UFC 148 has seen a lot of changes to its once indestructible fight card. Despite such heavy alterations, the main event that stands is one of the most important fights in the history of the sport.
More than just the highly-coveted UFC Middleweight championship hangs in the balance.
The legacy of the greatest fighter in history has been threatened. The title hopes of a soft-spoken wrestler from Oregon are on life support. The outcome of this fight has the potential to do irreparable damage to both.
Who will win this epic battle? Who has more on the line? Did I really just call Chael Sonnen soft-spoken?
Let's take a look at why this is the most important fight in the careers of both Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen.
The biggest thing that Chael Sonnen has going for him is the fact that he absolutely dominated Anderson Silva for 23 minutes before succumbing to a triangle choke halfway through the final round of their UFC 117 championship bout.
Many call the choke a well-timed visit from Lady Luck, and that Sonnen simply got caught. Others feel that Sonnen shattered the invincible image that Silva has earned through his UFC career prior to that battle.
Tomorrow night, Sonnen has the ability to prove his supporters right. More importantly, he has the ability to prove his detractors wrong.
A win solidifies Sonnen's claim that he is the best fighter in the world. If he can once again shut out The Spider, not only does he put on the big gold belt, but he also gains the notoriety of being the man to end Anderson Silva's incredible streak of success.
What if he falls short?
With a loss tomorrow night, Sonnen falls to 6-5 in the UFC and becomes a twice-defeated contender. At the age of 35, he will be unlikely to earn another crack at the championship that he so thoroughly desires, which means that retirement will come on someone else's terms, and Sonnen will simply go down in history as "that guy who came close."
This isn't just about going down in the history books. The fight for Chael Sonnen tomorrow night is absolutely do or die.
Either he goes down in history as a champion, or the thoughts of coming up short will plague him for the rest of his life.
There are a lot of questions that circle this fight, however one question isn't being asked enough: What does Anderson Silva have to gain by winning this fight?
Obviously, Silva can add to his already unrivaled 14-fight winning streak inside the confines of a UFC cage, but adding a win over someone you've already beaten doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things.
The less obvious answer is pride. Silva has been insulted both personally and professionally by the things that Sonnen has said about him, his team, his wife and his homeland. When the champ previously had the opportunity to pound the challenger's mouth, he barely escaped with his belt. This time around, he needs to show the world that his late submission was anything but a fluke.
So why is this the most important fight of Silva's career?
Because this is the first time in his UFC career that he simply can't afford to lose. If the man who pummeled him once before can do it again, Silva stops being the top middleweight in the world. Questions will arise regarding his inability to beat a strong wrestler who wants to keep him on his back.
I'm not trying to offend any of our readers, but MMA fans are fickle. You are only as good as your last fight, and a loss will go a long way towards many of you hopping off of the bandwagon as if it were on fire.
Don't forget how quickly fans turned on Fedor after his first loss. And if you think fans were cruel to Fedor after beating "washed-up" fighters like former champions Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, how do you think they'll treat Silva for beating the likes of "unworthy challengers" Thales Leites, Demian Maia and Patrick Cote.
For the first time, Silva is fighting a man who has the ability to treat his legacy like a urinal. Sonnen wants to make The Spider look like a joke, and unfortunately, he has the tools to do it.
Over the course of the last five years, Anderson has been able to float through top competition in a somewhat effortless fashion. Tomorrow night, Silva has to bring his absolute best to the cage if he hopes to guarantee his continued status as the greatest fighter who ever lived.