Billed as a bitter grudge match with fireworks guaranteed, tonight’s (June 24) Bellator NYC main event between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva instead served up a soporific affair featuring two light-heavyweights who badly wanted to inflict damage on the other but are no longer quick enough, ferocious enough or young enough to do so. It was a fight Sonnen dominated from the off, one he won via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27 and 30-26), and one nobody will be in any hurry to see again.
Silva’s petulance at the fight’s conclusion – when he pushed Sonnen away from him – and his petulance during Sonnen’s post-fight interview – when he barged the victor in the shoulder – kind of said it all. It was a sign the beef still remains; a sign Silva still can’t stand Sonnen, despite sharing fifteen minutes in his company. More than that, though, it was a sign of pure frustration. Silva was frustrated not only with Sonnen’s tactics – specifically, his desire to keep Silva pinned to the floor for the entirety of the fight – but also his own inability to do anything about it. It was frustration aimed at his own age and inactivity just as much as it was aimed at Sonnen and his tactics.
The two MMA icons are now 40, of course. And they fight like 40-year-olds. There are respites when there used to be action and there are safety moves when there used to be risks.
This was made abundantly clear the moment Sonnen shot for a double-leg takedown just seconds into the fight. A wise, calculated move, Sonnen knew it wasn’t worth staying on his feet and trading strikes with Silva, if only for a few seconds, no matter how much he disliked the Brazilian. He wouldn’t let emotion and hate dictate the way he approached his strategy. This takedown let Silva, a puncher hungry for violence, know this. It also took him right off his feet, removed every ounce of his danger, and led to him being forced up against the fence, from where Sonnen dropped a series of heavy punches on his face and head.
Sonnen would have kept him there for the whole fight if he could. For him, this was his comfort zone. His kind of fight.
It was when the pair were on their feet, though, as they were with two minutes to go in round one, that Sonnet suddenly became anxious and twitchy and vulnerable. This rang true when, seconds after being stood up following Sonnen’s initial takedown, Silva let fly with a right hand, no more than a cuffing shot, that cracked Sonnen around the ear and dropped the former UFC title challenger to the floor, his legs having buckled from under him.
At this point the only people more excited than Wanderlei Silva were the thousands in attendance at Madison Square Garden. Finally, they thought, we have a fight. But it was short-lived. Indeed, no sooner had Silva landed the glancing blow and then rushed to finish than Sonnen got up and forced another takedown. Just like that, Silva was again on the mat, his feet in the air; all the danger Sonnen had faced moments earlier had been eradicated.
The tone of the fight was set in those opening five minutes. Sonnen knew not to mess with Silva in the stand-up for even a second. So he didn’t. They opened up to start the second round and Sonnen just as quickly, having felt the power, shot for a takedown.
Silva, perhaps now aware he had only a slim chance of knocking his American opponent out, invested in a guillotine choke attempt while on his back, but that only led to the pair of them being stood up by referee John McCarthy as neither were able to advance their position.
Still, it wasn’t long before Sonnen charged in for another takedown and put Silva exactly where he wanted him: on his back, against the fence, right in the firing line for some ground-and-pound.
Silva’s final bit of success – if you’re in the mood to be generous – arrived at the start of round three when he landed a right hand that got Sonnen’s attention. Once again, however, it acted only as a precursor to a takedown and a round spent horizontal. It allowed Sonnen to have the entire round to smother and stifle him and attempt to get mount and secure a kimura. Essentially, it allowed him to do whatever he felt like doing.
With 90 seconds left to run, Sonnen finally hit the mount. He then explored options in side-control. Still, though, he couldn’t find a finish, either by TKO or submission, and this was maybe another reason why Silva reacted so angrily when the final bell rang and the fight was over. To him, Sonnen never tried to finish. He simply wanted to stop Wanderlei Silva from fighting.
Whatever the motivation and entertainment value, Sonnen, 30-15-1, did just that. He stopped ‘The Axe Murderer’ from going to work and potentially knocking him out. All within the rules of the game.
He also won the fight.