For two years Chael Sonnen has talked. He's disrespected Anderson Silva's martial arts prowess. He's insulted his wardrobe. Even Silva's family and friends haven't been safe from Sonnen's silver tongue.
Tonight was Anderson Silva's chance to set things right. To look Chael in the eye, punch him in the face and force him to take back all the things he's said or pay the price.
This was his chance to silence Chael Sonnen once and for all. And silence him he did. Silva, who destroyed Sonnen in the second round, was clearly the big winner. But there were winners and losers up and down the card. Let's take a closer look at the fighters who made UFC 148 must-see TV.
We've seen a lot of sides to Anderson Silva during his amazing run as UFC middleweight champion. He's had fun, seemed disinterested, been willing to clown around and been focused like an arrow on his goals. Sometimes all during the course of a single fight.
Anger, though, that's an emotion we've rarely seen from Silva. Until now. Sonnen woke the sleeping beast, and brought out a primal passion that Silva's fans aren't familiar with.
Silva cared deeply about this fight. He wanted to shove Sonnen's words down his throat. The only question was whether this heightened passion would benefit him in the cage or hurt him. If he got upset and lost his head, would he make a mistake that Chael could take advantage of?
The answer was a resounding "no." Sonnen controlled the first round with ground and pound, but in the second Silva came alive. He defended a takedown smartly, then when Chael spun wildly attempting a backfist, Silva struck.
Best of all, after the bout Silva encouraged the fans to applaud his archenemy. He even invited Chael for some barbeque. Calling MMA a sport and not a blood fight, Silva proved once and for all he was the best fighter of all time.
It all came down to this. Chael Sonnen had talked for two years. He focused on Anderson Silva's clothes. On his family. On his training partners. On his home country of Brazil.
He poked at Silva every way you could poke another man. He took the Sonnen show to every outlet that would have him, spreading his message far and wide. And that message was simple—I can beat Anderson Silva.
America is not uncomfortable with trash talk. It's in the national DNA. But if you're going to talk, you absolutely have to back it up. Chael had to perform in the cage, or risk fans tuning him out.
Silva, it seems, spoke louder in the cage. After a brutal knee, he finished Chael with ground and pound. Humbled at last, Sonnen finally admitted what was obvious to everyone—Silva is a great fighter and champion.
In the first round it was vintage Tito Ortiz. The former light heavyweight champion took Forrest Griffin down and landed a sharp elbow. It was how he started his career and how he would finish it.
In the second and third rounds, an out of breath Ortiz was still able to drop Griffin twice. It wasn't quite enough to win a decision, but he can end his career with his head held high.
Ortiz is, arguably, the most important fighter in the early years of the UFC's second act. Zuffa inherited him from SEG and realized right away he was their hottest commodity.
Ortiz was the headliner who mattered most, selling more pay-per-views than any of his contemporaries, main eventing all the biggest shows including historic battles with Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell.
He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame hours before this, his final fight. It was a well-deserved honor.
All week long, everywhere Forrest Griffin went, someone shouted "run Forrest run." You leave the cage in shame once, sprinting away in tears like Forrest did against Anderson Silva, and you'll never live it down.
I predict it's not getting any better after his win over a game Tito Ortiz.
Once again, Griffin ran from the cage after a performance high on heart and low on technical and athletic skill. When he came back to the cage to have his hand raised, the crowd let him know in stark terms just how they felt with their boos.
Look, Forrest Griffin will always be a hardcore fan favorite. His role in saving the sport can't be overlooked. He'll always have a place in our hearts.
Because we love Forrest, we owe him the truth. And the truth is, Griffin looked lousy in his last fight against Mauricio Rua and lousy again against Ortiz. He's only fought three times since 2009 and seemed progressively less efficient each time in the cage.
It was well-publicized that this was opponent Tito Ortiz's last fight in the UFC. With a poor showing, might it be Forrest's as well? He told the media he intended to "retire from life," in a losing effort. Those aren't the words of someone thinking fighting is still a long-term option.
With his burgeoning literary career and what must be a nice nest egg, perhaps the end is near for Griffin's storied career too?
I'm an unabashed supporter of the kind of daring techniques Cung Le brings into the Octagon. In a sport where most fighters are so incredibly similar, Le bring a distinct style, a nice mix of Taekwondo and Sanshou. It's what makes him one of the most exciting and unique fighters we've seen hit the sport in a long time.
