By Loretta Hunt
June 05, 2012

It's five weeks out from the biggest fight of the summer and you can almost see Chael Sonnen pacing his Oregon living room, scribbling down snarky one-liners about UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

There's little doubt that Sonnen's relentless self-promotional antics will earn him the lion's share of attention leading up to his rematch with Silva at UFC 148 on July 7 in Las Vegas.

However, nothing Sonnen says or does could hype July's fight better than Like Water, a 76-minute documentary that captured Silva's challenging two-month training camp stateside for his first meeting with the Olympic-caliber wrestler two years ago, at UFC 117 in Sacramento, Calif.

Like Water, which earned Pablo Croce the award for best new documentary director at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, begins a 10-city theatrical release and is available On Demand (check local listings for rates).

Shedding light on the elusive Silva, who's remained somewhat of an enigma with U.S. fans the last seven years because he doesn't speak English, is a feat into itself. We're introduced to the UFC's longest reigning champion, in Brazil, with his wife and five children, ages 7 to 16, curled up on the couch together during their precious last moments together before he leaves to begin his first-ever training camp in the States.

Moving Silva's camp to southern California was not by choice or design, but rather to satisfy the fighter's visa requirements, and there's a foreboding feel from the start. At the Black House gym in Los Angeles, a pragmatic Silva speaks with former UFC champion and close friend Lyoto Machida about the pitfalls of his own success.

"Everyone wants a brawl," Silva tells Machida, "but if you get into a brawl in every fight and you lose, you can be cut [by the UFC]."

Fans chastise Silva, the superior striker in his division, when he doesn't put an opponent away, and Sonnen uses this to begin a public relations onslaught against the champion.

Sonnen's verbal attacks against Silva, his mentor Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his co-manager Ed Soares are well-represented, from Sonnen's infamous Q&A session with fans at UFC 115 that June to the puzzling media teleconference call where a perturbed Silva offers only one-word answers a week before the fight. (Afterward, an angry Soares does damage control when he gets a call from UFC president Dana White.)

Along the way, you see Silva in a variety of lights. He's playful with his adoring fans at a UFC Expo, but has to be physically prodded by Soares to leave his hotel room for an appearance in Portland, Ore., Sonnen's backyard.

In Portland, Silva the coach is livid when a teammate doesn't stick to the plan during his fight at a local show. Afterward, Silva takes a berating from drunken pro-Sonnenites, but his peaceful smile never leaves his face.

The documentary builds well, jumping between Silva's and Sonnen's grueling preparations for July 7, and at his most vulnerable, with the pressures of the fight mounting on him, Silva tells the camera that he just wants to go home, but that "this is the game."

It also captures Silva and his team's honest reactions and growing unrest with Sonnen's tactics. At one point, a befuddled Soares hovers over a computer screen watching Sonnen describe a conversation he says he had with the manager in a Las Vegas cab.

"That's a lie. This guy's whacked," an incredulous Soares tells the cameraman. "Bro, this guy, for real, this guy has some mental problems."

The film also debunks a flurry of rumors that surrounded the fight; the most crucial being the rib injury Silva sustained a week before the championship bout.

Silva never spoke about the injury and probably never will, but the footage exposes the fighter's painful final training days, where he tells Soares in no uncertain terms that he's in a bad way. It also offers a reason why Silva, who was pegged to handle Sonnen fairly easily at UFC 117, couldn't stop the wrestler's takedowns for five rounds and barely eked out the winning submission in the end to preserve his record-breaking reign.

In all, Like Water is a portrait of a fighter during one of the most trying times of his professional career and a concise look at one of the oddest, yet captivating rivalries ever in MMA history. For U.S. fans, it offers never-before-seen insight into Silva and his motivations. Silva is a true martial artist in every sense, and like Bruce Lee, becomes "like water" to handle life's challenges.

Like Water is a perfect precursor to the rematch, as it's an enlightening reminder of the bizarre and sometimes-ludicrous promotional journey we all took leading up to the biggest fight of 2010.

After two years, some of us may not remember, but it's guaranteed that Silva hasn't forgotten what happened, and will carry that experience, in some form, into the cage with him on July 7.

We're five weeks out, and thousands of miles away in Rio de Janeiro, you can almost see a patient and focused Silva grinding away in the gym, counting down the days until fight time.

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