UFC 148: Keys to Victory for Anderson Silva over Chael Sonnen
The time is almost here.
The first fight had enough drama and fireworks to keep everyone on the edge of their seats, and the rematch has all the ingredients to provide heaping helpings of seconds every bit as good as the first pass at the table.
Sonnen has worked hard outside the gym to hype this fight into the stratosphere, and behind closed doors he’s been training like a man who wants the title.
Silva has been Silva, staying relatively quiet and letting his camp talk in his stead.
With the leak of Silva suffering an injury in training, one begins to question just how confident the normally unflappable champion really is. Sonnen was taking it to him in their first fight, both on the ground and standing.
If Silva wants to keep that shiny belt, he’s got a lot of work to do. If Sonnen has proven anything in the past years, it’s that he can back up his words in the cage, and from all the talking he’s been doing, it’s clear he has every intention of replaying the first fight—sans the mental lapse that saw him caught in a fight ending triangle choke.
Here are the keys to victory for Anderson Silva.
Don't Get Cute
Sometimes we’ve seen Anderson Silva play with his food too much.
It’s almost as if he’s at times bored in the cage, and uses the fight to amuse himself. He cannot afford to do that against Chael Sonnen, even if he is cleaning his clock.
Chael Sonnen is a dogged fighter who is no doubt prepared to go to war for all five rounds. He talks the game of a man who doesn’t think it will be close, but he’s more than ready to engage in trench warfare for all five rounds if need be.
Silva needs to remember this is a title fight against a man who was just minutes away from taking his strap the last time out. He’s got to stay focused on the task at hand: stopping those takedowns and knocking Sonnen’s block off.
In the rematch, Silva needs to be the harsh taskmaster; nothing else will do.
In the first fight, Sonnen was able to enjoy a shocking amount of success striking with the champ.
He staggered Silva several times with flush shots to the jaw, and used that to get easy takedowns.
It seemed like Sonnen was able to catch Silva napping as he moved about the cage, and more than a few times those punches seemed to land when Silva’s eyes were closed.
Silva must be totally focused on the fight at hand, ever aware of the distance and his position in the cage.
Sonnen may seem like a joker, but the truth is he’s a student of the game with a keen eye for those windows of opportunity. Silva must show him a wall with no windows, and that means staying utterly composed and absolutely focused on the man in front of him.
Anderson Silva has many tools in his tool belt, and in their first fight, he didn’t get to use many of them.
In the rematch, one of his greatest assets is his ability to move about the cage, circling and keeping Sonnen in favorable range—both to stuff incoming takedowns and to strike without giving up space to sprawl.
He cannot be flat footed in the rematch. Sonnen is just too damn good at cutting off the cage and giving an opponent no room to avoid a takedown.
Silva has the better footwork, by far. He needs to use that to keep Sonnen a beat behind the music, and if he can do that, then he can also be the one calling out the tune.
The first go around, Sonnen was able to keep Silva guessing and then catch him during those moments when Silva was not ready for what was coming next.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Silva has great feints when he decides to use them. He needs to dust that tool off and put it to constant use in the rematch.
Keeping Sonnen guessing is one of the few things that could turn this fight into a route in favor of the champ. We’ve seen how explosive Silva can be when he finds his opponents standing still in a moment of hesitation.
But he can’t just keep throwing feint after feint out there—he has to use them evenly with honest attacks: front kicks and punches to the face, kicks to the legs, etc.
If he is able to get Sonnen to bite on his feints early, he can keep him biting all night long.
Establish the Jab
One of the things that makes Chael Sonnen so fun to watch is his workman-like attitude about fighting.
He goes out there, puts on his hardhat and goes to work, throwing hooks and kicks while actually watching his opponent and learning their rhythm. His approach is so fundamentally sound that he turned what is normally a matter of hard algebra—striking with Anderson Silva—into simple math.
Silva would be well served by taking a page from Sonnen’s book and using one of the most fundamental, workman-like tools in the striking game: the jab.
Silva has got some of the most beautiful striking in the game, but he rarely uses perhaps the most significant tool he has. In the rematch, that needs to change.
Silva should employ those feints to set up an honest-to-god jab. I’m not talking about going through the motions and throwing it out there with no mean intentions, because at that point the jab is nothing more than something to hide behind.
He needs to use the jab to snap Sonnen’s head back, bloody that nose and swell those eyes up.
