After more than a decade of smack talk, "The American Gangster" Chael Sonnen claimed a unanimous-decision victory over "The Axe Murderer" Wanderlei Silva in the main event of Bellator 180 from Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday.
Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports posted the official scores:
Kevin Iole @KevinI
Sonnen wins unanimous decision, 30-26, 30-27, 30-27 #BellatorNYC2017-6-25 04:52:57
Sonnen immediately looked better than his first fight under the Bellator banner against Tito Ortiz in January. The American wasted no time in taking down the Brazilian and applying the pressure from the jump.
Bellator MMA highlighted some of Sonnen's top game:
Bellator MMA @BellatorMMA
The top game of @ChaelSonnen is taking over this fight! #BellatorNYC https://t.co/NgDfJ2OwnZ2017-6-25 04:41:17
Not to be outdone, Silva showed he still had something to offer. He worked his way to his feet and landed a strong warning shot that floored his opponent and took top control. Even so, Sonnen did enough with his top control to win the round in the eyes of ESPN's Brett Okamoto:
Brett Okamoto @bokamotoESPN
First round is the Chael we once knew. Relentless pressure and offense on top. Wanderlei dropped him with right though. 10-9 Chael.2017-6-25 04:38:20
The second round saw the American Gangster put himself in a similar position. He secured an early takedown but appeared to give his neck to the Brazilian. Silva was unable to do anything with it as the two were willing to sit and wait for the referee to break up the hold. Mookie Alexander of SB Nation's Bloody Elbow described the scene:
Mookie Alexander @mookiealexander
Whoops. Controllers have been disconnected.2017-6-25 04:40:51
Ultimately, Sonnen was able to break the hold and went to work putting the pressure on Silva from The Axe Murderer's guard. MMA Fighting saw the frame for Sonnen:
Sonnen 10-9 and 20-18. Sonnen had some rough moments early in the second, but hit the double leg and dominated from there. #BellatorNYC2017-6-25 04:44:27
The third round was pretty much rinse and repeat as Sonnen showed the kind of swarming top game that made him a tough out for years in the middleweight division. He took Silva down and spent the vast majority of the round in complete control, getting full mount and side control while working ground-and-pound and submission attempts.
The effort was enough to secure the clean sweep on the judges' scorecards and inject a little life into Sonnen's Bellator run.
In a somewhat random but not altogether shocking move, Sonnen used his platform as the winner to call out Fedor Emelianenko, who lost to Matt Mitrione in the co-main event by knockout, per MMA Fighting:
Sonnen cuts a promo calling out Fedor. “You’re gonna find out just like Wanderlei and Tito, you never piss off a gangster.” #BellatorNYC2017-6-25 04:54:25
The fight headlined a rare pay-per-view offering for Bellator, not because of its relevance in the light heavyweight division, but the prominence of the names involved. Both Sonnen and Silva are former UFC title challengers with substantial fan followings.
The two had a long-standing rivalry that never came to a head in the UFC. Now, the wrestler from West Linn, Oregon, will claim all the bragging rights.
Sonnen highlighted the importance of this fight to him in the lead-up to it, per Ryan Mayer of CBS New York:
"We never got it right from the beginning. What the genesis of that was? I can’t fully remember. This goes back to about 2001—I could never get the fight; he wouldn’t do the fight. About a decade went by, and I finally got the fight signed, we both ended up in the principal’s office on suspension, we both came out of those suspensions and we’re finally here."
Defeating Silva marks the first time that Sonnen has had his hand raised since August 2013, when he defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua by first-round submission at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston.
However, a submission loss to an aged Tito Ortiz in January at Bellator 170 still casts doubt on just how much Sonnen can offer the organization.
His value to his new company doesn't come in his ability to contend for a title, though. It resides in his name recognition.
Bellator's modus operandi has been to anchor cards with well-known names when possible in hopes that viewers will tune in to watch the legitimate talent that exists in the organization. With Sonnen's ability to still hype fights, there's still interest in what he's doing—even if it's not contending for titles.
Silva's ability to offer much is in serious question after this bout. Like Sonnen's fight against Ortiz, this was Silva's first foray back into the sport since 2013.
A lot of time has passed since he defeated Brian Stann in his final UFC fight. Unless he can turn around and win his next one like Sonnen, it's hard to envision the legend putting together a post-UFC career with his new company.