Anderson Silva (left) and Chael Sonnen (right) will finally wage their anticipated rematch at UFC 148 in Las Vegas on July 7. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen are still scheduled to meet this summer, and that’s good news for fight fans.
But some bad news surrounding the rematch came Tuesday morning when the Brazilian UFC middleweight champion, his self-proclaimed beltholder of an opponent and Dana White, the fight organization’s president, showed up in Rio de Janeiro to announce that the bout no longer would be held in a stadium there on June 23, as scheduled, but was being moved to July 7 in Las Vegas.
The fight hasn’t exactly lost its luster -- Vegas has more of that than anywhere else on the planet -- but it’s lost a good bit of the grit and righteousness that have made this rematch’s backstory so intriguing.
You see, the fight is not simply between Silva and Sonnen. Chael, with his WWE-style bluster, has turned it into him vs. Brazil with his trash-talk ridicule of the country’s top fighters and even the nation itself. The mockery of the Nogueira brothers, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva and the like is fair game; they’re all big boys who can take care of themselves. But Sonnen’s rhetoric about Brazil has veered into ugly-American xenophobia.
“When I was a little kid, I remember going outside and sitting with my friends,” Sonnen said during the press conference. “We’d talk about the latest technology and medicine and gaming and American ingenuity.” Then he brought his story to the present day to draw a contrast, saying, “And I’d look outside and Anderson and the Brazilian kids are sitting outside playing the mud.”
That’s Chael at his mildest. In past diatribes, he’s characterized Brazil as backward in far more insulting ways. And he’s done so with little or no backlash, as the MMA media -- and I must lump myself in the horde, unfortunately -- mostly just yuks it up with the guy.
So Brazil deserved its shot at Sonnen. Sure, he appeared Tuesday in a Rio conference room, and I half-expected to see a shoe thrown at his head, a la George W. Bush before the Baghdad media. But a press conference isn’t enough. After talking the talk, he should have been made to walk the walk -- that is, stroll out to the octagon in a soccer stadium filled with Brazilians excited to see him get beat up by the champ.
It’s just not going to work out in Brazil, however. My first thought upon hearing of the fight’s relocation was that the UFC feared for Sonnen’s safety. That might actually be the reason, but the public explanation is that the Rio stadium event fell apart because of the United Nations’ Rio+20 Conference taking place the same week, eating up hotel rooms and making a UFC event a logistical impossibilty. So there go the plans of sustainability for conference attendees who were hoping to catch the fights, too.
There still will be a UFC 147 fight card in Brazil -- there’s no date set, but it’ll be in an arena, not in a stadium, and still feature a showdown of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil coaches Belfort and Wanderlei Silva, plus the reality show’s middleweight and featherweight finals and a Fabricio Werdum-Mike Russow heavyweight bout. White said Tuesday he might also put featherweight champion José Aldo on the card. So it’s not all bad news for Brazilian fans.
And by moving Silva-Sonnen II to Las Vegas, White has transformed UFC 148 into a Fourth of July fireworks spectacle. In addition to the fight for the middleweight championship, there also will be a bantamweight tile bout between The Ultimate Fighter: Live coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber plus a Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin rubber match (perhaps Tito’s final fight), Rich Franklin vs. Cung Le and Michael Bisping vs. Tim Boetsch.
All’s well that ends well, then? That’s what White would have you believe. “This is going to be a global event. If we were going to do it here in Brazil, it needed to be done in a huge soccer stadium,” he said. “As we got into the logistics of trying to make this thing happen here, we just couldn’t pull it off. If we couldn’t do it here, then Las Vegas was the only other option.”
Silva took some convincing to make the move, according to While, although the champion was nothing but agreeable at the press conference. “I’m a UFC athlete, and I have fans all over the world,” he said. “Regardless of where this fight takes place, I will represent Brazil, and I will do my job and defend my belt.”
That was the professional thing for him to say. But the fans in his home country deserved better.
-- Jeff Wagenheim