In a stellar career, Anderson Silva has defined himself with maximum results from the smallest of openings. And last night (Sat., July 7, 2012) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, he did it again in stopping challenger Chael Sonnen via second-round (technical) knockout.
After a rough opening stanza that saw Sonnen nail an early takedown, and methodically work to half-guard and then mount, Silva endured a difficult five minutes, losing the round cleanly and giving viewers a kind of déjà-vu -- their first match nearly two years ago had begun in similar fashion.
But with one dramatic swing of events, Sonnen, after missing a spinning backfist, toppled against the cage, and Silva exploded, delivering a laser-like finishing barrage that dispatched his rival and left no doubt as to whom the better middleweight was.
Now unbeaten in a record 15 consecutive UFC bouts and with an unmatched 10 title defenses, Silva's essentially cleaned out the 185-pound division. In the co-main event, Forrest Griffin took a unanimous decision over Tito Ortiz in a gruesome-to-watch bout that saw both tired in the first round.
Here's a closer look at the fights and fighters with the UFC 148 Report Card. Remember, grades are given relative to prefight expectations, and how the performance affected their immediate career prospects:
Anderson Silva: A
Nobody in the sport makes the unreal seem expectable, and Silva's ability to deliver highlight-reel moments is what makes him the perhaps the greatest mixed martial artists ever (it's either him or Fedor Emelianenko - something you Maniacs can discuss amongst yourselves). Champions are defined by how they respond to difficult situations, and it's testimony to Silva's greatness that I honestly wasn't worried during the first round as Sonnen smothered and roughed him up. Silva was resolute, calm, and waited the round out, then exploded in the second, decimating Sonnen as he missed a spinning back fist that went off like the awkward attempt that it was -- with Silva slipping it disdainfully -- and Silva unloading from there to end the fight.
"The Spider" has waged a phenomenal campaign, going 15-0 in the UFC, and winning a higher percentage of rounds in his long career than anyone else that's competed against world-class competition. Now 37, he's pretty much had a perfect career. Is it time to retire? Or move up and take on Jon Jones, a seeming lock for the Hall of Fame in his own right? Whatever Silva does, one can only hope his decisions outside the cage are as precise and masterful as they are inside it - because he is as close to a flawless fighter the game has ever seen. He's also gifted with one of the best chins and resolute fighting hearts -- both of which are rarely forced into the equation due to his mastery of so many phases of the game -- and it might be that Jones is the last man that can force his hand on both. We'll see. But until then, we ought to just enjoy him while we can. Because it's going to be a long time before anyone matches his achievements in the sport.
Chad Mendes: A
Fresh off his knockout loss in a title challenge of Jose Aldo, Mendes reinforced why he's probably the second-best featherweight in the world last night, with a big-time stoppage of Cody McKenzie. With just 13 fights, Mendes still has a considerable upside to develop the weapons he'll need to become a champion; and in a way, the stark defeat to Aldo was a blessing in disguise, because it will require a long winning streak for him to become a marketable title challenger.
But that's a good thing, because Mendes will continue to improve while Aldo will continue to struggle making 145, and, perish the thought, might eventually lose or move up, at which point Mendes is right back in the mix. His wrestling, conditions and camp are top-notch. With more seasoning, it's hard to see anyone except Aldo being favored to beat the hard-nosed Team Alpha Male fighter.
Chael Sonnen: B+
Sonnen pulled all the promotional rabbits out of the hat tonight, building up a record gate and fighting his ass off, to boot, taking the first round in impressive fashion. What made his first performance magical was the fact that he made Silva look so human for so long, something no one else in the UFC has come remotely close to doing. And the first round looked like a foreboding repeat of their first bout, as Sonnen actually did better this time, passing Silva's guard and mounting him for a long stretch as the round ticked off.
But as usual, Anderson's ability to exploit openings came into play, and Sonnen's miss off an uncharacteristic spinning backfist left him vulnerable, on the ground and against the cage. Silva's booming knee to the body and follow-up ended the affair in an inspiring finish. Just like that, Sonnen was finished.
