It was a moment those of us who follow the sport closely have been waiting for, the moment he showed the world that when the lights go out at night, when he stares up at the ceiling, when it's only Silva and his God, the champion has doubts.
Challenger Chael Sonnen is so deep in Silva's head, he's got the champion's hypothalamus in plain view. And with good reason—over the course of six title defenses, people treated Silva with a sense of awe. They genuflected before his greatness. Even opponents never seemed convinced that they could win.
Until Chael P. Sonnen.
Unlike the others, Sonnen didn't place Silva on a pedestal. That honor was reserved for former President Richard Nixon, his father, even a great American patriot like Brian Stann. Silva wasn't an idol to Sonnen—he was an obstacle.
For four rounds, Sonnen beat Silva from pillar to post. Like so many hot knives running through infinite slabs of butter, Sonnen ran through Silva. Dominated him. Bent him to his will. Surprised him with quick hands and a willingness to trade punches. An inexhaustible gas tank. And the ability to hold him on the mat and punch him in the face. Over and over and over again.
Silva, in one of the most amazing finishes in UFC history, managed a last-minute submission win. In his moment of desperation, when the odds seemed the longest, he came through. Because he's a great champion and that's what champions do.
But it was Sonnen who came out of the fight with the confidence that he could own a rematch. In an interview last month with Bleacher Report, Sonnen and his team seemed legitimately convinced that nothing was going to stop him from walking away with UFC gold.
They also told us that Silva, whose team leaked after their first fight that he had suffered a rib injury in training, would have Silva's reasons for a poor performance primed and ready when Sonnen beat him at UFC 148.
"I'm going to let the whole world know in advance. I'm going to stomp you and this isn't even going to be close," Sonnen said. "So, get your excuses ready, sit down with Team Soares and come up with your excuses cause you're going to need them in twenty-five minutes or less. And the same thing is going to happen this time. This will not be a close fight and people say, 'Chael you're just trying to sell the fight.' No I'm not. I'm doing the opposite. I'm telling you this is not going to be a good fight, this is not a fight worth watching, this is not going to be a war; This is going to be a one sided beating. Just like the first time. Period. And he can have all the excuses he wants. But at the end of the day, when this fight's done, it will not even be close."
There are two fights. The mental and physical battle that takes place in the cage and the battle a fighter wages with himself. With his own confidence. The battle to believe you can win.
Sonnen is winning that battle. And, come fight night, I believe he will walk out of the cage as the new world middleweight champion.
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