[photogallerylink id=37485]After 23 minutes, my stomach was in the kind of knots that I hadn’t felt since my last college finals. Nervous…excited…anxious…disbelief. It was impossible to sit still.
Chael Sonnen was about to play the Rocky to Anderson Silva’s Ivan Drago.
But a strange thing happened, Excitement was replaced with disappointment. Being anxious turned into being frustrated. And disbelief swiftly disappeared, as what this writer anticipated all along came to fruition.
In advance of the biggest fight of his life, Chael Sonnen pulled off a media campaign that would have left Curt Schilling jealous. Never one to shy away from a microphone, Chael Sonnen transformed a perceived mismatch of epic proportions into to a must-see event worth shelling out $44.95 for. To most, Sonnen’s pronouncement that he was going to embarass and ultimately retire Silva sounded laughable. The days and months passed by, however, and slowly the MMA community began to believe the hype.
As unreal as it once sounded, could Chael Sonnen actually upset the number 1 pound for pound fighter in the world? The vast majority of people still believed that Anderson Silva would retain his title, but the possibility for an upset now existed in people’s minds.
As Silva approached the cage, the former U of Oregon standout shouted at the champion, flipping him off as he entered through the doorway. The aura that surrounds Anderson Silva makes most quiver, yet Chael Sonnen was unimpressed with the mystique that surrounded the champion and his 11-0 UFC record. Pundits predcitions did not matter to Sonnen. The only opinion that mattered was his own, and it was his opinion that he was up to the challenge.
The fight began and just moments into the match, the challenger knocked the champion to the ground, instantly bringing up memories of Couture vs. Sylvia. Sonnen remained relentless, hammerfisting his way to a 10-8 round and leaving the Oakland crowd in a stunned frenzy. “Big mistakes,” was my first thought. Giving a man like Anderson Silva any time to collect himself is a bad idea, especially when its enough time to gameplan and recharge in the corner. Dan Henderson won a round against Anderson Silva and was then promptly choked out. If Chael Sonnen had a small chance before, he had no chance now.
Sonnen, however, had other ideas, coming out of his corner guns-a-blazing and throttling Silva like no one had ever seen. His confidence was paying off, and the champion had no answer for the challenger’s determination. Even with the recovery time, Sonnen continued to outwork Silva, wrestling the second round away. Doubt began to creep into my mind…could he really pull this off?
Rounds 3 and 4 continued the same way the first two went. The All-World BJJ Practitioner had no answers for the scrappy wrestler. Sonnen looked like the Energizer bunny as he worked from the top, reigning down blows onto the lanky champion’s frame.
20 minutes in and reality began to hit me. It was finally time to buy into the Chael Sonnen hype. He was going to do this.
What happened next was unconscionable.
Joe Rogan did a great job in pointing out what was making Chael Sonnen so successful. His wrestling was smothering Anderson Silva, but he was refusing to go for the kill as to stay out of Silva’s BJJ. He didnt get his hooks in, he kept his distance so he wouldnt get caught in a trap, and he went the safe route to get a victory. It was a brilliant strategy that would prove to work for a solid 23 minutes. Unfortunately, 23 minutes wont get you a decision victory.
Chael Sonnen was in a very familiar position, holding control in Anderson Silva’s guard and continuing to keep the champion on his back. As Sonnen landed blows from the top, Silva flashed his BJJ black belt and slapped on a triangle choke out of nowhere. Sonnen did everything he could, including stepping over Silva for leverage, but it was too late. Anderson Silva had his arm, and that was all she wrote. Almost doesnt win you championships, and Silva had triumphed.
It was tough to sort out how to feel after this fight. But two things rose above all else: disappointment and betrayal. Chael Sonnen took a non-believer such as myself through the ringer, and I went into the 4th round expecting the greatest fighter in the world (in the history of the sport?) to lose, a thought unimaginable just an hour earlier. Dont get me wrong…no one had to be more disappointed than the challenger himself, but after months of refusing to buy into his media crusade and thinking he had no chance, I had finally bought into Chael Sonnen’s media crusade. All it left me with was the strangest feeling of betrayal, wondering how I could let my own guard down and give up on Anderson Silva, even after 4 and a half rounds of domination.
But honestly, its tough to comprehend how you can travel that far up the mountain and not reach its apex. Just 2 minutes away from pulling off a monumental upset, Chael Sonnen deviated ever so slightly from his rock solid gameplan and lured into a picture perfect triangle from Anderson Silva. How can you come that close and tap out like that? Dont get me wrong…that was a deep, deep submission that was turning into an armbar. But I would think the life would have to be choked out of me if I was going to tap that close to winning the title. Based on his single tap and his reaction after the fight, you have to wonder if Sonnen body tapped as a reflex while his mind was ready to keep fighting.
So while this fight will go down in UFC lore as David coming up just short against Goliath, the only thing that will matter is what you read when you read the results of UFC 117. One man won, one man lost, and almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.