Chael Sonnen: Not the Guy To Beat Anderson Silva
It's been some time since UFC 104, so hopefully we've all got the Lyoto/Shogun decision digested enough that we can start talking about other things. Intelligent things I hope. That means not talking about the title chances for Chael Sonnen.
Chael Sonnen put on arguably his best performance last weekend in defeating Yushin Okami by decision. Sonnen was considered to be a heavy underdog in this fight, so Sonnen should be congratulated for his big win.
Despite the win, however, I'm baffled by the fact that some people are already speculating about Sonnen's chances of defeating Anderson Silva. I'll get to the reasons why he wouldn't beat Anderson in a minute, but before that, I think we need to first put Chael's win over Okami into perspective.
Yushin Okami is an elite fighter, with a solid reputation, but he isn't exactly the best stylistic matchup to beat a guy like Chael Sonnen.
Okami has a powerful one-two punch combination that is effective but heavily overused. If you're really bored, go watch his fight with Sonnen again, and you'll see him try to land the same one-two punch combination over, and over again. As good as he is at throwing this combination, it looks like Sonnen did enough in his preparations to thoroughly handle Okami on the feet.
Among Okami's other skills are great wrestling skills, great defensive jiu jitsu, and a solid submission offense. Against most grapplers, Okami has been able to either stuff takedowns or secure his own takedowns and neutralize his opponents from top position.
Great submission guys like Dean Lister simply looked lost against Okami, because they can't take him down, and they can't do anything to him when they try to pull guard. Pulling guard on Yushin Okami is an insane proposition because his base is simply too solid to sweep, and he's more than content to simply neutralize submission attempts from top position.
Even BJJ wizard Demian Maia couldn't submit Okami when they fought during the Abu Dhabi grappling tournament a few years ago.
As far as grappling goes, Chael Sonnen is one of the few guys who can actually beat Okami, but it is not because Sonnen is "the superior grappler" as Joe Rogan indicated he was.
Sonnen basically does the same thing that Okami does, in that he gets takedowns and neutralizes submission attempts. The differences are that Sonnen is a better wrestler but an inferior submission grappler.
Because of the wrestling advantage though, Sonnen is one of the few people who can take Okami down, where Okami is far less comfortable.
The other side of the equation is that Sonnen doesn't do as well with the kind of submission experts that Okami is able to neutralize. For example, while Okami would not be particularly worried about falling into the guard of Demian Maia, Sonnen was so scared of Maia's guard that he backed himself right into a lateral drop (a wrestling maneuver).
This is just one of the illustrations of how while Sonnen may have the correct skills to beat Okami, he is ill-equipped to handle many of the other top middleweights in the division.
The other middleweights at the top present some serious problems for Sonnen. To keep things simple, lets just look at the top five.
5. Demian Maia
Maia is a terrible matchup for Sonnen. As good as Sonnen's striking looked against Okami, he doesn't have the kind of finishing ability to stop Maia from either pulling guard, or getting a takedown as Sonnen tries to avoid the guard. Since Sonnen also lacks the kind of offensive ground skills to finish Maia, Maia has three whole rounds in which to pull off some sort of submission win on Sonnen.
Maia almost certainly wins this fight by submission.... Again.
4 & 3 Vitor Belfort and Nate Marquardt
Belfort and Marquardt are two different fighters, but they both present similar problems for Sonnen in that they are both dynamic in their striking and their grappling.
Make no mistake, Sonnen beat Okami on the feet, but he'll have a much tougher task if he's going to try to strike with the top strikers in the middleweight division. The rest of the top are all far too dynamic and too powerful for Sonnen to have success.
As long as the fight stays on the feet, Sonnen will be at a severe disadvantage. Furthermore, as BJJ blackbelts, both Belfort and Marquardt will be nearly impossible to finish on the ground, while both can threaten with sweeps and submissions.
2. Dan Henderson
They're both Team Quest guys, but if push came to shove, I don't think Henderson could possibly lose this one.
Henderson is probably a better wrestler than Sonnen. Could Sonnen take him down? It's possible, but even if he does so, Henderson is as durable as they come, and I don't see Sonnen being able to win a fight against Henderson with wrestling over a period of three rounds.
Furthermore, while Henderson may have the wrestling advantage, he's also the only one out of the two of them with any real striking weapon.
Dan Henderson's big right hand isn't really a threat to a striker as fast and proficient as Anderson Silva, but it certainly is a threat to a striker on the level of Chael Sonnen. If the wrestling aspect of the fight balances out, I'd expect Hendo to eventually land that big right, much to the dismay of any Sonnen bandwagon hoppers.
1. Anderson Silva
The big fish already fought enough of Chael Sonnen when he fought Dan Henderson.
Even Dan Henderson had trouble getting takedowns against Silva in the second round, and Sonnen will have an even harder time because the doesn't have any striking weapons big enough to take Silva's attention away from the takedown attempts.
It's not that Anderson's wrestling is that good, but he can threaten your life with muay thai clinches and knees. He really makes it tough for wrestlers to close the distance.
Despite the logic that states that a Greco-Roman wrestler can use his clinching skills to take Silva down, that logic fails to explain how Anderson was able to fend off Henderson.
The truth is that Anderson LOVES IT when people try to clinch with him. He does some of his best facial reconstructions from that position.
On the other hand, if Sonnen could get Silva down, it's unlikely that he'd be able to end the fight. Silva might not be the best BJJ blackbelt in the world, but it's still pretty hard to pass his guard, even for experienced submission grapplers like Thales Leites.
Sonnen won't submit or TKO Anderson on the ground, which means that in order to win, he'll need to take Anderson Silva down, and hold him down for four minutes, and he'll need to do this five times.
Anything less wouldn't be enough, and it won't be enough, because if Sonnen is stuck in a striking battle with Anderson for any length of time, it will be lights out.
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