A lot is riding on the upcoming UFC pay-per-view with Anderson Silva defending his middleweight title once again against Chael Sonnen, who grounded-and-pounded Silva for four-and-a-half rounds the first time they faced off before Silva pulled off the miracle comeback two years ago.
For the UFC, it’s a chance to continue its comeback from a disappointing string of injury-riddled pay-per-view cards. The last two big ones — Jon Jones-Rashad Evans (UFC 145, April), Junior dos Santos-Frank Mir and other heavyweights (UFC 146, May) — have done well. (We’ll give the UFC a pass on UFC 147 in Brazil, which turned into a finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil with a Rich Franklin-Wanderlei Silva bout on top. That one really wasn’t about the U.S. market. The current wave of UFC growth is overseas, and they know it.)
Silva-Sonnen is the standout fight of the UFC’s overloaded year, in which it’s pumping out fight cards by the dozen for the Fox networks along with its now-standard steady flow of pay-per-view cards. The storylines are obvious. The fighters hate each other. Sonnen won’t stop talking about how he dominated Silva for all but the last few seconds of their last fight. Silva is one of the greatest fighters of all time.
So why am I not interested?
1. The first fight was dull aside from the shock value. Sonnen takedown. Silva stuck on his back. Repeat. The only interesting thing about it was the man on his back was Anderson Silva … the man who had the aura of invincibility.
2. Age. The combined age of the guys in this fight is 72. Experience can be a good thing in this sport — the complexities of martial arts can take years to master — but the 35-year-old Sonnen is still bringing essentially the same wrestling-intensive skillset he’s always had. The 37-year-old Silva might have lost a step despite his wonderful bounce-back from the first Sonnen fight, a highlight-reel KO of dangerous opponent Vitor Belfort.
3. Chael Sonnen, middleweight champion? Sonnen has had a slow climb up the middleweight ladder. He was 1-2 in his first stint in the UFC, departing after his third career loss to the ubiquitous Jeremy Horn. Some solid results in BodogFight brought him into WEC, where he lost a title fight to Paulo Filho. He got a quick rematch and won one of the oddest fights in MMA history — Filho missed weight and acted as if he were hearing voices. He moved into the UFC and immediately lost to Demian Maia.
Sonnen rebounded with a couple of wins and plowed through Nate Marquardt to earn the title shot. He looked far stronger than Marquardt, a prelude to how he would treat Silva.
Then came the scandal. Sonnen’s postfight drug test showed a 16:1 testosterone-epitestosterone ratio. The limit, depending on the overseeing body, is either 4:1 or 6:1. There’s no need to rehash the whole case, but the end result is this: Sonnen served a suspension and returned with a strong win over Brian Stann and a less convincing win (I’m not convinced at all, frankly) over Michael Bisping. He’ll fight Silva under a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone use, but he’ll be tested extensively, and his ratio still needs to be under 6:1.
So if Silva is the old Silva, he shouldn’t have any problem with Sonnen. The champion supposedly had a rib injury the first time they fought, and he’ll be better prepared to fend off Sonnen’s takedowns. No one doubts Silva would win if the fight remains standing. And if Sonnen derived any additional strength from testing off the charts in the first fight, he’ll have less of an advantage this time around. It’s possible, maybe even likely, that Silva is about to deliver an epic beatdown that ought to make Sonnen shut up for once.
But what if he doesn’t? What if age has really robbed Silva of his legendary explosiveness? What if the UFC ends up with a middleweight champion with a 28-11-1 record who wouldn’t have gotten this rematch without his big mouth and a massive favor from the judges to beat Michael Bisping? A champion who sneers at any reporter who dares to ask real questions or do any real reporting about his testosterone use?
To me, it looks like pro wrestling. We’re about to see the heel get his come-uppance. Or not. (And a lot of people actually like the heel, who is indeed a witty guy and, oddly enough, a pretty good TV analyst.)
There’s a reason I’ve used first person through all this. I know this is just me. The typical MMA fan is far more interested in the storylines than I am. This card is going to get a ton of media coverage. I’d be stunned if the pay-per-view numbers weren’t the biggest of what’s already a pretty good year.
But the date I’ve circled is Aug. 11. Ben Henderson. Frankie Edgar. Lightweight title rematch. Two great guys. Two great fighters. Bring it.