LAS VEGAS – Despite Chael Sonnen doing one of the most brilliant promotional jobs in the history of sport, there was no greater demand than usual to see UFC 117 on Aug. 7, 2010, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.
Anderson Silva put his middleweight title on the line against Sonnen that night and, despite an hilarious and completely unexpected verbal war waged by Sonnen in the pre-fight build-up, it did little to change minds. The fight was expected to be a one-sided rout when it was made and, despite Sonnen's best efforts, when the bell rang that night, most still believed that Silva would squash his loud-mouthed challenger.
The perception was that they were two different calibers of fighters and that Silva's skill would easily overshadow Sonnen's bombast.
Less than a minute into the fight, though, a straight left from Sonnen nearly floored Silva. About 100 seconds into the bout, Sonnen had landed four or five significant left hands, which left the champion reeling.
Halfway through the opening round, Sonnen was on top and driving his shoulder into Silva's head, bouncing it off the mat like a basketball.
Jaws dropped around the arena as the realization hit one, then another, then another: Sonnen was doing everything he said he would do, and more. His words were no mere idle boast. It was reality and Silva was being pummeled like he'd never been before.
Nearly two years later, they meet again Saturday in the main event of UFC 148 at the MGM Grand Garden in a bout that has clearly captured the public's attention. It's easily the UFC's biggest fight of the year, and while it won't do the kinds of numbers on pay-per-view that, say, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. did when he sold 1.5 million units for his May 5 bout with Miguel Cotto, it's going to do the kinds of numbers that will make Silva and Sonnen very rich men.
[Related: Watch UFC 148 live on Yahoo! Sports]
The MGM Grand Garden will be full and the UFC expects a Nevada record paid gate of around $7 million.
Much has been made of Sonnen's 23 minutes of dominance, and of Silva's dramatic late-fight triangle choke that saved the fight, and his title.
Sonnen proved a point that night, but so, too, did Silva. Despite a brutal beating, Sonnen was unable to finish Silva and that inability cost Sonnen a championship.
Sonnen has walked around to news conferences and public appearances with a replica title belt again disparaging Silva, often to comical effect, but clearly, when the bell rings on Saturday, it has to be on Sonnen's mind: What do I have to do to finish this guy?
If Silva took Sonnen lightly that time – and it would be only human if he had – be assured that Silva has done no such thing this time around.
He better than anyone understands how difficult a match Sonnen presents. Silva is an elite wrestler and Silva's only moments of trouble in his 14 previous UFC bouts came against wrestlers, Dan Henderson at UFC 82 and Sonnen at UFC 117.
"If you train 100 percent, the result will be 100 percent," Silva said. "I'm 100 percent trained and the results are going to be 100 percent."
Silva tried to add a bit of intimidation when the news conference ended. About a week after a now-famous conference call in which Silva threatened to break Sonnen's teeth and bones, Silva was unusually aggressive when the two posed for photos. He leaned forward and pushed his head into Sonnen's forehead, forcing UFC president Dana White to jump between them and end it.
Sonnen laughed off Silva's threats and acknowledged that he'll probably get hurt.
"Anderson is going to have his opportunity [to carry out his threats]," Sonnen said. "If he does any or all of those things, it won't be the first time. But what he didn't say was he would break my spirit. What he didn't say was he's going to leave with the victory, because he's not. I don't care about bones. I damn sure don't care about going to the hospital. It's happened before. I care about 12 pounds of gold and I'm coming to take it."
Sonnen continued his verbal barrage on Silva, going so far as to say he thought Silva's aggressive posture at the square-off had a distinct meaning.
"At the press conference, he was trying to get disqualified," Sonnen said. "He was trying to start a fight so he could say, 'Oh, Chael hit me and now I can't fight Saturday.' It was very transparent and obvious. It was very hard to keep a straight face because I knew what he was doing. But I am going to wait. I've been around the guy a number of times when I'd have loved to have dragged him outside and beaten him up. But I'm going to wait until [Saturday] and I'm going to give the whole world the opportunity to watch me do it."
Sonnen's words are seemingly never-ending. He's relentless and just keeps chipping away, like when he said, "This is going to be a one-sided pounding and I'm swinging the hammer."
The difference this time, though, is that the fans and Silva himself know it's no longer an idle threat. Silva knows that Sonnen is capable of inflicting great amounts of punishment and, yes, even winning the fight.
Silva has earned the reputation as the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all-time with his run in the UFC. He's 14-0 overall and 10-0 in title fights. He's barely been touched in some of those events and wins so easily sometimes, he seems to get bored in the cage.
Sonnen has repeatedly called him a bum, but Silva shook it off. Despite apparently losing his cool on the conference call, which more than likely was planned, he's sloughed off Sonnen's taunts.
"I don't have any issues with Sonnen or anyone else," Silva said. "This is a sport and this is all inside the sport. Each person can promote the fight the way they want to promote it. I don't choose to promote that way, but it's the way he chose. It is what it is."
But that talk, and Sonnen's unexpectedly strong performance against Silva in 2010, have combined to make UFC 148 one of the most anticipated fights in the sport's brief history.
On a radio interview, Sonnen vowed he would pat Silva's wife on the back side and force her to cook him a medium rare steak after he wins. It was just one of the many over-the-top lines he concocted in turning the bout into a highly anticipated grudge match.
Bigger than the upcoming Summer Olympics? Well, perhaps not to anyone but Sonnen, but this fight figures to be one of the company's most memorable, regardless of how it turns out.
"I'm scratching my head, because I love the Olympics, but let's be fair: Just because somebody's got the Olympics on in the background while their family's eating dinner, it isn't exactly the same," Sonnen said. "It's not the same as filling out venues and it's not the same as people traveling to destinations, buying t-shirts and fighting with each other over work and placing bets, talking about something for two years, waiting for two guys to finally settle their business.
"There is no sport, there is no fight in the history of combat, where in all of 2012 that's got as much weight and as much emotion, not just from fans and media, but from the athletes that are participating in this one. So you know, the stakes are completely different, and I'm not playing around. He thinks that's funny to say he's going to break my face. Tell him I got two words for him: medium rare."
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