Le's UFC debut was a spectacular failure. He delivered excitement in spades, but in the end, Wanderlei Silva knocked him out and forced an appointment with a plastic surgeon to buy a new nose. This fight with UFC veteran Patrick Cote was a chance for the 40-year-old Le to get redemption and win at least one on the big stage before age forces him to abandon a career that didn't even start until he was 34.
Le controlled the action with his beautiful and technically precise striking, mixing in an occasional takedown that shook the cage. Le's Sanshou background means his takedowns normally happen quickly and violently.
Le took a unanimous decision from a game Cote, who came into the fight on a few weeks notice, getting just half a training camp to prepare. He seemed unafraid of Le's striking power, but was too often just a step slow.
For Le, it was a dream accomplished—his first UFC win. Still, he wasn't ready to retire after the bout, despite announcer Joe Rogan giving him an opening to do so in front of the crowd. Le, instead, decided to think a bit about whether he wanted to continue his career.
"One goal reached," Le said. "Another to come."
A January 2011 win over Nate Diaz put Dong Hyun Kim "into the mix," as UFC President Dana White likes to say. Had he gone on to beat Carlos Condit in his next fight, he'd have very likely been granted a title shot against the legendary Georges St-Pierre.
Instead, Condit knocked him silly and, tonight, Demian Maia pushed any title dreams back significantly. Kim is settling to his level—and instead of the top of the welterweight division it looks more likely he'll end up dead in the middle of a talented bunch.
This was a chance at rebirth for Maia. Not too long ago, the Brazilian submission ace had made Chael Sonnen tap out. But it was all down hill from there. Undersized for a middleweight, he knew he needed a change if he wanted a long-term career in the UFC.
Tonight was his night to show what he can really do. Cutting weight for the first time in any significant way, Maia made his welterweight debut.
And what a debut it was. He took Dong Hyun Kim down, apparently injuring the Korean star's ribs in the process. A true sportsman, Maia stopped his attack and allowed the referee time to assess Kim and stop the fight.
Taking Kim, who has notoriously strong defense, down to the mat was a huge test for the Brazilian. It signals that Maia's comeback may warrant watching carefully. A run to contention isn't out of the question for one of the best submission fighters in the entire sport.
For Mendes and his buddies at Team Alpha Male, this fight was about proving a point. Cody McKenzie trained with them for a time, but his sloth and slovenly ways prevented a permanent connection. Now it was time for Mendes to show the world the value of professionalism and good old-fashioned hard work.
It didn't take long for the wrestler to prove his point. Mendes caught him early, grabbing a kick and landing a straight right hand to the solar plexus that dropped McKenzie. From there, Mendes pounced, landing some vicious ground and pound to force a stoppage.
It was great to see Chad rebound after his first career loss, a trouncing at the hands of featherweight champion Jose Aldo. This was just one step back on the path to title contention. It will take several more for Mendes to walk back into a rematch for the title.
We spent the day with Melvin yesterday for what turned out to be an easy weight cut. For the first time in his professional career, the UFC veteran was eating like a serious world class athlete. Combined with his excellent team at Authentic in Florida, Guillard entered this fight as confident as a fighter can be.
It was a tough fight for the "Young Assassin" who, at 29, might need to consider a new nickname. Guillard's uncanny ability to spring back to his feet after a takedown paid dividends in this bout, as opponent Fabrício Camões was rarely able to sustain a continued ground assault.
After two consecutive losses, the win saves Guillard's spot in the UFC, a spot that was precariously positioned before the bout. I expect his next fight to be on PPV against a significant opponent.
My colleague, Jeremy Botter, raves about Easton's charisma and presence. He's a star in the making in the bantamweight class. And Easton is no media creation. He's built his name with his strong work in the cage, starring in the D.C. based UWC while waiting for the big leagues to give the little guys a chance.
Unfortunately for the Mike Easton hype train, wily veteran Ivan Menjivar had the answer for every technique Easton threw at him. Easton won a unanimous decision, but lost in the court of public opinion. Sometimes a win, if it's an awful viewing experience, is little better than a loss.
Earlier this year, I hand picked MMA veteran John Alessio as a fighter who deserved a second shot at the UFC Octagon. Alessio had found significant success on the independent circuit and was confident he could compete at the highest level.
Well, he's had two shots in the cage since, and come up short both times. First, at UFC 145, he was out grappled by Mark Bocek. At UFC 148, wrestling All-American Shane Roller also grounded him on the way to a unanimous decision.
Alessio made it a close fight. But at 33, the aging fighter might have just fought his last UFC bout. His overall record on the big stage now stands at a paltry 0-4.