UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2 Is the Most Anticipated Fight in UFC History
I know that headline is fairly bold.
We've had plenty of highly anticipated fights over the long history of the UFC, and some of them have ultimately ended up being absolutely gigantic fights.
The second meeting between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir, back at UFC 100, comes to mind. That was a fight with plenty of history, buildup and verbal sparring between the two combatants. And it delivered in spades on pay-per-view, to the tune of 1.6 million pay-per-view buys—the largest in UFC history by a wide margin.
But bear with me for a second, if you will, and I'll explain why I think this fight is more anticipated than even Lesnar/Mir 2.
Chael Sonnen started his extremely public tirades toward Anderson Silva somewhere in the vicinity of February 2010, shortly after he'd defeated Nate Marquardt at UFC 109.
For Sonnen, the verbal blasts were a way of getting himself noticed in the media, but there was a larger story at play: Anderson Silva didn't have a new challenger just yet, and Sonnen wanted the spot.
So Sonnen started calling Silva out in the press. This was new and notable. Nobody ever talked about Anderson Silva in that manner. He was considered by almost everyone to be the best fighter in the world. On top of that, he was quiet, reserved and respectful. He was the picture of what everyone wants a martial artist to be.
Sonnen got noticed, and he also got the title shot. You know how that one played out: Sonnen delivered a beating to Silva for nearly 25 minutes, only to succumb to a triangle choke at the end that scored Silva the win. Sonnen gave Silva the toughest challenge he'd had in years, but he still went out the loser.
Is Silva/Sonnen 2 the most anticipated fight in UFC history?
Sonnen didn't stop talking, though. Despite his troubles with the California State Athletic Commission—and the one-year suspension that followed—Sonnen continued talking. He barely took a break.
Sonnen ultimately came back to the cage and scored a dominant win over Brian Stann, following it up with a win over Michael Bisping. He'd earned a second title shot with two wins over tough challengers, and despite Silva's insistence that Sonnen didn't deserve another crack at the belt, Sonnen was named the top contender.
All the while, Sonnen continued berating Silva as often and as loudly as he could.
Most of the buildup for the rematch was handled by Sonnen, a long-time pro wrestling fan who understands the importance of hooking fans and making them anticipate fights.
"I'm going to break every bone in his face and all of the teeth in his mouth," Silva said. "He's a criminal that doesn't even deserve to be in the UFC. I am going to beat his ass out of the UFC. He will never want to fight again once I'm done with him."
The reaction from Silva is what Sonnen had been looking for from the beginning. Every dancer needs a partner. Until the conference call, Silva had been unwilling to respond to much of what Sonnen said, leaving the marketing as a one-sided push to drive interest in the fight.
That all changed. And from the sound of Silva's voice, he's not doing it to market a fight. He's doing it because he's legitimately pissed off.
But the end result is the same—fan interest in the rematch will go through the roof.
You can expect a giant marketing push from the UFC over the next 10 days, and don't be surprised to hear Silva's heated comments replayed constantly. And, for only the second time since Zuffa signed their television deal with FOX, the network will play the Countdown preview show for UFC 148.
The Public Reach
UFC president Dana White said that Zuffa is expecting historic numbers for the event.
"We're expecting UFC 100-level numbers for this one," White said on the conference call.
It's hard to say if UFC 148 will ultimately reach those numbers. But the UFC will benefit from the lack of other major sporting events taking place on that weekend. For the first time in quite awhile, the UFC will be the only major game in town, and that should lead to elevated pay-per-view buyers from sports fans looking for something to do.
The fight may not do the kind of escalated numbers that UFC 100 did. But the UFC's landscape has changed drastically since that fight took place.
Lesnar, the mainstream super-draw, is gone from the sport. The UFC runs far more events than they did when UFC 100 took place, leading to a product that feels watered-down at times.
But for hardcore fight fans, and even for mainstream fans, Silva vs. Sonnen 2 is the ultimate grudge match. With two years of history and true bad blood between both combatants, it's the perfect storm of opportunity and marketing.
Silva is touted as the best fighter in the world, and Sonnen is the one guy who has taken him to the limit since his UFC career started.
When all is said and done, I fully expect UFC 148 to be among the biggest UFC events in history. Will it be the biggest? It's doubtful. But it may just be the most memorable.
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