SILVA PROVES HE IS THE CURRENT KING
Chael Sonnen has the perfect style to beat Anderson Silva. We know that for certain now. The champion didn’t have injured ribs heading into the fight. He was healthy, fully prepared and highly motivated. Yet, he had to feel a sense of déjà vu halfway through the first round on Saturday night. He was on his back defending grinding ground and pound with basically no hope of working to his feet.
Silva looked concerned, in my opinion, when the round ended. He looked like a guy facing very real adversity. Yet, he found a way to win—again.
Sonnen executed near perfect game plans in their two fights. The only problem is that near perfect is not good enough against Silva. Sonnen’s two mistakes led to two stoppage losses. That, in my opinion, demonstrates the true greatness of the reigning pound-for-pound king. And it all comes down to his mental strength.
Silva never allows frustration to get in the way of execution. He knows that, with his skills, he is never out of a fight until the final bell sounds, he submits or the referee waves off the action. All he needs is one opening—one mistake—and he can bring the fight to an end, on the feet or on the ground, regardless of how things have unfolded up to that point. It requires tremendous mental strength to remain clear headed and focused in the face of adversity, particularly when adversity is the exception, not the norm. It is that mental strength that allows Silva to get the most out of his amazing physical abilities. And it is why he is, far and away, the single best fighter in the world today.
WHAT IS NEXT FOR THE CHAMPION?
Fifteen straight wins to start his UFC career. Ten successful title defenses. Ten consecutive title defenses. A five-plus-year reign as champion.
All of those are UFC records. I’m sure they’ll each be broken someday, just like most records in sports, but it is tough to imagine them falling anytime soon.
With absolutely nothing left to prove in a sport that he has dominated for so long, the 37-year-old champion has a tough decision to make. What’s next?
From my perspective, there are four possible answers to that question. Let’s take a look at each one in what I believe are the order of likelihood.
Remain at middleweight and just keep on keepin’ on.
At this point in his career, Silva is fighting for his legacy. There is something to be said for remaining at middleweight and riding this racecar until the wheels fall off. The question, of course, is whether the current crop of contenders is interesting to the champion. There are plenty of guys out there to keep Silva busy. But only he knows whether any of those names (or anyone else in the middleweight division) provides sufficient motivation to prevent a slide in his pre-fight preparations.
My guess is that Mark Munoz is the likely next in line, if he looks great on Wednesday night in his bout with Chris Weidman. If not, then maybe newcomer Hector Lombard will get the nod, if he can destroy Tim Boetsch in a couple of weeks. Any slippage there opens the door for an elimination bout between Michael Bisping and Brian Stann. In other words, the UFC has no shortage of legitimate contenders at 185 pounds. Again, the only question is whether any of those names motivate Silva to continue competing. Then again, attempting to extend his records for wins and title defenses is motivation enough for the champion.
Challenge for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.
If Silva is trying to cement his legacy as the best ever, then the quickest way to do that is to try and become the first man to simultaneously hold belts in two UFC weight classes. Moving up in weight, not down, to win a second championship is a surefire way to put an “all-time” stake in the ground, particularly if current champion Jon Jones is successful in his upcoming defense against Dan Henderson, which is certainly not a sure thing.
Many view Jones as the guy with the greatest potential to match, or even surpass, Silva’s insane UFC accomplishments. His size, reach and wrestling advantages would almost surely make Jones a betting favorite over Silva, so a victory by the middleweight champion would be viewed as a tremendous accomplishment. If Henderson defeats Jones, then the move to light heavyweight will likely be viewed as less interesting by Silva because he already has a win over the former PRIDE champion – a second round submission back in Silva’s third defense of his UFC crown. Plus, Silva would definitely be the favorite heading into a rematch.
There is something said for an athlete leaving the game at the pinnacle of his or her career. Former NFL running backs Barry Sanders and Jim Brown both did just that. Despite the fact that neither holds the record for most yards in a career or season, both of them are in every learned discussion about the greatest running back in the history of the sport. Michael Jordan also did the same thing, twice. He was the greatest basketball player on the planet when he retired his first and second time, undoubtedly the greatest ever by the second retirement. The third retirement, well, that is a different story. I can go on and on.
At 37 years old, Silva is much closer to the end of his career than the beginning. He is also a guy who heavily relies on reflexes and speed, two physical attributes that leave an athlete seemingly overnight. He certainly is not as fast as he once was, and he will not have the same reflexes three years from now than he does today. In other words, Father Time is knocking on his door.
It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Silva hung up the vale tudo gloves, particularly after a win like Saturday night. That would be an amazing way to close the chapter on his fighting career. He has absolutely nothing left to prove. He has no unanswered questions at middleweight. There is no undefeated contender who the world feels would be cheated by not having an opportunity to face Silva. And he likely has enough money to live a very comfortable lifestyle for the rest of his days.
