For a while there, it looked like history was going to repeat itself.
Chael Sonnen, the No. 1 contender for the middleweight crown, took Anderson Silva down and managed to remain on top of him for nearly the entire first round at UFC 148. While doing little to no damage from above, Sonnen did pass Silva’s guard and achieve the full mount, which is no small feat in itself.
However, dominant positions mean little if no damage is done, and Sonnen was either unwilling to let it all go and risk losing the top position or he was simply trying to conserve his energy for the later rounds.
None of it mattered in the end. In the second frame, Silva ducked under a poorly chosen spinning backfist attempt by Sonnen and then watched as the challenger fell down as a result.
Then he calmly walked over to Sonnen, who had scooted back to the cage, and dived in, knee first. The point of the knee struck Sonnen in the chest, and much the same way we saw Tito Ortiz felled by Rashad Evans, Sonnen wilted and was quickly stopped via TKO as Silva began to drive punches into his head.
And with that came an anticlimactic end to what was the most anticipated bout in MMA history.
It was an odd sight to see—Sonnen sitting against the cage, Silva looming over him. Sonnen simply sat there, then tried to cover his face as Silva launched the knee. It was almost as if, at that moment, all the momentum Sonnen had carried into the fight fled him and he quietly acquiesced to the role of punching bag.
For all of Sonnen’s talk, the key questions surrounding the fight were ever constant. For Sonnen, it was: “Can he take Silva down like he did last time, over and over again?” For Silva, it was equally simple: “Can he stuff Sonnen’s takedowns?”
The second round saw Silva defend the takedown attempts, thanks to a few moments where he grabbed Sonnen’s shorts, but the real story was that of Silva’s poise in the pocket against the biggest threat to his title to date.
With his back against the cage, he ducked under Sonnen’s spinning backfist in much the same fashion that he evaded Forrest Griffin’s punches: effortlessly. There was no apprehension or concern; it was simply a clumsy attack by the man in front of him.
In the biggest fight of his career, Silva ended up closing the show the first chance he got.
Of course, many will say Sonnen shot himself in the foot with that spinning backfist attempt, and they might be right. However, Sonnen criticized Silva for not keeping his hands up in their first fight; this time the shoe ended up on the other foot, and Sonnen seemed to know the end was coming as Silva casually walked right into him.
This was supposed to be a fight for the ages, and it looked like it was going to live up to all the hype. However, as so often happens, a mistake was made, and against a fighter like Anderson Silva, you don’t get to make mistakes if you want that title.
Sonnen looked good in the first round, but there was something missing. He fought with desperation and a kind of frantic energy due the moment in their first fight that simply disappeared as soon as he missed that punch and fell to the mat. It was almost as if the weight of all his pre-fight trash-talk landed squarely on his shoulders and he found he could not lift it off.
It was a shocking ending for a fighter who was so open and honest about his hopes and aspirations in the UFC Primetime special.
“I would give everything I’ve got, everything, I’d give it all back, to be world champion for one night,” he said.
He didn’t need to give anything back; he just needed to give everything he had, and he didn’t.