Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC
Every champion needs an archrival. What fun is it to watch a guy beat the crap out of everyone without facing adversity? Dominance can get boring and rivals give sports an adrenaline shot that takes them beyond their legions of followers into a new atmosphere of people who never considered watching.
Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier, John McEnroe had Bjorn Borg, Michael Jordan had the entire damn Detroit Pistons squad, Magic Johnson had Larry Bird, Hulk Hogan had the Iron Sheik, the New York Yankees will always have the Boston Red Sox, Superman had Lex Luthor, Optimus Prime had Megatron, The Smurfs had that creepy looking guy in the sleeping gown that always tried to eat them. You get the picture.
The world of Mixed Martial Arts has been dying for that one rivalry that transcends the sport. Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock are the closest it's come. But their epic rivalry from 2002 to 2006 was far more entertaining with words than it was inside the cage, where Ortiz routinely beat Shamrock mercilessly. That was also before the sport exploded into the worldwide phenomenon it is now. Today we have Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen to thank for taking beef to another level.
Anderson “The Spider” Silva sits atop the MMA mountain with the words “Bad Mother F*cker” etched in Portuguese on his wallet. For years he’s been in need of a rival who could challenge his method of gorgeous violence. Silva has clobbered, crushed, submitted, maimed, vanquished and demolished his foes. However, he's not much of a talker and, much to Dana White’s chagrin, has never spent a lot of energy trying to sell a fight.
Then he ran into a loud mouth from Oregon who possesses a mouthpiece that Vince McMahon would love to feature on Monday Night RAW. Chael Sonnen is a man that could make watching paint dry sound exciting. For a while though, there was a question about his ability to back up his words. Once upon a time Sonnen was a middling fighter with terrible submission defense who appeared destined to fight on preliminary cards. But as his colorful persona grew, so did his skill set. He drubbed two top contenders and began launching verbal barbs at Silva. Dana White, who slings expletives like Marlo Stanfield sells dope, called Sonnen’s quotes the “craziest sh*t he’s ever heard.”
But the real craziest sh*t happened when the two stepped into the cage at UFC 117 in 2010 for what was assumed to be yet another Anderson Silva exhibition in the fine art of ass whooping. Instead of Silva bouncing his knuckles off of Sonnen’s face in rapid succession, the trash talking fighter dominated the fight for four and a half rounds before succumbing to a desperation triangle choke by Silva in the final minutes of the bout.
It was shocking to see the invincible Silva throttled like a government mule and then have to dig deep to pull off the Hail Mary victory. Even though Sonnen lost, the engine in his mouth was only getting started. For two years (one year was spent in MMA purgatory after he was suspended for having elevated testosterone levels) he chastised Silva anytime a microphone was near his face. He dared Silva to give him a rematch, berated his home country, trashed his wife and belittled his talent. Still Silva refused a rematch. Not because he was scared, but because he felt Sonnen didn’t deserve another opportunity. But after two years and countless Sonnen quotables, the fight is now set for July 7th at UFC 148 and the hype train is deafening as the bout draws near.
“I guess, sometimes my opinion doesn’t make too much of a difference but I’m here to fight whoever they put in front of me,” Silva said at Tuesday’s UFC 148 press conference while promising to decimate Sonnen. “I don't have anything else to say other than he's screwed.”
The bombardment of barbs finally got under Silva’s skin and turned this from a championship mixed martial arts fight to must-see TV. Sonnen has prodded Silva in an attempt to get him to break character and say things he has never uttered to another fighter. That’s what real rivalries are made of. As for Sonnen, he couldn't care less about crossing the line between gamesmanship and outright disrespect. After all, he got what he wanted.
“I offer absolutely zero apologies,” Sonnen said. “Listen guys, if you’re not willing to go too far, you’ll never go far enough in life. I don’t promote fights, I pick fights. I’m like Jon Jones, make songs like Sean Combs and I have trombone size stones like John Holmes.”
Even Tuesday’s staredown was more intense than an actual fight.