"I'm going to make sure every one of his teeth are broken, his arms are broken, his legs are broken."
If Anderson Silva, a man widely acclaimed as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the history of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), were to speak this way about most people, the consequences would be predictable. They'd change their identity, get a fake passport and hide for the next few years. That's if they had any sense.
Silva stands out as the dominant champion of his era. In a sport with a huge number of ways to lose, and no padded records, hanging onto UFC title belts for any length of time has proven impossible for most. The Brazilian is different: he has cleared out the 185lb middleweight division, defending his title nine times since 2006. And he's made it look easy. Up-and-coming stars and seasoned veterans of the cage alike have been brushed aside with ease.
All except one.
Chael Sonnen, a brash, trash-talking American took on Silva in 2010. Against all expectations he took the fight to the Brazilian, easily winning the first four of the five scheduled rounds and making Silva look like a mere mortal for the first time in years. In a final round that would be dismissed as far-fetched if it were a Hollywood movie, Silva somehow managed to catch Sonnen in a triangle choke hold, using his legs to steal a sensational comeback victory with less than two minutes remaining.
The Brazilian is different: he has cleared out the 185lb middleweight division, defending his title nine times since 2006.
Both before the fight and since; Sonnen has waged verbal war on Silva. He has insulted or joked about the Brazilian's integrity, his coaches, his country, his dress sense and even his wife. He has tried desperately to get a rematch and he has tried desperately to get under Silva's skin
It's worked, on both counts. The two men will face off again on Saturday, July 7 at UFC 148 and the usually mild-mannered Silva has been visibly furious in the run-up to the event. His out-of character threats to break Sonnen's teeth and limbs have taken everyone aback, coming as they do from a man better known for bowing to opponents than berating them.
Silva claims that he was injured going into his last fight, something backed up by the documentary movie 'Like Water' which chronicled the lead-up to the first fight. Sonnen, ever the prince of the press conference, dismisses both this excuse and Silva's threats:
"Well it was nice to see the real Anderson Silva come through," he told UFC Tonight. "Ya know, the guy's a dirtbag, like I've told you for years. He made a lot of statements like, ‘he's gonna break my teeth, he's gonna break my jaw and beak my skull’. Ya know, I've fought 49 men. It's not as if I've never been to the orthodontist before, or my jaw reset or my scalp stapled shut in the ER. There's a couple things he didn't say he was gonna do, starting with beating me, starting with breaking my spirit and leaving with the victory, cuz he's not.
"Go ahead. Take the the teeth, take the jaw, take the staples in the head, whatever other crap he's gonna do. We're in a fistfight in a steel cage on a Saturday night, anyway. I kind of expect it. I think he was one off from saying, 'I'm gonna give you a knuckle sandwich.' I'm kinda sitting there thinking, 'Well, duh. We're in the middle of a cage fight, dummy!'"
Whether genuine or just generated to hype up the fight, the back-and-forth trash talk has built up the rematch into, perhaps, the most anticipated event in UFC history. It was originally to have been held in a football stadium in Brazil, but local tensions were running so high after Sonnen's comments that it has been moved to Las Vegas.
Take the the teeth, take the jaw, take the staples in the head, whatever other crap he's gonna do. We're in a fistfight in a steel cage on a Saturday night, anyway.
If you've never watched MMA before, this is as good a place to start as any. There is a chance to see a true legend at the top of his game, as motivated as he's ever been. Silva is 37 and, while there's no evidence of his skills fading, he can't go on forever. He's one of the fighters you'll tell your grandkids that you watched and there won't be many more opportunities. Sonnen used superior wrestling skills to control Silva in the first bout but expect the Brazilian to have a plan to stop it happening again. The stats suggest another close fight, but I have Silva as a clear favourite to win fairly easily. Of course, I thought would happen last time too. Sonnen is tough and hard to stop but, if Silva is injury free I expect him to take it. Silva via submission or TKO.
Another legend of the sport bows out on the same night - Tito Ortiz was the face of MMA during its transition from No-Holds-Barred beat-'em-up into a major, mainstream sport. The former light-heavyweight champion is retiring due to age and the toll of multiple surgeries, but he is facing off against fellow ex-Champion Forrest Griffin for a final farewell fight. Ortiz is a shadow of the man who once ruled the weight division but, if fit, is still capable of ending his career on a high. The two men have fought twice before with one victory apiece and I predict Ortiz to rise to the occasion. Ortiz via points.
Two other bouts on the main card star former victims of Anderson Silva. Submissions master Demian Maia, now at welterweight, lost to his fellow Brazilian in 2010. He brings improved striking to a fight with Korean all-rounder Dong Hyun Kim. This is a fight that could go either way, but if the Korean can use his judo skills to keep the fight standing up, I think he can outstrike Maia. Kim via TKO or points.
Canadian Patrick Côté lost to Silva in 2008 which started a slide in form that resulted in his expulsion from the sport's top tier. He has fought back in smaller shows and returns to the big stage against kickboxer Cung Le. I think Le is very overrated, but he's probably still good enough to pepper his opponent and score highly.Le via points.
Chad Mendes vs Cosy McKenzie at featherweight is, potentially, a great fight. Mendes is an explosive wrestler with a point to prove after losing to champ Jose Aldo, while McKenzie's a really unpredictable character: lanky and awkward, but always entertaining, he often catches opponents in his speciality guillotine choke. I think Mendes can defend it and out-power McKenzie on his way to a win. Mendes via TKO.
Mike Easton vs Ivan Menjibar is an exciting clash at bantamweight. Salvadoran Menjibar is aggressive and well rounded and can win against the American specialist in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu if he keeps the fight on the front foot and pushes the pace. Menjibar via TKO.
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