Chael Sonnen dominated Anderson Silva for 23 minutes before letting the champion off the hook. Photo via www.mmaweekly.com
You have to feel bad for Chael Sonnen.
Sonnen literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory Saturday night at UFC 117, succumbing to a triangle choke with less than two minutes left in his middleweight championship fight with Anderson Silva, a crushing defeat for a fighter who talked such a big game heading in, but ultimately turned in what only can be categorized as a "vintage" performance.
Sonnen dominated much of the fight's first 23 minutes. The only time he looked at risk is when he ate a Silva elbow that dropped him to begin the fourth round. Ninety-five percent of Silva's offense in this fight could be categorized by that elbow and the fight-ending triangle. Sonnen was that dominant. He smothered Silva and didn't let him breath (almost literally a few times), working some of the most persistent ground-and-pound we've seen in some time. And Sonnen charged at Silva at the beginning of each round, immediately showing the champion he wasn't afraid.
Sonnen was consistently on Silva. The Compustrike numbers are in and Sonnen landed a Compustrike record 289 total strikes. Now, to put that in some perspective, Silva was only hit with 208 total strikes in his previous 11 UFC fights combined.
The challenger was the one controlling the entire fight, but it was Silva who showed the heart of a champion. He very well could've quit at any point. Yet he stayed mentally sharp enough, despite facing the most adversity he's faced in the UFC, to lock in the fight-ending submission once Sonnen opened himself up for it by lollygagging for the first time in the fight.
Even though you have to feel bad for Sonnen, he absolutely has no one to blame for this loss but himself. He let down his guard and Silva, being the champion he is, capitalized. We should be talking about a new champion on this night. Instead, Sonnen choked away his opportunity. It was the performance of a lifetime for Sonnen, but it's going to go down as a loss, one that is one of the most devastating in UFC history.
Despite the loss, Sonnen proved he is a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division and likely will capture the win he needs to set up a potential rematch with Silva.
Now, Silva is another story. A performance like this, combined with his age (35), leave a lot of questions to be asked. The first of which is: Is Silva winding down as a fighter? Sonnen might not have hosted Silva's actual retirement party Saturday, but he could possibly have hosted its prelude. It's tough to say Silva was exposed here, but the performance raises questions. Was it the rib injury? Right now, we don't know. But if Silva fights Vitor Belfort next, we'll have our answers, as Belfort, if nothing else, is extremely fast. Is Silva is indeed losing a step, Belfort will let everybody know.
As it stands now, Anderson Silva is still the UFC middleweight champion while Chael Sonnen will only be left mumbling "Silva is who I thought he was, and I let him off the hook" for the next few months.