LAS VEGAS – UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva's outburst during a conference call last week in which he raged about Chael Sonnen and threatened him with serious injury was out of character for the normally insouciant Brazilian.
Silva has been the target of nonstop taunting from Sonnen for the last 30 months. The champ has largely ignored Sonnen's verbal barrage, and got the ultimate revenge by forcing Sonnen to submit during a title fight Aug. 7, 2010, at UFC 117.
Their rematch for the belt will be the main event of UFC 148 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden and suddenly, it appears, Silva is bothered by Sonnen's lip.
He erupted on a conference call last week, making all manner of threats, and referred to Sonnen several times as a criminal. He seemed to get disproportionately angry at a harmless question after simply beaming during months and months of highly personal insults.
After Sonnen submitted Brian Stann at UFC 136 in Houston in October, he eyed Silva seated at cageside. Sonnen grabbed the microphone from broadcaster Joe Rogan, looked at the champion and said, "Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck."
It was a typical pro wrestling heel move, and Silva took it in that vein. He looked into a nearby camera, arched his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
He wasn't so cool, though, when talking to reporters who weren't even trying to provoke him.
"What I'm going to do inside the Octagon is something that's going to change the image of the sport, I'm sorry," an uncommonly angry Silva said on the UFC-sponsored conference call. "I'm going to beat his ass like he's never been beaten before. This is going to be violent and I am sorry. I'm going to make sure that every one of his teeth are broken, that his arms are broken and his legs are broken. He's not going to be able to walk out of the Octagon by himself. I can guarantee that. He will need a plastic surgeon afterward."
Most likely, it was theater. Silva has never been the type to lose his cool, but his outburst generated plenty of attention. The UFC public relations department fanned the flames by including excerpts of Silva's comments in a news release that it sent out seconds after the call concluded.
It gave a jumpstart to a promotion that had taken repeated hits from injuries. When it was first announced, the card including a highly anticipated bantamweight title rematch between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, Tito Ortiz's retirement bout against Forrest Griffin, a match between ex-middleweight champion Rich Franklin and former Strikeforce champion Cung Le as well as a bout between Michael Bisping and Tim Boetsch.
Injuries forced the UFC brass to alter the card massively, which wasn't a good thing considering UFC president Dana White had gone out on a limb and predicted it would hit one million pay-per-views.
All the changes made reaching that goal exponentially more difficult. Having Silva fire back at Sonnen during an event in which dozens of reporters were listening was most likely a shrewd PR maneuver designed to try to generate a quick bit of extra attention for the show.
There might be another reason that had nothing to do with the UFC needing the boost or Silva suddenly losing his cool, however.
It's possible that Silva might have decided it was time to play a few mind games of his own with Sonnen, who has had the table to himself for more than two years.
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Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist from Palm Beach, Fla., who once worked with UFC welterweight Thiago Alves, suggested Silva's response might be strategic.
Murray said he doesn't know Silva or Sonnen and didn't want to jump to conclusions, but said from what he knows of the situation, it could be Silva trying to lay a trap for Sonnen.
"The less talk you do, the more confident you usually are," Murray said. "Athletes who do a lot of talking, usually they're showing a little fear, a little anxiety. I'm a bit concerned when someone does a lot of promising before an event. It does seem out of character for [Silva] to do that, which makes me think he might be trying to get a reaction. Fighters can say anything, but it sounds like he's trying to get a response. Maybe it's strategy and he's trying to get [Sonnen] to react.
"If he's really smart, it could be an attempt to incite an emotional reaction from Sonnen and get him out of his performance zone. I don't think he's all of a sudden so upset and ready to tear the guy apart. These guys generally are too calculating for that. I would suspect it's all strategic. Maybe he's recognized something in [Sonnen] from the past that he's trying to use to his advantage."
Whatever his motive, Silva gave the card, and the UFC, a needed boost. Stories popped up across the Internet minutes after the call ended.
Whether that makes a difference to the bottom line, which is all that really matters in situations like these, is hard to say.
Be certain of one thing, though: Sonnen will be laughing all the way to the bank, broken bones and missing teeth or not.
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