Sonnen repeatedly took Silva down, pummeled the UFC middleweight champion on the ground round after round after round after round and was seconds away from the greatest upset in the sport's history when Silva caught him in a triangle choke to finish the fight and save his title.
Now, almost three years later, as Silva prepares to defend his belt against Chris Weidman on July 6 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas in the main event of UFC 162, it has almost become hip to pick Silva to lose.
Read virtually any website that covers mixed martial arts – including this very piece – and you'll hear from fighters who believe Weidman's got the style and confidence to defeat Silva.
It is, of course, in the UFC's interest to foster the notion that Silva is vulnerable as that would make fans more likely to buy the pay-per-view. The UFC marketing and public relations team understands that, and has been banging the drum for Weidman.
Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, who also serves as an analyst on Fuel TV, is among those who believe Weidman has a very good chance to end Silva's incredible reign, even though Silva has two more wins in UFC title fights (11) than Weidman has wins overall (9).
Cruz, though, didn't just base his take on the obvious: That Silva struggled against high-level wrestlers like Sonnen and Dan Henderson and that Weidman, a two-time All-American wrestler at Hofstra, would be able to do the same.
His view was much more nuanced than most, and it's because of a type of takedown that few MMA fighters use. Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre uses it, as does Glover Teixeira and Jake Shields, Cruz pointed out.
And it's a big part of Weidman's arsenal and why Cruz wouldn't be at all shocked if there were a new champion on July 7.
"It comes down to wrestling, but it's not just wrestling," Cruz told Yahoo! Sports. "It's the style of wrestling that he has. At the same time, you have to take into account certain things of Anderson Silva and his past opponents and the way he's defended takedowns.
"Almost every single time, he's defended double-leg takedowns. That's what Chael Sonnen mostly shot on him. In those two fights [with Sonnen] and in almost every fight he's fought, he hasn't had a lot of trouble with single-leg [takedowns], mostly double legs."
But Cruz is far from suggesting that Weidman will beat Silva simply by repeatedly shooting for double-leg takedowns.
"Anderson's offense is his striking, and if he keeps in range for his striking and keeps his hips on the outside and he moves his feet, Chris Weidman, or anybody, is going to have a tough time shooting double legs on him," Cruz said.
Cruz said that Weidman's takedown is a single leg, in which he times his move when an opponent is moving in to throw a punch. Weidman will shoot for the single when he sees the punch coming, keeping his head outside of the opponent's leg.
That kind of takedown would get stuffed repeatedly, Cruz said, in a high-level wrestling match. But in an MMA fight, where there are many other elements involved, it is very effective.
"It's not a high-level move in pure wrestling," Cruz said. "But when we're talking about a fight, it works well because the stance is all different and everybody's stance is so high and tall that you can get away with it. Also, it's the fact that there is jiu-jitsu mixed into the takedown.
"When you shoot your head on the outside, you force your opponent to go for the guillotine [choke] automatically and instinctually, because it's your balance."
Shooting the way Weidman does, Cruz said, would take away Silva's ability to get a whizzer and retain his balance.
Cruz said that Weidman's takedown will lead to a series of offensive moves for him when the fight goes to the ground.
"[Without the whizzer], Anderson will be forced to deal with balance right away when Chris grabs that leg," Cruz said. "He'll have two options: [Silva] could step around where [Weidman] doesn't have his head and try to take his back from there. That's a crafty wrestling move, and you have to remember, when you step around, he'll have to shut down Chris from going for a double.
"So, 90 percent of the time, especially for a guy like Anderson with limited wrestling, he'll go for the guillotine or use his balance, pure and outright. If he has that good of balance, he'll be able to stuff the takedown. My guess is no; he's going to have to go for the guillotine when he's on his way down. And that's when Chris Weidman will have all his transitions set up. He's a hard guy to get out from underneath."
Middleweight contender Michael Bisping said he gives Weidman a very good shot to win, as well, but Bisping noted that Weidman will have to get past the intimidation factor when it comes to Silva.
Silva is 16-0 in UFC fights, 11-0 in UFC title fights and hasn't lost since he was disqualified for inexplicably fouling Yushin Okami in 2006. He hasn't been beaten by an opponent since he lost to Ryo Chonan via flying scissor lock and then heel hook submission, one of the great moves in MMA history, on Dec. 31, 2004.
"Anderson has this aura about him," Bisping said. "But Weidman's biggest thing is, he's young and he's undefeated and he believes so much in himself. When I was undefeated, I honestly thought I could go through anybody and expose people in the first round. I truly believed that I could handle anyone. I'm a much better fighter now, but I was 15-0 and young and cocky and tremendously confident.
"That's how Chris feels. He believes his [expletive] doesn't stink and that makes him dangerous. He's a decorated wrestler who has the skills to take advantage of maybe the one weakness Anderson has, and he totally believes he can't be beaten. If he fights with that attitude, and can get over the aura of the intimidation factor of Anderson Silva, that probably would make it a bad night for Anderson."
Former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir has also joined the pro-Weidman chorus.
Mir said Weidman has one ability that Sonnen did not which could wind up being the difference.
"I think Weidman has an outstanding chance of beating Anderson and becoming the champion," Mir said. " … This upset is going to happen and everyone is going to be shocked because they never saw it coming. He's got the best style to beat Anderson of anyone Anderson's faced in the UFC. Anderson has shown one weakness – he can be controlled on the ground by powerful wrestlers – and Weidman is the most powerful wrestler there is in the division.
"Everyone is making the comparison to Chael Sonnen and those two fights, but while Chael controlled Anderson on the ground and landed shots, he couldn't hurt Anderson and that was his undoing. Weidman can hurt Anderson with ground and pound, which will force Anderson to move on the ground rather than waiting for a mistake, like he has done in the past with Sonnen and Travis Lutter. Anderson won't be able to lay in his guard taking shots for long in this fight, and that gives Weidman his chance to pull off a choke. I can see Weidman getting a D'Arce choke in this fight."
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