(Michael Roberts' opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Spike. For Kevin Marshall on why Anderson Silva will win, click here.)
For months he talked the talk, and for 23 minutes on August 7, 2010 he walked the walk. But the most dangerous man to come out of West Linn, Oregon still found himself trapped in The Spider's web and Octagon victim No. 12 for the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
It's been 23 months since Anderson Silva
and Chael Sonnen gave fight fans one of the most dramatic title fights in UFC history. Despite pummeling Silva with his best shots, Sonnen ultimately fell short that night. The final strike count read Sonnen: 320, Silva: 64.
Something isn't right here.
In what parallel universe can you punch a man 300 times, he wraps his legs around your head for eight seconds and they declare him the winner?
There, now that's more like it.
On July 7 at 7 p.m., 10 in the east and only on pay-per-view, Chael Sonnen Promotions in conjunction with Zuffa, LLC will bring to you Silva vs. Sonnen II: The End.
Yes, that's right. Hyperbole aside, Chael P. Sonnen is going to dethrone the greatest fighter in UFC history.
First things first: Chael Sonnen, despite being a talented fighter, and a delusional, humorous, and intelligent human being, is not the UFC Middleweight Champion – though his belt at the UFC on Fox 2 press conference sure was convincing. Saturday night one of these things will change. Hint: Sonnen will forever be talented, delusional, humorous, and intelligent.
Rarely do rematches play out similar to the first fight and they are won by the fighter who makes the most efficient adjustments. Silva/Sonnen II is an exception to both, as it's likely to unfold relatively akin to their initial clash. In another odd twist, it's the winner of the first fight who needs to alter his approach the most.
At UFC 117, Sonnen took Silva down in every round, rocked him on the feet several times, and out landed the champ by a 5-to-1 ratio before falling victim to a Hail Mary submission. Parallel universes, rule misunderstandings, and tag-team partners aside, Sonnen won 99% of that fight despite Silva winning the 1% reflected in the win column.
Sonnen needs to correct 30 seconds of his initial performance; Silva needs to adjust 23 minutes. Armbar and triangle defense was, without question, the top priority in Sonnen's practices - don't call it camp, he hates marshmallows – and his training with jiu-jitsu wiz Vinny Magalhaes has been well documented. If Sonnen adds that to his repertoire and has an otherwise replicate performance from UFC 117, he wins.
Don't be fooled by the fact that Silva
has already spent four and a half rounds in the cage with Sonnen and therefore knows all about his wrestling game; watching five minutes of tape on Sonnen gets that across. Chael Sonnen's game plans are as frank as his dialogue: he's going to make things ugly and keep on going until you do something about it.
He isn't a guy like Georges St-Pierre who opponents constantly contemplate his next move. Sonnen is going to rush to the center of the octagon, throw some punches, take you for a ride with his power double leg and beat you up. His relentless top game is one of the fiercest in the sport.
Toss the stats out the window. Silva's 68.5% striking accuracy and 80% takedown defense meant nothing in their first fight. He barely touched Sonnen on the feet and was taken down at will by the challenger.
That takedown defense sure is a gaudy number, but one that's immensely skewed from Thales Leites and Demian Maia lunging from the other side of the Octagon at "The Spider" for a combined 50 minutes. Travis Lutter, Nate Marquardt and Dan Henderson didn't last more than two rounds with Silva, but they all took him down.
Sonnen was able to hold Silva down for an astonishing 19:50. While some have questioned the likelihood of an encore performance due to the Michael Bisping fight, the Brit is a deceptively difficult guy to keep down; ask Rashad Evans and Matt Hamill. Sonnen will get the takedown against Silva, the question is how he utilizes his offense.
Aside from submission defense, Sonnen's only other likely adjustment involves a more active top game position wise. While the Team Quest product spent much of their first fight in guard, he showed dramatic improvement in guard passing and offensive submissions against Brian Stann, who he tapped in the second round. It's highly unlikely Sonnen will be able to submit Silva, but if he passes to half guard or gets to mount, an accumulation of strikes could force the referee to step in.
Popular belief that Sonnen's best chance to win is by a grind 'em out decision. But 25 minutes of perfection against "The Spider" is a near impossible feat. As my colleague said, we're talking about Anderson Silva
. For Sonnen to win, he'll need to posture up, connect with harder shots and unleash a bigger barrage of violence on Silva than he did in their first outing.
And, of course, avoid that pesky triangle and any other tricks Sensei Seagal has up his sleeve.
if when Sonnen wins, he won't be the new middleweight champion; it will be his third title defense.
Image: Josh Hedges/ Zuffa LLC/ Getty Images