The Blueprint - Silva vs. Sonnen

This Saturday, Anderson Silva looks to extend his record middleweight title reign against number one contender Chael Sonnen. Read on for Michael DiSanto's breakdown of the UFC 117 main event...

Anderson Silva is the most dominant fighter in UFC history—period.


He is currently riding an 11-fight winning streak in the Octagon, which is the longest in UFC history, and it is three clear of second place, which is a gigantic difference in the “anything can happen on any given day” world of mixed martial arts.  His six-consecutive successful title defenses is also the most in history.  His seven wins in UFC title bouts leaves him only two shy of legendary former champions Matt Hughes and Randy Couture for the most in history.


Georges St-Pierre boasts an impressive UFC career, but at least by the numbers, he does not hold a candle to Silva in terms of establishing all-time records.


Plus Silva is so much better than just about everybody else in the middleweight division that he regularly makes world-class challengers seem like mere mortals when they face off inside the Octagon.  He defeats the best of the best without so much as breaking a sweat—at least, that it the generally accepted public perception.


Yet, for some unknown reason, the world’s greatest fighter, pound for pound, laid an egg in three of his last four fights.  Granted, he easily won each of those bouts.  Not in dominant fashion.  Not even in entertaining fashion.  In the course of winning, though, he spent more time clowning around, taunting his foe and, at times, literally running away than he did attacking. 


Make no mistake about it.  Silva was never in any danger during those fights, aside from eating a punch here or there that he didn’t particularly enjoy.  Nevertheless, he never really fought to win.  He instead focused on not losing.  There is a major difference between those two approaches.


The most mind-numbing aspect of those three odd-ball performances is that Silva was superior to each of those opponents in terms of all-around ability, so much so that the outcome of the fight was a foregone conclusion to many the moment that Patrick Cote, Thales Leites and Demian Maia signed their respective bout agreements. 


Sandwiched between those bizarre efforts by Silva was the thorough destruction of former 205-lb champion Forrest Griffin, an opponent who was far more dangerous than Cote, Leites or Maia.  It was the most one-sided loss of Griffin’s career.  And the bout was contested at light heavy, not in Silva’s middleweight kingdom.


UFC commentator Joe Rogan has repeatedly opined that Silva’s performance against Cote and Maia can be explained by the fact that the champion ate a punch or two that were far more severe than he is used to taking.  The pressure of setting or extending all-time bests in those fights may have caused Silva to then become very defensive, opting to do just enough to win without taking any unnecessary chances.  I tend to agree with Joe.


Whatever the case, even the staunchest Silva fans have become somewhat disillusioned with his recent efforts.  The mastery he displayed in his first seven UFC fights and again against Griffin has been overshadowed by his recent poor efforts.  That is the bad news.


The good news is that Silva’s finest moments have come against aggressive opponents, and few middleweights are more aggressive than Chael Sonnen.


In fact, Sonnen is aggressive to a fault, coming forward with reckless abandon in the never-ending quest for a takedown.  That plays directly into Silva’s comfort zone of countering.  The champion will sit back and wait for Sonnen to attack, and when he does, he will respond with the sort of savagery that made him the most feared champion in the UFC over the last few years.


Silva must be careful, though, not to hesitate with his counters.  If he allows Sonnen to close the distance without paying a dear price, then things could get very interesting very quickly.


Sonnen comes forward throwing punches, kicks and knees with the sole purpose of closing the distance for takedowns, whether in the freestyle or Greco-Roman fashion.  He is typically successful in securing the takedown once he gets his hands on his foe thanks to an amateur wrestling base that was good enough to twice earn Division I All-American honors at the University of Oregon and a spot as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team for the Sydney Games in 2000. 


On the ground, Sonnen is relentless with his ground-and-pound attack.  Combine that with his iron-clad ground control and opponents are left with the daunting reality that they are going to have to fight the rest of the round from their back once Sonnen takes them down.


Silva is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the Nogueira brothers, so he is not out of the fight if the action hits the ground—not by a long shot.  Sonnen’s Achilles Heel throughout his career has been his submission defense, which is a direct result of his over aggressiveness on the ground.  The key for Silva to try and capitalize on that hole in Sonnen’s game is to make sure he remains in full guard at all times. 


From that position, he can use his extremely long legs to lock on a body triangle, which is a good way to stifle Sonnen’s ground attack.  He can also work his hips up for a triangle choke—his best offensive weapon from the guard.


Despite his ground proficiencies, Silva will be the first to admit that he wants no part of fighting from his back against a grinder like Sonnen.  That means he needs to get Sonnen out of there as early as possible in order to avoid winding up on his back.  Thus, I expect Silva to counter with vengeful punches, just like he did against Griffin, when Sonnen attacks.


The keys to victory, therefore, are very straightforward for each man.  Silva must aggressively counter on the feet and use good lateral movement to try and keep Sonnen from cutting off the cage and tying him up.  If he finds himself nearing a clinch, go ahead and attack in traditional Muay Thai fashion by grabbing the back of Sonnen’s neck and bombing knees to the body and chin.  Even the best wrestlers have terribly difficult times trying to deal with the expert in the Thai clinch. 


