There was no way the rematch between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and contender Chael Sonnen could live up to the hype.
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It was called the most anticipated rematch in UFC history. It was promoted as a battle between Brazil, the nation Sonnen had ripped on again and again in advance of UFC 148, and the good ole U.S. of A. It was a fight between the man who has been called the best mixed martial artist in history, Silva, and the only man to come close to beating him in the past six years.
And, no, the fight itself didn’t live up to the hype. After Sonnen tackled Silva to the ground five seconds into the fight and dominated the entire first round, he missed a spinning back fist halfway through the second round and lost his balance. Silva pounced, kneeing Sonnen in the chest, and then administered a straight-up beatdown until the referee mercifully intervened at 1:55 of the second round. After the epic five-round battle the two had gone through two years ago, this was child’s play. Silva had barely broken a sweat when his hand was raised.
But then there was the moment right after victory was declared. The heavily Brazilian crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena waved their green-and-yellow flags and cheered, but Silva shushed them. The man who now had successfully defended his middleweight belt 10 times had something to say. This was what we’d come for.
“Ah, yeah, please, ladies and gentlemen,” the 37-year-old said in his surprisingly high voice. “I don’t have nothing for Chael. He disrespected my country? Fine. This is sport. This is UFC.”
Then Silva put his arm around a deflated Sonnen, and you couldn’t tell if he was mocking him or being magnanimous. Probably a little of both.
“Let’s show the Brazilians have manners,” Silva smirked. “I want everyone to applaud for Chael.” He turned to Sonnen. “Chael, thank you for fight, bro. If you’d like to have barbeque at my house, I’d love to have you over for barbeque.”
Ah, yes. A nice little “screw you” from the champ. That was the part that lived up to all the hype. And when it’s done with a smile, it hurts that much more.
The win solidifies what had already been a pretty solid spot that Silva holds as the king of mixed martial arts. There’s really no one in the middleweight division who hangs with him after UFC 148, which sold more pay-per-views than any UFC fight in history.
The first six fights on the card had the sellout crowd at MGM Grand Garden Arena restless. Each of the fights were decisions, many of them plodding fights that brought out the boos.
Then Chad Mendes stepped inside the Octagon, and all that changed really quick. Too quick, maybe. Mendes, a heavy favorite over Cody McKenzie, ended the fight in 38 seconds after knocking over McKenzie with a punch to the solar plexus and then pouncing. It was Mendes’ first fight since he lost to Jose Aldo in January in UFC 142, a fight that was for the featherweight championship. The dominating victory could likely vault Mendes back toward the top of his division.
“It’s very rewarding to go through a long and hard training camp with the best fighters in the world and to get in the Octagon and get it done fast like that,” Mendes said afterward. “I had seen what he had done in past fights, and I was prepared.”
The next fight was nearly as fast. Demian Maia took down Dong Hyun Kim, and it appeared that the South Korean fell on Maia’s knee, perhaps breaking his rib. He put his hands over his face, and 47 seconds into the fight, Maia had won first fight since stepping down to the welterweight division.
“I was trying to bring my jiujitsu back so I did it my whole camp and concentrated on takedowns,” Maia said. “That’s what took me to this point and helped me win tonight."
Cung Le, the South Vietnam-born American kickboxer, won his first fight in the Octagon, going the distance with the French Canadian middleweight Patrick Cote. Cote was a 2-to-1 favorite, but perhaps jinxed himself by walking out walked out to Hammer’s 2 Legit 2 Quit. Le kept Cote out of range with kicks and outstruck him thoroughly, and though the fight went the three-round distance, there was little doubt that the 40-year-old Le would win by unanimous decision. It was one of the first fights of the night that could be called anything close to a slugfest.
“I was going to do a backflip, but I don’t have the energy,” Le, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, said immediately after the decision. “He has such a hard head, I hurt my foot on it.”
In the co-main event, Forrest Griffin took a unanimous decision in a hard-fought fight against Tito Ortiz, who’d been inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame earlier in the day. Ortiz looked gassed after the first round, then lost the second before coming back with a powerful third round that made the fight close. Afterward, Griffin left the Octagon before the decision was announced, ceding the stage to Ortiz in his last fight. But then Griffin came back in, took the microphone from Joe Rogan and interview Ortiz.
“I’ve been doing this 15 years and paved the way for the rest of you fighters,” Ortiz said.
“I feel like we had three draws,” Griffin said. “I want a fourth round.”
But there was no denying that the sellout crowd had not come to see Ortiz’s swan song. They’d come for Silva-Sonnen II, and you could feel the energy in the arena every time Sonnen and Silva’s faces were flashed on the big screen.
And after the fight had been called y the referee, Silva sank to his knees in the middle of the Octagon. He might have been asking, “Who’s next?” But right now there’s nobody.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.