Silva-Sonnen II can't come soon enough
OAKLAND, Calif. – Going into Saturday night's UFC 117 at Oracle Arena, the one thing that was clear was that Chael Sonnen talked the talk.
A lot of people were skeptical he could walk the walk, but Sonnen came closer to winning a championship without quite doing so than perhaps any fighter in UFC history.
When the fight was first announced, nobody in the company expected big business. But UFC president Dana White was singing a different tune afterward.
"It's definitely a rematch people want to see," White said. "We can definitely do a rematch. It was awesome. I loved that Chael talked the smack he did and then went out and backed it up."
But White was noncommittal on the idea of going to Silva-Sonnen II as soon as possible. He had previously indicated Vitor Belfort would get the next title shot, perhaps as soon as November.
Silva vs. Belfort is an interesting fight on paper. Belfort, stylistically, looks to be at least competitive with Silva, both standing and on the ground. But his title shot is based more on reputation from more than a decade ago, when he was a teenage phenom in the early days of the UFC, coupled with wins in other organizations.
Belfort, a former UFC light heavyweight champion, has actually never even won a middleweight fight in his UFC career. He's had one win since being picked up after last year's demise of the Affliction promotion, a first-round knockout win over Rich Franklin last year at a catch weight of 195 pounds.
But sticking with Belfort as Silva's next opponent would put a match fans are dying to see on hold.
Consider this: Sonnen was able to talk people into buying a match that a month earlier they could have cared less about. And he talked people into buying a match that most thought wouldn't even be competitive. The sky is the limit for Sonnen's hype skills coming off what will likely be regarded as one of the all-time classic MMA matches. It was the first time a champion had ever lost four straight rounds, big, and came back to win by finish in the fifth.
Another reason to go straight to a Silva-Sonnen rematch is the nature of mixed martial arts. If this match is passed up in favor of Silva vs. Belfort, and Sonnen is put against another contender, it's at best a crap shoot that both men will win. And if the chips don't fall right, what could be one of the biggest matches in company history could fall through the cracks.
White noted there were a lot of things that had to be taken into consideration, including how soon both men would be able to return, before making his final decision.
"What I have going through my mind is going back home and spending time with my family," said Silva through interpreter/manager Ed Soares. "I still have teammates Rafael Feijao going for a championship [on an Aug. 1 Strikeforce card], and the Nogueira brothers [who co-headline UFC 119 on Sept. 25 in Indianapolis] fighting. After that, that's when I'll think about what's next. Whatever the UFC decides is fine with me."
"There's no question this sport is different from any other," said Sonnen. "In other sports, like basketball or baseball, there are championships, but they are really national champions. In this sport, we scour planet Earth and came up with the two best guys. In the rankings tomorrow, we'll still be the two best guys. I have one goal. It's to be the world champion. And I'm not backing up on that goal."
Sonnen's comedic timing was still in top form after the fight, like when Silva started talking Portuguese and Sonnen jumped in pretending to translate, saying, "What he said is I'd like to do the reality show ["The Ultimate Fighter"] with Chael, I'll work on my English and carry the rematch."
He said that if he can't get a rematch, he's willing to move up in weight to light heavyweight or do whatever it takes to win a title.
"If I have to go on a diet and come after [WEC featherweight champion] Jose Aldo, I'll do it," he said.
"I came back with a silver medal," Sonnen said. "I came to WEC and came in second," he said of losing a similar but less epic match to middleweight champion Paulo Filho, where Sonnen controlled the entire match before being submitted. "Then in UFC, I'm a runner-up."
One of the big questions heading into the week is how the crowd would react to the two fighters. Silva, despite being the No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the current Yahoo! Sports poll, left a bad impression during his last fight, a win over Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi. Sonnen had enraged people with his talk, as fans saw a fighter who came in with a 24-10-1 record, 4-3 in UFC competition, talking like he was on a level above Silva.
As it turned out, Silva was heavily cheered by the enthusiastic crowd in Oakland, the first time a UFC event had taken place in the San Francisco Bay Area, a traditional MMA hotbed.
It only took a minute, when the people sensed Sonnen was for real, for the crowd to do a 180, only to turn back in Silva's favor when he pulled off a finish for the ages.
"Anderson Silva overcame adversity and came back and won," said White. "He came from being in deep water. Sonnen put himself on the map last week saying some crazy [expletive], and he put himself on the map again tonight."