If he finds himself on the ground, Silva should remain active with his transitions because Sonnen is very susceptible to being submitted.  All three of his UFC losses and 70 percent of his career losses came by way of submission.  There is no doubt that Silva has the game to take an over-extended arm and roll into an arm bar or slide up his hips for a triangle.


If a submission doesn’t present itself quickly, Silva should abandon that game plan, open his guard and stand up.  Sonnen has never submitted an A-level fighter in his career.  Silva won’t be the first.  So, there is no real risk for Silva opening his guard and working feverishly to get back to his feet in order to avoid losing round after round on the cards by fighting from his back.


Sonnen has but a single key to victory:  takedowns.  He knows that he cannot out strike Silva.  Sure, he may land a lottery winning punch and score an improbable knockout.  Anyone can do that on any given night.  But his odds of catching lightning in a bottle like that are similar to the odds of getting bitten by a great white shark in one’s bathtub. 


In order to maximize the odds of getting a takedown, Sonnen should charge forward like he does in every fight, but he should not wildly throw punches while closing the distance.  Silva will destroy him in that scenario.  The better approach is to feint while rushing in.  Silva will continually reload his counter and circle in the face of feints.  He probably won’t attack.


As soon as Sonnen sees that Silva is within a step of the cage, he should fully commit to exploding for a takedown or a Greco-style clinch.  Silva’s traditional reaction to every aggressive lunge forward is to take a step backward and then fire.  If he steps backward into the cage, it will cause him to hesitate, even if only briefly, as his mind processes the change in the environment and recalculates how to counter.  Sonnen must take advantage of that hesitation by finishing the takedown, if he is to have any chance at all of winning.

When they are at a distance, Sonnen should make sure he is outside of Silva’s range.  The former wrestler is very mechanical on the feet and doesn’t have anywhere near the skill to defeat Silva in any sort of kickboxing match.  He needs to avoid unnecessary changes like the bubonic plague.


Sonnen needs to stay aggressive on the ground, if he is successful at transitioning the fight to that position.  Staying aggressive, though, does not mean attacking recklessly.  Sonnen needs to respect Silva’s BJJ black belt, which means staying tight with his ground-and-pound punches and elbows and focusing more on maintaining the position than trying to pound out the champion.  The goal is to win by unanimous decision or, alternatively, to seek a stoppage in the championship rounds after battering Silva for 15-plus minutes on the ground.


In sum, this is Silva’s fight to lose.  He is the rightful betting favorite.  Sonnen will be wading into the heart of darkness each time he presses forward with his nascent standup in search of a takedown.  That is not a comforting thought for anyone, including the challenger.


Yet, if Sonnen is able to avoid a fight-ending counter, he should be able to execute takedowns after closing the distance.  And if Sonnen is able to repeatedly take the fight to the ground, then I see him as the overwhelming favorite to win, which is a very real possibility based on the match up.


Will it happen?  We’ll see soon enough.




Anderson Silva

  • 35 years old
  • 6’2, 185 lbs
  • 77-inch reach
  • 26-4 overall (11-0 UFC)
  • 11 consecutive UFC wins is most in history
  • 9 UFC wins inside the distance (7 by KO/TKO and 2 by submission)
  • 5 of those 9 wins were in the first round
  • Hasn’t lost since January 20, 2006 (DQ loss to Yushin Okami outside of UFC)
  • 7-0 in championship fights (7 championship fights ties Chuck Liddell for 7th all time)
  • 7 championship wins ties Georges St-Pierre for 2nd all-time
  • 6 successful consecutive defenses is the most in UFC history
  • Current layoff is 119 days (UD5 over Demian Maia on April 10, 2010)
  • Longest layoff of UFC career is 245 days (KO1 over Forrest Griffin on August 8, 2009, to UD5 over Demian Maia on April 10, 2010)
  • Submission of the Night (SUB2 over Dan Henderson by rear naked choke on March 1, 2008)
  • Knockout of the Night twice (TKO2 over Rich Franklin at UFC 77 and KO1 over Forrest Griffin at UFC 102)
  • Fight of the Night twice (SUB2 over Dan Henderson on March 1, 2008, and KO1 over Forrest Griffin on August 8, 2009)


Chael Sonnen

  • ·         33 years old
  • ·         6’1, 185 lbs
  • ·         74-inch reach
  • ·         26-10-1 overall (4-3 UFC)
  • ·         All 4 UFC wins have come by unanimous decision
  • ·         All 3 UFC losses have come by submission
  • ·         First UFC title fight
  • ·         0-1 against current or former UFC champions (SUB1 by Forrest Griffin on September 6, 2003 in non-UFC bout)
  • ·         Current layoff is 182 days (UD3 over Nate Marquardt on February 6, 2010)
  • ·         Longest layoff of his career is 181 days (SUB2 by Renato Sobral on October 7, 2005, to UD3 over Trevor Prangley on April 6, 2006)
  • ·         Fight of the Night (UD3 over Nate Marquardt on February 6, 2010)





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