Billed as the most anticipated rematch in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) history, for once, the promotional hype is spot-on: Silva vs. Sonnen II is nearly two years off the heels of the original, which was the mixed martial arts (MMA) version of Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor, with the champ rallying for a late stoppage that was equal parts inspiring and Rocky-esque.
As the two guys who stand out in the Middleweight division, Sonnen and Silva are natural stylistic foils -- a kind of Ali-Frazier pairing where there are few neutral observers. And in a career that's been defined by UFC perfection, Silva -- whose undefeated (13-0) run and nine title defenses stand as records in the promotion -- has looked at times superhuman. His ability to deliver highlight-reel strikes that obliterate people has given him an aura of intimidation that few fighters will ever possess.
Sonnen, to his credit, came damn close to piercing it in their Aug. 2010 showdown. Using his excellent wrestling -- Silva's one weakness -- and a daunting work rate, Sonnen thumped up and took down the champ for the better part of four and half rounds, before getting submitted with a miracle rally by the champ.
Their showdown is everything the sport needs to be about. And, it's the kind of challenge Silva needs, because his last two defenses against Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami have gone a long ways to restoring his air of invincibility. So much so that they become mismatches, which can be awful to watch should Silva go through one of his blue periods and decide not to finish things.
Sonnen was granted a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) in May by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT), which is one of those egregious things the sport is infected with of late (the argument against allowing these ridiculous exemptions is 10,000 words' worth that you don't need to read right here, but just trust me on this).
That being said, because of the fact that he's going to be closely monitored leading up to the fight, he surely won't have the sky-high level (16.9-1) he did during their first match. Testosterone makes you do wonderful, aggressive, uber-assertive things, at a speed and efficiency you could only imagine back when you were a 1-1 ratio stiff; imagine downing a quintuple espresso, and putting some Slayer on at 110 decibles then hitting the gym, where you strut in with your deltoids bulging through your TapouT shirt prior to shoving the emo creep of the lat machine to knock out a few sets.
That's pretty much what 16.9-1 will do for you. And you aren't Chael Sonnen.
With a more reasonable level, I'm not sure he can bring the perfect storm that overwhelmed Silva as he did in the first match.
Silva's injured rib is obvious when rewatching the tape, as it impedes his movement and he simply doesn't have the timing he normally possesses. However, Sonnen's boxing has always been a bit overlooked, mostly because he uses it to set up his takedown shots. He executes solid, basic punches with tight form and transitions neatly into takedowns and tie-ups with seamless precision. If you were going to build someone to beat Silva, it would be a guy a lot like Sonnen.
Silva has perhaps the best chin in the game, and he's incredibly hard to discourage. Sonnen also isn't going to submit him, and if he couldn't finish Silva in the first fight, he's not going to here. This means Silva has five rounds to pull something out, and given how angry he is to shut his antagonist's mouth, Silva has no excuses for not knowing what to expect. Look for an aggressive Silva that puts some solid leather on Sonnen early, unleashing his ninja-like assault prior to getting taken down late in the first. Silva will dial in over the next couple rounds and be sharper than the first fight. Sonnen has an excellent chin and is game and in condition, but Silva's accuracy and versatility will be the difference. He isn't going to get overwhelmed early, which set the tone in the first fight, and Sonnen will have to pay a much stiffer price to cross the gap and work to get it to the mat. Whether it's a punch, kick, flying knee or whatever else Silva can invent on the fly, Sonnen will eventually make a mistake and get caught.
Silva by knockout in round four
Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC 148 results of all the "Silva vs. Sonnen 2" pay-per-view (PPV) action. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the Facebook video stream, FX "Prelims" bouts, and of course, the PPV broadcast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 7 p.m. ET and carry straight on through early Sunday morning.
See you later!
Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst or firstname.lastname@example.org.