Ben Fowlkes
Friday August 6th, 2010

Though he wouldn't admit it, UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva came strolling into the UFC 117 pre-fight press conference on Thursday afternoon in San Francisco looking like a man who had intentionally made himself into everything Chael Sonnen claims to hate. He wore a pink sweater and a smile, his baseball cap was flipped backward on his head. Two diamond earrings flashed in his ears.

For a guy who doesn't say much, it was a good way to send a subtle message.

Silva has heard Sonnen's insult comedy tour in the lead-up to this fight. That much was clear. But if any of the things Sonnen has said about the champ bothered him in the least, you wouldn't know it.

"I'm used to fighting idiots like him that are talking about me," Silva said via interpreter/manager Ed Soares. "It's a constant battle. I've fought idiots all over the world. Some have beaten me, some haven't."

For all the pressure Silva is under to turn in a strong performance and win back some fans, he hardly even seems aware of it, much less concerned with it.

Fans don't like his recent fights? Too bad, he says. They want him to finish every opponent with Jedi-like striking displays? It doesn't always work that way. To hear both Silva and Soares tell it, fans are spoiled by his earlier performances. It's not his fault that opponents don't want to bring the fight to him, they claim. He's the champ, and he can cruise to victory if he wants.

Only he can't. At least, not without consequences. The same fans who used to tune into Silva's fights with a sense of giddy anticipation now do so with vague foreboding. You just never know if this is going to be the night that the temperamental genius feels like fighting hard from bell to bell, or if this is going to be one of the nights where he dances his way to a decision.

This, in case you hadn't noticed, is where Sonnen is supposed to come in.

The West Linn, Ore., native has two assets that interest the UFC. For one, he talks a mean game. His occasionally baffling remarks have gotten him on SportsCenter and Jim Rome Is Burning, and the fact that more often than not he is clearly lying and daring everyone else to call him out on it, well, that only makes this little game more fun for him.

That's fine for pre-fight hype, but it's Sonnen's other attribute that will be important on Saturday, and that's his ability to force Silva to do something.

Sonnen insists that he's going to get in the champ's face and rough him up. Fans will probably be content if he does just one of those things. What's important is not so much how the fight ends, but whether Sonnen can keep coming forward and keep pressing the action. Because few people (outside of his own camp, anyway) expect him to pull off the upset, the only way he can truly fail is if he hangs back and allows Silva to make a fool of himself and the fans who have paid to see him.

When you think of it in those terms, it's not hard to see why Silva is content to let the challenger do all the talking he wants. The more Sonnen grabs at the spotlight, the more the quality of the title fight begins to seem like his responsibility. After all, he's the one who said he'd elbow a hole in Silva's face, right? All Silva has said in response is, more or less, I doubt it, but we'll see.

Sonnen maintains that he's not in this just for the attention. As he said on Thursday, "I'm not in here to get the silver medal and say I one time fought in the main event in the UFC. I'm here purely to win the world championship, period."

That's the right thing to say, of course. But in the eyes of the fans and the UFC, the only way Sonnen will truly lose is if he can't force a fight out of Silva.

He's done everything he can to give the champ some motivation. Now he just has to show up on Saturday and walk head first into the consequences.

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