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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


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


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


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


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


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




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,


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,
  • ·        
    Fight of the Night (UD3 over Nate Marquardt on
    February 6, 2010)