After nearly two years and many hiccups courtesy of Chael Sonnen shenanigans, MMA fans will finally get to see perhaps the most anticipated rematch in MMA history. Anderson Silva, the most dominant champion in UFC history, will once again be defending his title against the challenger in Sonnen. Silva enters with an overall record of 31-4, with a perfect 14-0 in the UFC, while Sonnen enters at 27-11-1, 6-4 in the UFC.
So much has been said and broken down about this fight that I’m not sure how to provide anything unique or insightful. One thing I can do is link you to Jack Slack’s brilliant series on Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen, which might be the best breakdowns I’ve ever seen in MMA. They are all lengthy pieces, but trust me when I say they’re well worth reading.
With that said, I do have no shortage of thoughts on the fight, so I’ll do my best to articulate them here.
Anderson Silva is a fantastic striker, in my opinion the best the sport has ever seen. There have been many great strikers, but none of them have combined the technical proficiency, accuracy, quickness, power, and movement like Silva has. He has so many different weapons, stances, and angles of attack that it’s enough to make one’s head spin – literally. What makes Silva so great is that he’s the rare fighter who has mastered the ability to strike with great offense without compromising his defense. There’s a reason it was so shocking that Sonnen hurt Silva with standing strikes, and it’s because nobody had ever done that before.
Silva also has good Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, although it is certainly not on the level of fighters such as Demian Maia. He has an excellent guard, and his notoriously long legs often allow him to get the “spider guard,” which is basically a body triangle from the bottom. From that position, Silva can neutralize his opponent while landing elbows to his head. He’s also very good at triangle chokes, as he showed against both Sonnen and Travis Lutter. Because of Silva’s developed ground game, there is almost no position from which Silva is not extremely dangerous.
The one area in which Silva is deficient is his wrestling. He’s often able to defend takedowns against opponents who are not threatening strikers, because he can easily focus on his takedown defense without needing to respect what his opponent can do standing. This is why Sonnen was so successful – he was able to establish his striking game enough to force Silva to respect it. Then Sonnen was able to get Silva to the ground, get in top position, and continue the ground and pound onslaught.
Sonnen is a fighter who basically fights the same way every time. He moves forward very aggressively, gets in his opponent’s face, gets a hold of him, takes him down, and beats him up from the guard. Sonnen did show some guard passing in recent fights, so he may have adapted his game a bit, but either way, he’s definitely a ground and pound fighter.
According to Fight Metric, two things are true about Sonnen. The first is that he always lands more significant strikes than his opponent – a direct result of getting in top position, as it’s very difficult to land significant strikes from the bottom. The second is that he almost always lands more takedowns than his opponent – Demian Maia and Renato “Babalu” Sobral being the two exceptions to that rule.
I see no reason Sonnen can’t take Anderson Silva to the ground, get in top position, and continue his assault again. Silva’s wrestling and takedown defense are just not good enough to stop him. But I’m still picking Anderson Silva to win, and it’s because of just how dangerous he is. First of all, every round starts standing, and we’ve all seen just how suddenly Silva has been able to win by knockout. As tough as Sonnen is, all it takes is a well-placed kick or knee from Silva, and the fight could be over.
The other problem is one more notorious as far as Sonnen is concerned. Not only has he lost eight times by submission, seven of those were by either triangle choke or armbar. The fact of the matter is that, even if he does get takedowns, he has to survive Anderson Silva’s submission game for 25 minutes. That’s just a long time for Sonnen to avoid being caught.
SILVA PREDICTION: ANDERSON SILVA (102.31) OVER CHAEL SONNEN (82.08)
Sonnen is definitely capable of winning this fight. Two more minutes of survival, and he would have been the UFC middleweight champion after UFC 117 (and then there would have been huge controversy stemming from the impending results for elevated testosterone, but let’s not go into that). But when the fight takes place, he has to perform a high-wire act for a long time against the most dangerous fighter in the sport. Anything can happen, but I think the most likely result is another Anderson Silva win by submission.