Octagonside by Andreas Hale
Photos by Joe Cordova
It was like Super Bowl XLII all over again… but not quite the same Cinderella story ending. Anderson Silva reflected the undefeated New England Patriots and Chael Sonnen represented the 10-6 New York Giants. Nobody – except a few die hard Giants fans – gave New York a shot in hell to beat what many had already called the greatest NFL team of all time. The trash-talking Sonnen did everything right for four rounds. But unlike David Tyree’s leaping catch, Sonnen dropped the ball when it counted the most.
In the end, it was Anderson Silva defending his UFC middleweight title by pulling off a miraculous comeback victory as he slapped on a triangle choke with under two minutes left to elicit at tap out of Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 in Oakland, CA.
Sonnen had the near 13,000 fans in the Oracle Arena in shock for twenty-three brutal minutes. He wrangled and wrestled “The Spider” to the mat. Once down, he pummeled Silva relentlessly with everything he had. He even beat Silva in the standup as he rocked him with heat seeking rights and lefts. The talk that everyone thought Sonnen was doing purely for entertainment was being walked with a definitive approach. But in the end, it was Silva that pulled off the most telling victory of his career.
“The fight that happened tonight is the stuff that makes legends,” UFC President Dana White said during the post-fight press conference. He compared the comeback to Matt Hughes’ dramatic escape from the clutches of submission against Frank Trigg. But for those first four rounds, Sonnen made White a believer. “No doubt about it (Sonnen) shocked the world. He put himself on the map saying crazy sh*t and he did it again by doing some crazy sh*t.”
It was like being one digit off of winning the lottery. That’s how close Sonnen was from pulling off the unthinkable. He had everyone sold but when it came to inking the final documents, Sonnen just couldn’t close the deal.
“I can’t sugarcoat it,” the former wrestling All-American said. “My heart is broken.”
With a huge lead on the scorecards (40-35, 40-36 and 40-37) Sonnen could have rode out the last two minutes. But if you ask Sonnen, it wasn’t even a possibility that ran through his mind.
“You have to stay busy. I didn’t know how much time was left. I heard someone reference that there was about a minute and 10 seconds left. I didn’t know that and, frankly, you even get lost about what round it is,” Sonnen explained. “You get a little disoriented. You’re in the middle of a fistfight on a Saturday night. There’s not a lot of thinking. A lot of people like to talk about strategy and thinking and blah, blah, blah. Come on. This is a fistfight in the middle of Oakland, California, in a steel cage.”
Silva arrived at the press conference and immediately shook Sonnen’s hand.
“I never underestimated Chael,” the Brazilian explained. “He came in with a good gameplan. Even though I think he promoted the fight a little bit weird.”
To call it “weird” would be an understatement. Sonnen ripped Silva and everyone around him. Whether it be Ed Soars or the Noguiera brothers, nobody was safe from Sonnen’s outbursts. “I’m like a bomb,” Sonnen said of his trash talking. “When I go off, everyone around me is going to get dirty.”
It surely was a filthy campaign. But Silva holds no hard feelings towards the toughest test of his MMA career. “To be honest I don’t have anything against Chael. I respect him and all of my opponents. I don’t hold any grudges,” “The Spider” said. ““What happens in the ring is in the ring and once it’s over, it’s done.”
Sonnen may never get this close to MMA immortality ever again – unless a rematch is ordered. It’s something that Dana White wouldn’t commit to so soon. Vitor Belfort is waiting in the wings but we could see an immediate rematch if it makes sense to the UFC and the fans clamor for it. But for now, Sonnen has to again life with the fact that he’s #2.
“He’s No. 1 and I’m No. 2. It hurts,” Sonnen said. “My heart is broken, because that’s not what I came here for, to finish second. Anderson is a great fighter and he did what he had to do. Give that to him.”
That will probably be the easiest thing that Silva has been able to take from Sonnen over the past few months. He better accept it now, because the trash talking may start as early as tomorrow.