The fights between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen are surely going to be remembered as some of the most dramatic in the sport’s history, both for the intensity of anticipation that preceded them and the events that took place once the fight had commenced. In both meetings, the beleaguered champion was able to overcome adversity and reverse his fortunes to put the challenger away in emphatic fashion.
In their UFC 117 meeting, Anderson spend four and a half rounds on his back taking shots from Sonnen, who in the process set a new record for most blows landed in a UFC fight. The fight then passed into legend as Anderson managed a triangle submission in the last moments of the fight, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and retaining his title. Sonnen was heartbroken – to have the belt taken from his grasp like that was a cruel blow.
Ceaseless haranguing of Anderson via the MMA media led to this weekend’s rematch, the prospect of which has been electrifying the MMA fanbase ever since the first fight. Expectations were huge and the fight did not disappoint. Sonnen came out snarling and hit a takedown in the opening seconds to put Anderson on his back immediately. Right away we were back to the first fight – Anderson on his back, taking short shots from a top-position Sonnen.
Sonnen had a high workrate but he spent most of the round stuck in Anderson’s half-guard and tied down with a double underhook/bodylock which meant he couldn’t get postured up and couldn’t get much leverage into his shots. Anderson actually made gestures while stuck underneath him to indicate that he wasn’t perturbed by what he was being hit with. Sonnen was able to pass guard into mount for the final minute of the round but he elected to grapevine Anderson’s legs and keep a low posture to maintain position.
The thinking here was probably that round one was a template for the remainder of the fight, and so Sonnen was not in a rush to try and get the finish in round one. When the round ended, one can only imagine what was going on in Anderson’s mind. Outwardly he appeared unruffled but he must have been having flashbacks to UFC 117. and for Team Sonnen, things were going exactly as planned. Round one couldn’t have gone much better for him.
And then, as is the way of things in this sport, the fight once again defied expectations. Sonnen came out hunting the takedown in round two but was denied, and denied repeatedly. Several double-leg efforts, including one against the cage, came to nothing and he also attempted a hip toss which went nowhere. Gradually he was drawn into a firefight with Anderson, which the champion got the better of thanks to powerful straight punches. One powerful blow clearly rattled Sonnen, who momentarily allowed his face to show some shadow of doubt or frustration.
He channelled that into aggressiveness, pressing forward and backing Anderson into the cage. Sonnen tried a spinning backfist but when Anderson ducked it, Sonnen overbalanced and fell on his back. Moments later he had Anderson stood over him and even as Sonnen began to press into the cage, to wall-walk up it and back to his feet, Anderson smashed a right knee into his sternum full-force.
That was the fight-finisher – Sonnen managed to grab a single-leg and return to his feet but he was living on borrowed time. The body shot is one that sometimes take a second or two to really kick in and it is very hard to shake off. Back on his feet Sonnen exchanged punches with Anderson and took a kick to the body; just after that he slumped to the floor and while it initially looked like a punch had felled him, it was probably the kick to his already damaged body that finished him off.
And so Anderson wins probably the biggest rematch in UFC history and goes 2-0 over Sonnen with finishes in both matches. His win at UFC 148 was much more complete and much more satisfying for him because make no mistake, Anderson and his team were extremely worried about facing Sonnen again after what happened in the first match.
Is it Sonnen’s last crack at the belt? Certainly for a while, I would expect. He might now rue the decision to grapevine and stall at the end of round one, and the backfist was perhaps an excess of creativity which backfired spectacularly. And in a double winner for Anderson, he earned Knockout of the Night and a $70,000 bonus.
Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin
This fight will probably be remembered for the bizarre activity after it than for anything particularly memorable in the bout itself. When the fight finished, Forrest left the cage immediately – as officials were entering it – and ran towards the locker room. UFC president Dana White had to jump up out of his seat and literally run after him to tell him to get back into the Octagon right away and go through the post-fight formalities.
Griffin complied, got his hand raised, then took the microphone from Joe Rogan and interviewed Ortiz himself. It was an odd moment and at the post-fight press conference and very peeved Ortiz said he “wished Joe Rogan had done the interview” as it was his retirement fight and would be his last moment in the Octagon as a fighter. Griffin formally apologised to him at the conference and White said that he “loves” Griffin but that the goofy light-heavyweight “drives me crazy.”
The fight itself was a gritty affair; Forrest underlined his reputation for being a heavy leg-kicker by constantly chipping at Ortiz with them while former champion Ortiz was able to knock Forrest down several times in the fight. But most of the advantage lay with Forrest and he finished the fight in top position before taking the judges’ decision by two rounds to one.
Cung Le vs. Patrick Cote
Cote made his return to the Octagon after a long absence in which he racked up four wins in the regional leagues, but the difference between the quality of opposition inside and outside the UFC was obvious when he spent three rounds being kicked to bits by Le and answering with very little. Le is an extremely tricky opponent with a rare style (San Shou) and a vast array of unorthodox kicks. He also has a very underrated wrestling game rooted in his high school years and so he was easily able to stuff Cote’s takedown efforts, which came when the French-Canadian became frustrated with the standing fight.
Cote did manage to put a nice cut over Le’s left eye but it looked like an old wound had opened up; aside from the odd forward flurry Le never really looked bothered by Cote and he cruised to victory. Now he is 40 years old and has a limited number of fights left; one of them will be in November when the UFC visits Macau, China. Le is an action-movie star in Chinese movies and has a big following there.
Demian Maia vs. Dong Hyun Kim
This was Maia’s welterweight debut and a very tough opponent in the shape of Kim. But the fight ended early and unsatisfactorily when Maia took Kim’s back early on and dragged him to the floor. In the process of landing on him, Maia managed to break one of Kim’s ribs and the South Korean quickly indicated submission. It goes down as an injury stoppage and while Maia was exultant, it wasn’t exactly a comprehensive victory. Maia was probably relieved he got a real handful like Kim out of the way so quickly, regardless of the manner.
Chad Mendes vs. Cody MacKenzie
Mackenzie was “outclassed” by Mendes, according to Dana White, and that was a fair assessment of the stoppage win which came just over half a minute in. Mackenzie was winging kicks at Mendes, with no setup, and Mendes was relaxed as he casually caught one of them and drilled a huge right hand straight into Mackenzie’s body. Mackenzie dropped like a stone, badly hurt, and the follow-on shots were a formality. The referee intervened and Mendes got a nice quick win.
Mike Easton vs. Ivan Menjivar
This was a great piece of matchmaking and a really entertaining fight to open the main card. Easton has earned his way onto main cards quickly via exciting performances in his few UFC, being a highly-aggressive forward-pressure fighter who has something of the pitbull about him both in appearance and style. It was a huge test for Easton against the canny veteran Menjivar, who is somewhat underknown and underrated by the modern-day UFC fanbase.
Menjivar has a well-rounded skillset with solid striking and wrestling ability; he presented a lot of problems for Easton but the test was passed with flying colours. The moment when Menjivar threw a spinning heel-kick to the head and Easton ducked under it to take a single-leg takedown was particularly dramatic and memorable; Easton caught a lot of eyes with his performance and he will remain on the main card for his next outing.