Viewers' guide to UFC 148
A rematch is about making adjustments. If it weren't, we wouldn't bother putting the fighters through the toil and anguish of another training camp, another weight cut, another choice of walkout music. We'd just buy a DVD of their first fight and watch it again.
What fun would that be, though? We already know what happened when Anderson Silva defended his middleweight championship against Chael Sonnen back in 2010. Would we settle for a slo-mo video replay of Silva clamping on that fifth-round triangle armbar when we plunk down our $54.99 for the telecast of Saturday's UFC 148 in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV)? No, of course not. We want to see a new fight. With adjustments made to at least try to alter the result.
For the fight's result to be different this time, Sonnen (27-11-1) will have to be the one doing all the adjustments, right? Well, no. Even though he lost the first fight, he actually has less modification to think about than Silva does.
Chael surely has been working in training camp on defending against a triangle choke. But that's something he's always had to focus on. After all, it wasn't just the Silva fight that exposed Sonnen's vulnerability in that area of fighting: eight of his 11 losses have come by submission. Old habits do die hard, but still, Sonnen has the easier job here: All he has to do is avoid the one lapse in focus or technique that occurred 23 minutes into the fight.
Silva (31-4), on the other hand, has those 23 minutes leading up to his magical sub to think about. For four full rounds and the first half of the fifth, he was beaten up. "The Spider" might be the greatest striker in all of mixed martial arts, but on that August 2010 night he was not the best striker in Oakland, Calif. Sonnen beat him to the punch, not with one lucky shot but repeatedly. And every time that even the thought of a takedown crossed Chael's mind, it seemed, Anderson ended up on his back, where Sonnen proceeded to lead-blanket him for extended periods, during which he smacked the champ with punches. Silva cannot go through that hell again and simply hope for a miracle submission to appear out of thin air. So he has some significant adjustments to make -- adjustments for when Sonnen takes him down (surely he will), adjustments for even while the fight is standing. That's a lot of twisting the dial.
But do you have even the slightest doubt that Anderson Silva is up to the task? If anyone has the skill and athleticism to make this a dramatically different fight, it's the champion. Which is to say that the biggest adjustment for this fight might not be either Sonnen's or Silva's but ours. We saw what we saw back in the summer of 2010, and as much as we trust our perceptions, we must open ourselves to the very real possibility that Silva-Sonnen II will be a completely different spectacle.
So what's the X factor? I think it's the mental game. Sonnen has compared Silva to Mike Tyson, arguing that they both intimidated opponents to the point where the foes were defeated before the first punch was thrown. Unlike other challengers, however, Chael has shown he does not stand in awe of Anderson. That, combined with the uncharacteristically fired up venom Silva has unleashed during the fighters' recent joint media appearances, makes me think Silva is out of his comfort zone. We know he's a sublimely fluid fighter when he's relaxed and composed in the cage. Can he be as effective if he walks in with a chip on his shoulder? Or will he be so hell-bent on hurting Sonnen that he's not himself?
Either way, expect Sonnen to crowd Silva, just as he did the first time. He'll come forward full-force, looking for a takedown, setting it up with his underrated striking game. Silva seemed caught off guard by Chael's aggression the first time -- not so much the aggression itself, but the sustained aggression. The champ dodged some punches, as he always does, and apparently thought he'd weathered the storm. But Sonnen was still coming. This time, Silva will be ready for a fight. His usual elusiveness isn't enough, he knows, so he'll be looking to make Sonnen pay for every advance. And if the champ is of sound mind, he might knock out the challenger in spectacular fashion before the fight has gone very long. But if Silva is in a rage, as his recent media appearances have suggested he might be on fight night, he could open himself to a repeat of the first fight. And he doesn't want to again rely on a last-ditch submission to save the day.
(Sorry, folks, we have nothing to offer you, as these two gentlemen have spoken of each other with nothing but the utmost respect.)