It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, but that’s not dampening any of the anticipation for the UFC Middleweight Championship rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen that will close the show Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. If anything, the public’s appetite for the bout has only grown as the war of words between the two fighters has intensified leading up to fight night.
This level of trash talk is nothing new for Sonnen (27-11-1, 6-4 in the UFC), perhaps the most quotable current competitor in any of the combat sports. Bringing a professional wrestler’s flair for showmanship to the octagon, the 35-year old American is a master at both selling his fights and getting under the skin of the opponents.
He certainly seems to have done the latter to Silva (31-4, 14-0 UFC), as the long-reigning Brazilian champion has often exuded a zen-like calm before some of his previous title defenses. This time, though, the “Spider” has unleashed some verbal venom of his own. Angered by what he regards as disrespectful remarks Sonnen made toward his country and his wife, Silva promised last week to break a number of his foe’s body parts in an uncharacteristically emotional outburst.
Suckering the champ into the pre-fight sparring might give Sonnen a mental edge. Almost lost in the shuffle is the fact that he appeared to have a physical one during the first fight. Sonnen was able to take down Silva nearly at will, controlling a large majority of the action with his ground-based attack.
It was almost unimaginable to see Silva fighting for his life, as he’d had so few nervous moments during most of his UFC career. But in a moment of true drama, Sonnen made a mistake while working his ground-and-pound in the final round, and it was just enough for Silva to pull off a triangle armbar to salvage a victory from what was surely destined to be a loss.
The rematch has been put on hold several times, first by Sonnen’s suspension for elevated levels of testosterone, then by the UFC’s inability to put the fight on in Brazil at UFC 147. Whether Silva learns from being beaten up or Sonnen follows the same script from the initial meeting and simply rewrites the final chapter, it’s hard to imagine that fans won’t be talking about this rematch for some time to come.
The rest of Saturday’s main card has gone through its share of twists and turns—most notably when it lost another highly personal grudge match between UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz and arch-rival Urijah Faber—before finally settling into the following five bouts:
Forrest Griffin (18-7, 9-5 UFC) vs. Tito Ortiz (16-10-1, 15-10-1 UFC) – Light Heavyweight
Few fighters are as synonymous with the UFC brand as Ortiz, who made his debut 15 years ago at UFC 13. The “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” is calling it a career after this fight, probably with justification since he’s won just once in his last seven outings. Ortiz will get his deserved induction into the UFC Hall of Fame earlier in the day on Saturday.
It’s tough to say whether he’ll have a real chance to go out with a win against Griffin. Like Ortiz, Griffin is a former light heavyweight champ, but he’s been maddeningly inconsistent over the past few years. He barely beat Ortiz in their second fight after losing the first meeting, so the fact that he enters the rubber match as a heavy favorite speaks more to how may people think Ortiz is shot than anything else.
Regardless, with one man looking to give a lasting final impression and the other attempting to regain his relevancy, odds are this should be an entertaining scrap.
Cung Le (7-2, 0-1 UFC) vs. Patrick Cote (17-7, 4-6 UFC) – Middleweight
Le was originally slated to face Rich Franklin until “Ace” was summoned to take the place of the injured Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC 147. Ironically, Franklin ended up beating Wanderlei Silva—the same man who defeated Le in his lone UFC appearance to date.
He’ll try to right the ship by pitting his flashy striking arsenal against Cote, who returns to the octagon for the first time since October 2010. The Canadian fought in several promotions while he was away, winning all four of his fights.
Both men like to keep things standing, making this is a potentially explosive match-up. If no one can end it early, one thing to watch will be whether the 40-year old Le fades late as he’s done at times in the past.
Dong Hyun Kim (15-1-1, 6-1 UFC) vs. Demian Maia (15-4, 9-4 UFC) – Middleweight
It’s starting to seem like a lifetime ago when Maia struck fear into his opponents with his top flight submission game. He’s made his first five UFC opponents tap out (including Sonnen at UFC 95), but people appear to have figured him out, as he’s gone more than three years without a finish.
He could be up against it facing Kim, who has the strength and skill to make his judo-based attack very effective. The “Stun Gun” is also in the middle of a lengthy streak of decisions, so all point to the judges deciding the outcome here. Although the ground-work could prove dynamic, frankly, I’m not expecting Fight of the Night in this one.
Chad Mendes (11-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Cody McKenzie (13-2, 2-2 UFC) – Featherweight
Mendes used his powerful wrestling to rise quickly through the bantamweight ranks, but he never got a chance to put his grappling skills to use before Jose Aldo knocked him silly with a knee at UFC 142. The Team Alpha Male product is a huge favorite as he looks to bounce back from his first career loss.
He’ll have to do it against a guy who lives and dies by submissions. McKenzie has his very own choke named after him, and he used it to run through everyone he faced before joining the UFC. He’s had mixed success in the octagon, but he’s dangerous enough from the bottom that even the high-ranking Mendes will have to be wary.
Ivan Menjivar (24-8, 3-1 UFC) vs. Mike Easton (12-1, 2-0 UFC) – Bantamweight
Even though both men have had to deal with changes in opponents, they may make out okay. The winner of this fight is likely to be right at the top of the list of bantamweight title contenders, and since both are riding some momentum, a victory on Saturday will only make for a stronger case.
Menjivar is well-rounded and is 3-0 during his current UFC stint. Easton has an unusual Tae Kwon Do/BJJ skill set and can match his opponent’s versatility. This looks like the toss-up oddsmakers expect it to be, and no outcome will be a true shocker.