Just three days after witnessing Anderson Silva’s baffling performance at UFC 112 that led to a fan and media backlash, UFC president Dana White already has his next opponent lined up – Chael Sonnen.
Perhaps with Silva more than any other fighter there were many possibilities for his next opponent, whether it be a drop down to 170lbs to face welterweight champion GSP, a move up to light-heavyweight to face a top contender such the winner of Rashad Evans Vs Rampage Jackson, or even jumping up to heavyweight to face the likes of Frank Mir.
The indications before the fight were that Silva was receptive to any and all of the above, but the UFC have went in favor of another bout at 185lbs against Sonnen. Let’s weigh up the positive and negatives of the decision.
Sonnen’s greatest asset is his new-found ability to talk up a fight. Much in the same way that Dan Hardy was able to skip ahead of the queue for a shot at GSP thanks to his ability to get under his opponents skin, Sonnen has developed into something of a quote machine recently, and Silva is the perfect foil for him.
“[Silva is] really good, he’s really effective, and he’s as unpleasing to watch as grass growing. That’s why they called me to get rid of this cancer of the company,” Sonnen remarked to mmajunkie after Silva’s latest performance.
The UFC needs all the promotional help it can get to convince fans that it’s worth forking out their hard-earned cash for another pay-per-view event starring Silva, and Sonnen can certainly deliver in that department.
In the past few days Silva has been seen very much as the ‘villain’ of the piece, and if Sonnen can convince fans that he’s the man to beat him up, then that might be enough for people to want to see it. On the other hand others might be intrigued to see how Silva reacts to the verbal bombardment he is going to receive in the lead up to the fight. Will he take out his frustrations on Sonnen and batter him into oblivion like he has done to numerous opponents in the past, or will he have another Abu Dhabi style meltdown.
Another positive in bringing Sonnen into the equation is that he is a “gamer” – perhaps not in the same gung-ho way as Forrest Griffin, but at the same time he’s not the type of fighter that’s going to circle the cage for five rounds. That’s crucial since Silva’s oddball performances in the UFC have often appeared to be triggered by the fighters frustration at his opponents refusal to fight.
While Sonnen is primarily a ground fighter he is also more adept in the stand-up game than the likes of Thales Leites or Demain Maia, with his win over Yushin Okami back at UFC 104 proved.
Despite the fact that he is not out of his element in the striking department, it’s an interesting decision by the UFC to once again pit Anderson Silva against a fighter like Sonnen who’s game-plan will revolve around taking him to the floor.
It could be an effective strategy if it works, but other have tried and failed to do so. Despite the criticism over his performance against Maia, Silva’s takedown defense appears to have improved, which helped make his opponent look foolish when he attempted to take the fight to the floor.
Ideally what the UFC should want from Silva’s next fight is an action-packed affair that would renew interest in arguably their most talented fighter. If Sonnen gets his way it might not pan out that way however. Since joining the UFC, and even in his previous fights in the WEC before that, the 33 year-old has proven himself to be a grinder, often wearing down his opponents by dominating on the ground en-route to a decision victory.
I’m not convinced that’s what the fans want to see in a five round title fight. I also not convinced that Sonnen is the fighter the fans were hoping Silva would be put up against next either. After the fight there was a significant feeling that he needed to be tested against another major star – whether it was GSP at welterweight, Machida at light-heavyweight, or Lesnar at heavyweight for example.
That’s also the kind of blockbuster fight that Silva has been calling for, and perhaps that’s the kind of stage he needs to be on to really perform to his best. A fight against Sonnen doesn’t hold that cache.
Will Sonnen’s verbal warfare generate interest from fans, or will they be turned off by the threat of another ‘striker vs grappler’ stale-mate? Is Silva going to be fired up to prove his critics wrong and shut Sonnen up, or will he struggle to get motivated to face the next 185lb contender on the conveyor belt.
It’s going to be interesting to see how both the fans and the fighters themselves respond to this fight, both in the build-up, and in the octagon.
My over-riding feeling is that it’s a somewhat risky match-up that as can be shown above has a roughly equal number of good and bad points to it. It could work, but it is still gamble.
Personally I feel releasing him of his middleweight title shackles and putting on a fight that would have created more of a buzz – GSP or a 205lb top contender – would have been the better option.
Despite the disappointment of his latest performance at UFC 112 though, I must admit I still find myself eager to see one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the sport compete again, regardless of who he is up against.