is too fast and too long for his style. Chael’s not going to hang out there [at the end of Silva's punches].”
[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comAnderson Silva's precision proved devastating against a static, in-range Forrest Griffin.

Another one of Silva’s former opponents believes Sonnen’s success on the feet had less to do with his technique and more to do with another element of his game.

Patrick Cote, who became the first UFC fighter to take Silva into the third round at UFC 90, thinks Sonnen can find success against Silva because he’s one of the few men out there not afraid of him.

“I don’t think you can beat him by skill,” said Cote, who still predicts Silva to overcome Sonnen in the rematch. “You can beat him by a game plan and power shots and showing you’re not scared of him. That’s exactly what Chael Sonnen did in the first fight.

“The thing is you have to deal with [Silva’s] confidence. He’s so confident in his skills. He’s not scared, because he knows he can back it up with something else if [one thing] is not working. He always has a Plan B, and that’s scary.”

Of course, no one style holds every advantage over the other. In this case, Silva, as one might easily imagine, possesses multiple ways to win the fight and secure his record-setting 10th title defense.

Sonnen has had serious defensive lapses in his opponents’ closed guard, resulting in an eye-catching seven losses via triangle choke or armbar.

In the first fight, he staggered in the fourth round after Silva rocked him with an elbow strike followed by a straight punch. He survived, perhaps only because Silva willingly followed him to the ground after an unsuccessful takedown attempt.

At times Sonnen lacks finishing power, as evidenced by the fact that not one of those 320 strikes landed in August 2010 was powerful enough to end the fight. Silva has even turned to pointing that out in the buildup to the rematch.

“He was in his most dominant position for most of the fight,” Silva said. “If I was in my most dominant position for a few seconds, that fight wouldn’t have went the way it did.”

Yes, there are still reasons to like Silva in the rematch -- lots of them.

This sport has taught all a lesson, however, that has generally held up regarding every fighter to step in the Octagon. No one is invincible. If Silva is ever destined for a loss in the UFC, this weekend would certainly appear a prime candidate for it to happen.
Chael Sonnen continued to mock Anderson Silva and his manager Ed Soares, at Tuesday's UFC 148 news conference, insisting he sees no reason to apologize for anything he has said about the Brazilians' country of birth. More
Tito Ortiz has clarified to ESPN recent comments he made regarding Jon Jones, insisting he has nothing but respect for the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion. More »

Tito Ortiz

Prior to UFC 148, has Sonnen already won?

July, 3, 2012
Dundas By Chad Dundas
Conventional wisdom says this weekend is finally "put up" or "shut up" time for Chael Sonnen.

After six years of mediocrity followed by 3½ years of glorious superstardom, it’s easy to think Sonnen’s entire MMA career could boil down to the 25 minutes (or less) he’ll spend in the cage Saturday with Anderson Silva at UFC 148.

If Sonnen manages to craft another stunning upset performance like the one we saw at UFC 117 -- this time without pulling an Earnest Byner -- even his staunchest critics will have no choice but to concede his place in the record books. He will have cashed in on perhaps the longest con in UFC history, turning in an Oscar-worthy performance during each step of his slow march to becoming No. 1 in the world.

On the other hand, if Silva makes good on his poorly translated promise to have Sonnen eat his own teeth this weekend, no one outside of West Linn, Ore., will cry for the man who has fashioned himself into the sport’s first real villain. We will shed no tears because, aside from the injuries Silva may inflict during their rematch, the wounds Sonnen has suffered of late all have been self-inflicted.

In the rare instances he's broken character during his latest UFC run, even Sonnen himself admits: It ain’t easy being the bad guy.

The months of trash talk, the arguments about testosterone replacement therapy, the Twitter controversies and even the guilty plea on federal money-laundering charges -- conventional wisdom dictates that this weekend we’ll find out whether it has all been worth it for him.

Then again, conventional wisdom has never seemed to apply to Sonnen, and considering where he was less than five years ago, maybe we already have our answer.

Had the MMA media existed as it does today when Sonnen began his fighting career in earnest in 2002 (after one bout in 1997), we likely would have looked at his amateur wrestling credentials and trumpeted him as a blue-chip prospect. During the first half-decade of his run in MMA, however, it looked as though Sonnen was never going to fulfill that potential.

By autumn 2007, his immense talents had yielded surprisingly middling results. He’d grown into an unsigned 30-year-old journeyman still plodding his way through the indie scene with more than two dozen fights already on his résumé. During 2005-06, he’d had his shot at the big time, but had washed out of the UFC after losing two of three fights in the Octagon, both of them by submission.

To Sonnen, it must have seemed as though his athletic career was all but finished when a strange confluence of events rocketed him back into the UFC in early 2009. With the momentum of being the uncrowned 185-pound champion of the WEC behind him, surely a man as shrewd as Sonnen recognized the unique and serendipitous nature of the opportunity.
[+] EnlargeChael Sonnen
Gregg DeGuire/Getty ImagesChael Sonnen's first stint with the UFC -- a 1-2 run before being cut -- didn't go over so well.

In the years following, he’s done everything he's had to do -- no more and no less -- to become one of the biggest stars in his field.

Has he lied? Has he cheated? Has he made a fool of himself in public? Sacrificed his reputation? His health? Maybe his future? Only he knows for sure.

But ask yourself, if you had worked your whole life in pursuit of one professional goal only to wake up one morning and realize the chance was about to pass you by, if you realized you were about to finish your career as a disappointment, if you texted your boss and it turned out he didn’t even know who you were, what would you do?

Think of what you would do just for the chance to make it right, then imagine what a man like Sonnen might do.

Once you consider that during the past five years he's risen from the relative anonymity of the independent circuit to become one of the sport’s biggest draws, transforming himself from a nobody into the career-defining nemesis of the greatest mixed martial artist of all time -- well, there's only one reasonable conclusion to draw, isn’t there?

Chael Sonnen already has won.