And he needs to use it to steer Sonnen in predictable directions, so he can set some bear traps and catch Sonnen flush. If Sonnen eats enough jabs, he’s will start ducking his head or moving it this way or that, and when he does, landing those follow up shots with murderous intent will be much easier.
Every round that passes, Sonnen should be using that jab like a lance on Sonnen’s face.
Let Those Strikes Go
No matter what happens, Silva needs to remember the styles that are being brought into this contest: he brings the best striking in the game, and Sonnen brings the better wrestling.
The last time around, Sonnen looked like the better striker, simply because he was able to land those punches. They weren’t fancy, but they found their mark—and in a fight, that’s all that matters.
This time around, Silva needs to go out and reclaim the sky, as the saying goes. He needs to show Sonnen that he’s the far better striker, hands down.
And he needs to do this with an offensive mindset.
Sonnen may not be a virtuoso when it comes to striking, but he’s got very good basic skills. Silva needs to prove his superiority by striking first and striking often. He’s got the longer reach and the straighter strikes, and he needs to build uncertainty in the mind of Sonnen using those advantages to their utmost.
In a fight like this, against a fighter like Sonnen, if Silva isn’t striking, he’s losing.
Knees and Elbows in the Clinch
Odds are high that Sonnen will be able to get Anderson Silva clinched up against the cage. It’s almost a certainty, given how committed Sonnen is once he engages in that range.
When that happens, Silva needs to attack with knees to the body and elbows to the head if space permits. Sonnen isn’t going to give Silva room to get off the fence, so he’s going to have to fight for it.
Every time Sonnen is able to force Silva to grapple, the champ needs to be offensive minded about it. He’s got weapons for almost any distance, and includes up close in the shoe box.
This is the biggest fight of his career, and he’s going to have to work for the space needed to get the fight to where it favors him: in the middle of the cage.
Sprawl and Brawl
In all honesty, when all is said and done, Sonnen hasn’t a prayer of winning this fight without taking Silva to the ground often and keeping him there every second he can.
That will be the main point to any kind of game plan Sonnen and his camp come up with, and it’s no secret that he believes his wrestling is so good that Silva won’t be able to avoid getting dumped on his back.
Once again, his thinking shouldn’t be surprising; anything else is contrary to his experience with Silva.
Sonnen is being smart, doing what he’s supposed to do: playing to his strengths.
Silva needs to contest this area of the fight just as much as Sonnen contested the notion that Silva was the better striker in their first fight.
Silva needs to fight those takedown attempts any way he can. To not do so is to court defeat openly.
Silva should get used to the idea that letting Sonnen take him down with anything less than 100 percent resistance is giving away the fight.
All the champ need do to make this a very easy night is stuff those takedown attempts. Yes, that will be much harder than it sounds, but it is still the main problem Silva must contend with.
Attack with Submissions
Anytime Sonnen manages to drag Silva to the mat, the champ must constantly attack with submissions.
If Sonnen is given time to work from on top, he can batter Silva all night long. He did it before, and should Silva content himself with just lying there as he did first time, Sonnen is going to pile up those points.
Silva must use an offensive guard anytime he’s on his back, and in this fight, odds are he’s going to wind up there at least a few times. He’s got many tools off his back, and he’s got the longer limbs, so he can attack with submissions while using them as a means to reverse position or transition back to the feet.
He has to give Sonnen something to think about, other than letting his fists fly downward. He’s got to keep Sonnen guessing and on guard, because the more Sonnen is thinking submission defense, the less will be his offense.
No matter how much Sonnen has been working on his jiu-jitsu, it is still his weakest point, and Silva needs to attack Sonnen there any chance he gets.
Make Him Miss, Then Make Him Pay
Another highly-unseen aspect of Silva’s striking game, which was basically unseen in their last fight, is his defensive ability.
If he is in his zone, his ability to judge space and utilize footwork and head movement in a defensive manner is second to none.
Sonnen is going to be throwing punches anytime he can. He could miss every punch he throws for four rounds, and he’ll still be swinging for the fences in round five; Silva gave him no reason to think he shouldn’t in their last fight.
He needs to give him those reasons this time around.
Anytime Sonnen swings those hooks, Silva needs to make him miss and then make him pay dearly for it.
Sonnen showed no respect for the standup of Silva in their first fight, and Silva never gave him reason to do so. This time around, he needs to give Sonnen hell anytime he throws a punch and misses.