Judging from the volume and intensity of the comments on the recent Chael Sonnen/Ed Soares posts, Sonnen’s brand of smack talk and grinding decision wins have struck a nerve with MMA fans.
After a long series of tedious middleweight bouts in which the champion Anderson Silva and his opponents respected each other but disrespected the fans by putting on weak fights, we now have someone in contention who knows how to get the fans to care.
Mike Chiappetta breaks it down:
The UFC middleweight who uses words as a weapon as often as he uses wrestling and ground and pound vaulted to the challenger-in-waiting spot in the UFC middleweight division by grinding down heavily favored Nate Marquardt en route to a lopsided decision win at UFC 109.
That means that if Silva can get past his next scheduled opponent in Vitor Belfort at UFC 112 in April, he will meet one of the only men who’s ever badmouthed him in public. A few months ago, no one would have had any interest in that matchup, but what a difference a couple wins and few choice words can make.
“Chael came out of nowhere,” UFC President Dana White admitted in the UFC 109 post-fight press conference. “He was in the WEC and came over here and has blown some people away. We have Vitor and Anderson which is interesting and exciting, and now there’s another guy who is waiting in line who is interesting and exciting. He brings something different into the fight that a lot of people are going to look at. If he gets this thing to the ground, it’ll be an interesting fight. He popped out of nowhere, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
But it’s more than just Sonnen’s outrageous and outspoken brand of smack-talk that has vaulted him to the top. He’s also made a huge improvement in his mental game. Here’s Sonnen’s coach Matt Lindland talking to Kevin Iole:
“He had to learn how to get tough,” Lindland said. “If there was one thing he lacked in the past, it was toughness. If he took a knee to the head, well, you can take that knee and say, ‘I’m good,’ and keep fighting through it. But nobody would have blamed him for quitting. You get knocked out with a knee to the head and everyone would say, ‘Hey, good job. You worked hard. You fought tough.’
“But you know what? That’s not good enough in this sport. It’s not good enough if you’re going to take a title. You have to fight through that [expletive]. That’s what he’s willing to do now and that’s what he’s going to do when he goes out and shocks the world and wins the world title.”
To be honest, it would be a monumental feat for someone with Sonnen’s style to beat Anderson Silva. With his very limited finishing options, Sonnen would need to dominate all five rounds against possibly the most dangerous KO artist in MMA history. The most comparable title shot win would be Randy Couture over Tim Sylvia. We can all laugh now, but going into that fight it seemed impossible that Couture would dominate that fight from pillar to post and avoid Sylvia’s power.
Obviously Anderson Silva is a far more dangerous striker than Tim Sylvia, but the style of fight Sonnen needs to wage to win is very similar to the blueprint Couture laid out.
Unfortunately for Sonnen, that plan hinged on Couture being able to not just hang on the feet, but hurt Sylvia standing which kept Sylvia wary and set up Couture’s take down attempts.
Sonnen has established that he’s got the mouth to build up heat for a fight — maybe the most talented fight builder we’ve seen since Tito Ortiz — but to win the belt, he’ll have to be more like Randy Couture.
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