It will be interesting to see what the UFC does with Sonnen from here. He's clearly an elite talent, and eminently marketable, but a third match with Silva is not viable for now. The challenge is, Sonnen's probably good enough to best most middles - we'll learn a lot about what the UFC wants with how they match him next. If Silva starts making noise about retiring, or moving up to 205-pounds with an all-world superfight against Jon Jones, look for Sonnen to be properly slotted as the heir apparent. If not, Sonnen's ability to talk trash and generate interest in almost any match makes him a sure-fire money faucet they'll be turning on as often as possible while he makes another run through the middleweight division.
Mike Easton: B
Quick standup and dynamic attacks sealed Easton's decision win over veteran Ivan Menjivar tonight. Easton's speed of foot and hand is obvious and he simply was too on-point to be denied. His game is well-rounded on the feet and he seems to be one of those lighter-weight guys that can go at a fast pace. He'll be fun to watch as he moves up the division's ladder.
Cung Le: C+
On the heels of unanimous sweep on the judges' cards, Le got his first UFC win last night, rebounding from the disastrous knockout loss to Wanderlei Silva. Using his quick limbs and dynamic setups, he largely stayed a beat ahead of Patrick Cote, and showed flashes of the outstanding standup that made him a fan favorite in Strikeforce.
However, Le, 40, still has a mere ten fights in MMA and has had marginal activity in recent years. His gas tank is clearly a question mark, and he tired badly in a bout that was mostly on the feet the first two rounds; a good wrestler or more willing striker would definitely pose problems for Le, who stylistically seems like a classical front-runner. Cote was unable to exploit Le's leaky defense and tiring resources, but a better middleweight definitely would. That said, the UFC needed to get a win for Le to make good on their investment, as he was one of the best elements of the Strikeforce acquisition. Don't be surprised if they follow a Pat Barry-like matchmaking mentality and keep sending him in against strikers for his next couple of bouts.
Patrick Cote: C
Cote looked serviceable tonight, serving as the perfect stylistic foil to Le, and even had the San Shou star stunned on a couple of occasions. But he couldn't finish the job due to spotty conditioning and Le's more diverse standup attack. There was no accident as to why Cote was in there - he's been away from the Octagon since Oct. 2010, when a three-fight losing streak hastened his exit.
He remains a strong-chinned, standup-focused guy, which is precisely why he was slotted as Le's opponent. The UFC wanted someone to stand with Le enough to let him showcase his striking without too much of a viable ground threat. That being said, Cote didn't do himself any favors by gassing nearly as bad as Le did, and failing to exploit Le's sloppy defense over the second half of the fight.
Ivan Menjivar: D
A beat behind tonight against Easton, Menjivar came up flat tonight. Unable to implement his strength and wrestling advantage, he looked every part the tired veteran. Was he simply off tonight, or are the effects of a long career, much of it waged against bigger opponents, coming into play? We'll know in his next couple of bouts.
Cody McKenzie: F
Last night was a complete disaster for McKenzie, whose drop to 145-pounds ended quickly with one vicious shot by the powerful Mendes. He still needs time to develop his marginal standup and become more than a one-trick pony with a lethal guillotine; he'll probably be thrown to the wolves in his next match against a fellow wrestler, unless the UFC is feeling charitable and puts him in against a jiu-jitsu stylist with limited standup.
Demian Maia and Dong Hyun Kim: Incomplete
Maia's drop to 170-pounds comes with considerable intrigue, as his improved stand-up and all-world submission skills make him a compelling player at welterweight. He looked fit and trim making the limit, and took Kim down quickly -- no easy task -- only for a Kim injury to abort the match just as it started to heat up. Both guys get incompletes here. The most we can deduce from this is that Maia seems to have retained his strength at welterweight - at least for 47 seconds into a bout, which is how long this one lasted. Ideally, they'll match him up with someone with better standup to force his hand in his next bout.
Jason Probst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasonprobst.
For complete UFC 148 results and blow-by-blow coverage of all the night's action click here.