UFC 153: In Defense of Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar

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UFC 153: In Defense of Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar
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There's a line in Christopher Nolan's excellent film, The Dark Knight, where Lt. James Gordon is talking about Batman, who has just killed Harvey "Two Face" Dent and is running off to become Gotham's invisible villain. Batman, as the story goes, is going to take the blame for Dent's failings and become a hunted criminal, because he doesn't think Gotham can handle the truth about Dent's turn to the dark side and the horrible things he's done.

Gordon's young son asks him why Batman is running away. 

"Because he's the hero Gotham deserves," Gordon says. "But not the one it needs right now."

I know it may not make a lot of sense, but that line kind of sums up my feelings on the new UFC 153 main event announced on Wednesday between Anderson Silva and Stephan Bonnar.

Of course, we're not speaking of caped heroes and crusaders in the night. And I'm not saying that Silva or Bonnar are Batman, though Silva is probably the closest thing we have to a mixed martial arts superhero. We're talking about a fight, and it's a fight that has received a ton of criticism since it was revealed. 

Here's the thing: I wanted to see Jose Aldo take on Frankie Edgar just as much as the next guy. It's one of my dream fights, and I'm still holding out hope that we'll see it eventually, providing Aldo can keep himself away from motorcycles while in the midst of training camp. It may not be as anticipated as, say, a fight between Georges St-Pierre and Silva, or Silva and Jon Jones, but it's still one of those amazing fights that don't come around very often.

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But once Aldo deduced that he wasn't able to fully recover from his motorcycle incident—and again, let's keep UFC fighters away from motorcycles, just as a general rule—the options for UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, Dana White and the rest of the company were fairly slim. Sure, they had more notice than they were given when Dan Henderson pulled out of UFC 151 with just eight days notice, but putting together a big, pay-per-view main event headliner in a month remains a tricky business.

Once Aldo pulled out, and once Edgar decided he'd rather save himself for another day, we were faced with a UFC 153 main event featuring Jon Fitch and Erick Silva. Or perhaps Glover Teixeira and Fabio Maldonado, or even Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Dave Herman.

None of those sound like good main event options to me, but perhaps I'm alone in this line of thinking.

Putting together short-notice fights is a tricky and tough business. I've heard from plenty of fans over the past 24 hours via Twitter, and a lot of them suggested that the UFC was making a giant mistake in booking Silva vs. Bonnar

"Why don't they just put Alexander Gustafsson in the cage against Silva?" they said. "Why didn't they run Shogun and Machida out for a third fight? Why couldn't they pick anyone else besides Bonnar? Why not put Chael Sonnen in against Silva for a third time?"

The answers are pretty simple, really.

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Gustafsson has been battling illness over the past month or so, and there's no way he'd be ready in time for a competitive fight. Plus, he's one of the hottest prospects in the light heavyweight division and a potential opponent for Jones in 2013. Why would you waste a contender by putting him in the cage against the best fighter in the world, especially when the best fighter in the world will be heading back down to his regular weight class after this fight?

And besides, UFC is intent on providing FOX with good fights for their next network television broadcast in December, and pulling Gustafsson from his bout with Rua isn't a sound business decision. Which is why Rua wasn't even called and offered this spot.

Machida? He's demonstrated over the past few weeks that he's not interested in fighting any time soon, and especially on short notice.

Sonnen just lost in emphatic fashion to Silva in July, so I can't imagine a lot of UFC fans being all that interested in throwing down hard-earned dollars to see it again. Besides, Sonnen has a big fight with Forrest Griffin coming up in December. That fight could be the first step down a road that leads him to a huge money fight with Jones in 2013. Why risk it by putting him in the cage with the guy that just beat him for his light heavyweight debut?

Here's what it boils down to: When it comes to booking short-notice fights like this one, there aren't a lot of easy options. You can't sacrifice your FOX shows or your big year-end pay-per-view in Las Vegas just because you need a main event for a Brazil show that is mostly being held to help build a foundation for the UFC brand in that country.

What better way to continue building that brand than by putting the best fighter in the world in the main event, especially since that fighter happens to be from Brazil? The Brazilians don't care who Silva faces; he could walk in the cage to face James Irvin or Patrick Cote again, and they'd be happy.

And we, the people who do not live in Brazil, should also be happy. Because we're getting a second chance to see Silva fight this year. That counts for something. Just two days ago, Silva was content to ride out the rest of the year and perhaps not step in the cage until the middle of next year, and we'd have to deal with it. Instead, we get another chance to see Silva work his beautiful and perfect art for the second time in four months. That's a special thing.

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What about Bonnar? I'm not going to sit here and tell you that he's a fantastic fighter who deserves a crack at the best in the world. He's riding a three-fight winning streak, but nobody's going to confuse him with the top light heavyweights in the world.

But none of that matters to me. I love the story of Bonnar—the guy who participated in that legendary TUF 1 fight with Griffin but then went down a very different path—finally getting his shot at glory. Griffin became a superstar and one of the most popular mixed martial artists in the world, while Bonnar went on to become a kind of journeyman fighter, albeit one that has never left the UFC. He never attained the same heights as Griffin, mostly because he never could win the big fight. 

But that could all change on October 13. Imagine the chaos if Bonnar somehow overcomes the odds and beats Silva? All of his failings and his inability to achieve the same kind of superstardom as Griffin would be instantly wiped out. Instead of being the guy who became Marty Jannety to Griffin's Shawn Michaels, he'd forever be known as the guy who ended Anderson Silva's winning streak.

Do I think Bonnar can achieve the impossible? It's not likely. He's a 13-to-1 underdog—the largest betting spread in UFC history—for a reason.

But I'm also not sleeping on his chances. He's a tough fighter with a talent for sticking around in fights that turn more violent than usual. I don't expect him to survive for all three rounds, but I also wouldn't be shocked beyond belief if he's somehow able to last and score a decision win. It's unlikely, but not impossible.

I'm a sucker for good stories. The overlooked and nearly forgotten other half of the fight, the one that helped put the UFC on the map, getting one last shot at glory when it seemed like retirement was his only real option? I can dig that.

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And all of this is saying nothing about the rest of the card. For as much vitriol as I've seen thrown UFC 153's way in the last 24 hours, I think it's one of the stronger cards, from top to bottom, that we've seen in quite some time. We get to see Demian Maia vs. Rick Story, Phil Davis vs. Wagner Prado, Erick Silva vs. Jon Fitch and the three fights I've already mentioned. That's a good pay-per-view card, especially when you consider the booking acrobatics Silva and White had to execute in order to make it happen.

At the end of the day, I think I just realize that seeing Anderson Silva fight, no matter the opponent, is a special occasion. Sure, he says he'll be fighting for another five or six years, but who knows if that's even going to hold?

We don't know how many more times we'll get to see the greatest fighter in the history of the sport do his thing, and so we must consider any chance to see him in the cage a good opportunity. And if that chance turns out to be a virtual sparring session against Bonnar, well, that's OK. 

I'll take what I can get. Silva vs. Bonnar may not be the fight we wanted, but it's the fight we need all the same.

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