UFC 148: Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen II Preview

Like all great fights, Silva vs. Sonnen II has strong questions that drive PPV interest.

Can Silva, who’s rarely struggled against the competition in his UFC run, erase the memory of one of his worst performances inside the octagon? Can he prove that he did so poorly because of injuries? Was the performance a preview of things to come for an athlete declining in ability?

On the other side of the octagon, it’s one big one: Can Sonnen duplicate his previous performance without making himself needlessly vulnerable?

There are answers, and there have been pre-fight justifications from both, and the truth of either is suspect until the fight actually takes place.

Sonnen handily outwrestled and outstruck Silva in their first meeting at UFC 117. But he grew exhausted and bloodied after four rounds of what he should have been able to sustain for 10, and he made a error in tactical judgement when he decided to punch instead of posture as Silva worked for a triangle choke. It was a moment of autopilot that were he less tired, the mistake might not have happened. As the cause, he’s pointed to a lack of focus and a mental toughness that causes him to open himself to submissions.

A rib injury for Silva is his well-established culprit, and if it’s the cause of his misstep, the fight should be a walk-through for him. On paper, he’s already faced a better wrestler than Sonnen in Dan Henderson. He’s faced some of the best strikers the middleweight division had to offer at the time in Vitor Belfort and Patrick Cote (and made them look like amateurs). He’s had time to heal up. Now it’s time to perform.

Silva’s overall fight statistics make the Sonnen fight a massive anomaly, and that’s why oddsmakers have given him an approximately 70 percent of winning. Yet it’s arguable whether he’s behaved like an underdog. Using the weigh-ins to chest-bump Sonnen, whose two-year campaign of trash-talk against him mellowed in the weeks leading up to Saturday, could be seen as the action of an insecure man leading into one of the biggest tests of his title, or master craftsman adding emotion to his arsenal.

After directing so much negativity at his opponent over the past two years, Sonnen has pulled back on attacks against Silva, which suggests he’s either manipulated Silva into a vulnerable position or realized a violent fate awaits him.

Whatever the answers are to these questions, they should become evident early in the fight. If Silva isn’t able to control distance and set up striking combinations, or if he gets reckless, Sonnen will press in and strike into takedowns. It should be a better cat-and-mouse game than before. If healthy, Silva’s explosiveness will make no man’s land a much more dangerous place for Sonnen. But if Sonnen’s able to time his shots the way he did before, it will be another long night for the champ, and perhaps this will be his last night as one.

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