Silva-Sonnen II is another in a long history of intriguing UFC rematches
Chael calls Anderson a fraud and a dirtbag. Anderson rolls his eyes.
Chael spews belittling remarks about Brazilians and their culture. Anderson picks a piece of lint off his shirt and yawns.
Chael blusters on about breaking into Anderson's house, patting the champ's beloved on the behind and instructing her to cook him a steak, medium rare. Anderson sighs, unmoved.
On and on goes the haranguing, all of the vacuous venom being spat only in one direction, until suddenly, shockingly, satisfyingly, Anderson breaks his indifferent silence with a tirade of "criminal!" and "break every one of his teeth in his mouth!" and "beat his ass out of the UFC!" and other threats of death and dismemberment.
And the mixed martial arts world, fans and media alike, gets goosebumps.
It's on! The rivalry! The rematch!
Yes, it's on, all right. But what makes this rivalry and particularly the lead-up to next Saturday night's Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen rematch at UFC 148 so spellbinding has little to do with what's been spoken. Words might draw us into a fight. But only actions can knock us out.
What fuels a grand rivalry is not merely the contempt the competitors might feel for one another, but the pendulum of competitiveness swinging through unimaginable possibilities over time. That's the existential function of a rematch: It expands the canvas upon which two artists can collaborate, in the best cases drawing upon past successes and failures to create a wholly new future enhanced by familiarity and not limited by it.
A rematch between true rivals is a feast of uncertainty, best served in hot and cold courses. This is not the case with every rematch, which is why every rematch is not the sweat-and-blood manifestation of a memorable rivalry. Who cares to remember a Roman Numeral Two that goes the same way the first meeting went? The Harlem Globetrotters and Washington Generals have played thousands of times, but there is no rivalry.
Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen have fashioned a rivalry not out of "fraud" and "criminal" but out of punches and takedowns and one glorious pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat submission hold. Their meeting at UFC 117 on Aug. 7, 2010, was the stuff of legend. Silva arrived in Oakland, Calif., that night riding a 12-fight winning streak, having defended his middleweight title eight times without a scratch on him, dominating everyone the UFC shoved into the cage with him. But Sonnen took it to him from the start, staggering the champ with a right hand early in the first round, taking him down and pummeling him with nearly 50 strikes on the ground.
It was a sign of things to come, as Sonnen did much the same in each round the rest of the way, shocking fans with his dominance. Chael was but two minutes from claiming the championship belt when he made a mistake, though, leaving himself open to a submission while in full guard. And Silva took advantage, dramatically clamping on the triangle armbar to elicit the tapout at 3:10 of the fifth round. Whew!
Now we have the rematch, its anticipation filled with the lifeblood of a juicy sequel: questions, an abundance of them. Can Sonnen again beat the striking virtuoso to the punch? Will Silva manage to once again pull off a miracle submission if needed? How much did the rib injury Silva later claimed he suffered in training factor into how the first fight played out? How much of a factor was Sonnen's high testosterone/epitestosterone level, which earned him a suspension? Even Silva's uncharacteristic trash talking begs the question: Is it a signal that the often impassive whiz will be fully engaged this time, or that he's been prodded out of his comfort zone and will be vulnerable?
So much delectable uncertainty here, perhaps the most of any rematch in mixed martial arts history.
But Silva vs. Sonnen II is certainly not the first II to make fans do a double-take. As we await the second coming of middleweight heaven, let's dwell upon some of the great rematches of MMA past:
This fight was no piece of art, but rather an artifact of what the future might bring. To this point, Gracie had been unstoppable, winning the one-night tournaments in UFCs 1, 2 and 4 by beating everyone who dared step in the cage with him, no matter how much bigger they were than the skinny 170-pound Brazilian. Royce had fought 11 fights; he had forced 11 opponents to submit.
One of them had been Shamrock, who at UFC 1 had succumbed to a rear-naked choke in a mere 57 seconds. And had seethed ever since. Shamrock, himself a potent submission grappler, came into the rematch -- billed as a "Superfight" because it was not part of the UFC 5 tourney -- on a nine-fight winning streak, having tapped out Bas Rutten less than a month earlier. Shamrock had a significant size advantage over Gracie, and in their second bout he used it, wearing down the smaller man and beating him up in the process.
The bout had a 30-minute time limit (because of the telecast's pay-per-view window) and there were no cageside judges, so it was declared a draw. But Shamrock had got the better of the fight -- and most important, had avoided Gracie's trademark submissions -- so even though it was not particularly pleasant to watch, the fight gave others in the sport some hope that Royce was human and there was room for them, too, in the winner's circle.
They'd met a year and a half earlier, when Trigg made his UFC debut by challenging for the welterweight championship and became the 13th straight victim of Hughes. It had been a competitive grappling match early on, but when the UFC announced that Trigg had earned a rematch, who really expected it to offer a new twist? It did, though unintentionally.
Early in the fight, a Trigg knee found Hughes' groin, and the champ recoiled. But the referee hadn't seen the low blow, and declined to call a timeout. So Trigg seized the moment, pounced on Hughes and was in position to finish the fight with a rear naked choke. The champ somehow escaped, however, and next thing you knew, he was picking up Trigg, carrying him across the octagon and slamming him into the mat. Then Hughes was the one securing a rear naked. And there was no escape.
Sometimes a rematch is not just about the past and present but also about the future. This rematch (yes, on the same Las Vegas card as Hughes-Trigg II) was a bold contrast to the first meeting between "The Natural" and "The Iceman," in which Couture neutralized Liddell's presumed striking advantage with short punches and had his way with him on the ground.
For the rematch, Couture, now the light heavyweight champion, tried to do the same thing -- use striking to set up his wrestling -- but got caught with a counterpunch, the big right hand ending the bout after just 2:06. "The Iceman" was the new champ, and Couture announced his retirement. (Yeah, sure, Randy.) He was back for Chapter III with Chuck less than a year later, and it was their most competitive fight, with each man having his moments. But late in the second round, Liddell once again caught Couture coming in, and he was the winner of the best-two-out-of-three series.
GSP had put up a good fight in their initial encounter, but Hughes was simply too much to handle, handing the Canadian his first career loss by getting a tapout to an armbar with one second remaining in the first round of the 2004 bout. When they met again, Hughes was still at the height of his power, having won 19 of 20 fights and with seven welterweight title defenses under his belt. But St-Pierre had rebounded with six straight victories, most recently beating B.J. Penn, and was seen as the young lion getting into the face of the king of the jungle.
Well, Georges sure roared on this night. He floored Hughes with a Superman punch near the end of the first round, but the champ was saved by the horn. Nothing could save him in the second, however, when GSP sent him to the canvas with a head kick, then flurried with punches until he was pulled away at 1:25, the new champion of the world, a title he holds (albeit, with a brief interruption) nearly six years later.
The UFC had fully expected Liddell to take Japan by storm when the fight promotion allowed him to compete in the 2003 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix. And he did knock out Alistair Overeem in his first bout. But then he met Jackson, and "Rampage" took him out in the second round.
"The Iceman" responded by winning his next seven fights, all by knockout, and capturing the UFC light heavyweight title along the way. When a rematch with Jackson was announced, there was great anticipation, but for many the draw was simply to see what Chuck would do to the last man to beat him. Liddell was on a roll, and while Jackson was on a four-fight winning streak he'd also suffered some brutal KOs since the upset with over "The Iceman." Well, "Rampage" did it again, needing less than two minutes to put out the lights on Liddell and his title reign.