Thinking about it in those terms, retirement probably makes a lot of sense. While it wouldn’t shock me to see Silva walk away in the coming weeks, I don’t actually believe that he will do that. Very few fighters have the ability to leave the sport while they are on top. Forrest Griffin once said that the sport retires fighters, not the other way around. I wholeheartedly agree. It would be more likely to see Silva retire after taking a bad beating or two, rather than walking away while he is still the unquestioned pound-for-pound king. I hope that doesn’t happen, but history suggests that it will. I’d much rather see him challenge the winner of Jones-Henderson or continue defending against all 185-pound contenders.
Face fellow pound-for-pound great Georges St-Pierre in a catchweight bout.
This fight has been bandied about in the media for several years. In my opinion, it is a complete pipe dream, one that will never come to fruition. Why? Two reasons. First and foremost, Silva has nothing to gain by defeating GSP. He is the much bigger fighter. Silva walks around 220 pounds, whereas GSP walks around at approximately 190 pounds. Even a dramatic 30-second knockout would yield nothing more than “that was what he was supposed to do” talk. If, by some stretch of the imagination, he lost the fight, then it forever tarnishes his image because he lost to a smaller fighter. Second, GSP has plenty of unfinished business at 170 pounds, so there is no motivation for him to risk his own current winning streak by facing a man who is better at every facet of the game, except wrestling. Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, Johny Hendricks and possibly even Rory MacDonald a year or two from now are all great matchups. They are certainly the type of fights that will get GSP’s juices flowing, so there is no need for him to take a major risk to his legacy by facing Silva.
WHY CHAEL? WHY?
A spinning backfist? Really?
What makes Sonnen so good is he knows exactly who he is as a fighter and rarely tries to be anything else. He is an elite wrestler who excels when fighting in a phone booth. His standup is solely designed to close the distance for takedowns. Nothing more.
That is why it was so bizarre to see him try a spinning backfist against the best standup fighter in the division, if not the sport. Silva identified the technique the split second Sonnen shifted his weight to uncork the blow and easily slipped it. We all know what happened next.
I wonder if Sonnen is beating himself up over that decision right about now. He easily won the first round by staying true to himself. And he was controlling the champion early in the second, until that ill-fated decision.
We will never know if the outcome would have been different had Sonnen chosen to remain focused on simple standup techniques solely designed to close the distance. That wasn’t enough to win last time, but something tells me that Sonnen is wishing he could take back that once decision.
THE BETTER GUY WINS EVERY TIME
Following his second-round TKO loss to Silva, Sonnen said something very poignant. “I think it is important when you lose a fight that you don’t say things like ‘my opponent was better tonight.’ The better guy wins every time. The better guy won tonight.”
Sonnen could have complained about Silva holding his shorts to prevent a takedown. He could have complained about the knee to the body, alleging that it hit him in the face. He did neither of those things. The WWE-style banter was over with the fight, and Sonnen was extremely classy in defeat.
I don’t know why I didn’t expect that. Sonnen doesn’t have a history of being a sore loser, and there is no doubt that all the venom leading up to the fight was 99% promotion. Nonetheless, I was very impressed with the way Sonnen handled the loss.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, TITO
Tito Ortiz is a polarizing figure. There is no doubt about that. Fans either love him or love to hate him. There are very few fans who have been watching the fight for five years or more who don’t have an opinion of the new UFC Hall of Fame inductee. That is because Ortiz is as brash as they come, and for the first decade of his career, he backed up those brash words with dominant wrestling and an unstoppable ground-and-pound attack.
There is little doubt that the Ortiz who competed on Saturday night is a shell of the man who once reigned supreme in the 205-pound division. Injuries and age have sapped him of his once-dominant wrestling skills. As a result, he has won just once in his last nine fights—certainly more than a subtle sign that this is the correct time to call it quits.
Nonetheless, Ortiz looked as good in defeat as he has at any point in his career over the last six-seven years. In fact, his standup arguably looked better against Griffin than it ever has in Ortiz’ 15-year career. Griffin even admitted that the second knockdown was a legitimate bomb that had him hurt, which is a shocking turn of events for a guy who has never seemed very comfortable fighting on his feet.
The loss does nothing to minimize the significance of the matchup or the magnitude of the moment. Ortiz was the last consistent tie to the pre-Zuffa UFC. That chapter of the sport’s history is now officially closed.
Ortiz ended his UFC career with a 15-11-1 record. His 15 wins included five consecutive successful defenses of the 205-pound title and wins over fellow all-time greats Wanderlei Silva, Ken Shamrock and Vitor Belfort. Of course, his 11 losses included two knockout losses to fellow Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell in what were then the biggest bouts in the sport’s history, and a unanimous decision loss to fellow Hall of Famer Randy Couture. Win or lose, Ortiz was always an entertaining fighter, and he was also among the best interview candidates in the history of the game. I know I certainly enjoyed more than my own fair share of exclusive stories from Ortiz over the years.
Thanks for the memories, Champ. You will be missed.