Silva-Sonnen II finally a reality

Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II was the fight that was on the lips of everyone immediately after their first fight in August 2010. The MMA world was in rapture at how agonizingly close Sonnen came to defeating the hitherto untouchable world middleweight champion and was demanding another war to settle the score.

While Silva emerged the clear winner, his come-from-behind submission victory left many in doubt about who was the better man given the challenger’s dominance over four and a half rounds.

Having previously planned to make the long-mooted Battle of Brazil between Silva and rival Vitor Belfort, UFC brass relented to public demand and in September 2010 announced the instant rematch. It would be quickly canceled with the news that Sonnen had failed a drug test, testing positive for elevated testosterone levels. Ironically, it would set off a chain of events that today make Silva vs. Sonnen II perhaps the biggest fight in the sport’s history.

UFC announced on Monday that the two will meet on June 23 in UFC 147 in Rio de Janeiro.

Silva would really make a name for himself in UFC 126 on Feb. 5, 2011. He KOed Belfort and made himself a superstar in his home country. Speaking to me last year, Silva’s manager Ed Soares described the impact of The Spider’s crushing victory over the Phenom.

“[Vitor’s] a celebrity because he’s done so much plus he comes across well on interviews and knows how to market himself … Anderson Silva’s career was really catapulted to the next level after the Vitor Belfort fight, without a doubt,” Soares said.

Silva would become the holder of blue-chip endorsements and the center of mainstream media attention in Brazil. And in August 2011 he was able to make a triumphant homecoming after defeating the Yushin Okami in the main event of the UFC’s first show in Brazil since 1998.

Sonnen was supposed to be in Okami’s corner for that bout, but one of Okami’s sponsors told Sonnen not to make the trip to Brazil due to fears about his safety. For months media outlets reported that the animosity toward Sonnen in a country that has been the butts of many of his barbs was running at such a height that the UFC would likely never have him fight in Brazil, as they were unsure whether they could guarantee his safety.

But the sport continued to grow in Brazil. Junior Dos Santos’ heavyweight championship-winning fight against Cain Velasquez received huge viewing figures on Brazilian television. Jose Aldo cemented himself as a star for the future by defeating Chad Mendes in Rio at UFC 142. Wanderlei Silva and Belfort were named coaches for “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.” And so the temptation to hold Silva vs. Sonnen II in the land where it would mean the most intensified.

In America, Sonnen’s shtick verged on the self-parody, but in Brazil it set him up as public enemy No. 1. With victories over Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, Sonnen earned his title shot against Silva and UFC president Dana White hinted the fight would take place in Brazil.

After problems with a proposed venue in Silva’s hometown of Sao Paulo, the fight has finally been confirmed for Rio’s Engenhao stadium. Boasting a capacity of almost 45,000 for soccer matches, it is likely that the venue will play host to a record-breaking crowd, eclipsing the 55,724 people who crammed into Toronto’s Rogers Centre for UFC 129.

Those tens of thousands of fans will see the biggest stadium fight since Julio Cesar Chavez defeated Greg Haugen at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca in 1993. Whereas the Klitschko fights in Germany too often lack emotion to match the glitzy presentation, the Brazilian fans will be passionately cheering on the hometown champion against the hated challenger.

Unlike the Pride FC supershows that dominated the MMA landscape in the early part of the 2000s, this fight will be the center of worldwide attention with the passion of the local fans matched by global interest. Between the potential box-office record based on the likely attendance figures and anticipated pay-per-view interest, it could make more money than any previous UFC event.

And at the center of all this is two men. Anderson Silva is unbeaten in 14 fights inside the Octagon, a winning streak that nobody else in the organization’s near two-decade history has come close to matching. Chael Sonnen is the only man to have come close to defeating him during his time in the UFC and has added fuel to the fire by berating the champion and belittling his country.

For almost two years we have waited to see who is the better man. On June 23 the wait will finally be over.