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By: Frank Hyden, MMATorch contributor
This weekend's fight between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen at UFC 148 is one of the most anticipated fights in recent memory, and I think Silva wins it by TKO in the second round. There's a lot of hype for this fight. The growth of the UFC has certainly brought more attention to the fight so there's a lot more eyes on this than Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz 2 at UFC 66, for example, though I'm not sure if UFC 148 will beat that pay-per-view number when you consider the time and era. Dana White has said that he expects UFC 148 to do over one million buys. I think it will hit that mark, but I will still consider UFC 66's buyrate to be more impressive.
Chael Sonnen is the UFC version of Tim Tebow. Both are extremely polarizing figures, and both get more hype than they deserve compared to their actual career production. Full disclosure, I'm a Tebow fan. A large part of the reason why is that's he's an underdog. I generally root for the underdog because I enjoy seeing them overcome large odds. However, Tebow and Sonnen differ in a few very important ways. One, Tebow is very likeable. He's a great person, on and off the field. Some have accused Tebow of seeking the spotlight, but is that really surprising? Don't most people want the spotlight?
Sonnen, on the other hand, is not likeable. He's the ultimate villain, full of ridiculous bravado and insane quotes. Sonnen the man may be a good person, though he does have personal issues with the law and such, but he's hidden beneath this character. Sonnen has very carefully crafted this trash-talking pro wrestler persona, and it's served him well. It's made him rich, but also reviled.
However, America and the sports world is very forgiving. When guys like Mike Tyson and Charles Barkley are considered loveable, anything is possible. After Sonnen retires (whenever that is), it'll be very easy for him to morph into a good guy. To use pro wrestling terms, he can have his face turn whenever he wants.
The other way that Tebow and Sonnen differ is the way they perform. Last year, Tebow would usually play poorly for the first three and a half quarters, then somehow turn into the most clutch quarterback in the league. Sonnen is the opposite, he'll fight well in the beginning before choking. Is it fair to label Sonnen a choker? Probably not, but it's what is done in the sports world. To use another sports analogy, Sonnen's in a spot like LeBron James. And just like the only way for James to quiet his doubters was to win a championship, Sonnen has to win a championship as well.
Sonnen's legacy is on the line at UFC 148. If he loses to Silva again, he'll be labeled a choke-artist. Sonnen is 35, who knows how much longer he can keep fighting at the level he's at now. That's why his legacy is on the line, but LeBron's wasn't. LeBron is young and would have had other chances had the Miami Heat not won the NBA Title last month. Sonnen's a fighter, when it goes, it goes quick. It's unknown how much more physical abuse Sonnen's body can handle. MMA is also an individual sport, there's no team to bail you out when you're down. The nature of MMA is also that there's always some up-and-comer ready to come kick your ass and take your spot.
All the pressure is on Sonnen in this fight, it's his name on the line. It's his legacy to be made, one way or the other. It's only a matter of time before someone comes along and beats Anderson Silva down and takes his UFC Middleweight Title. That's the way the fight game works. The fact that Silva has survived as long as he has is a testament to his greatness. It happens to everyone eventually, every great champion suffers the indignity of turning into a mere mortal. Silva's legacy is set, it's secure. He'll go down in history as the greatest of all-time. The time for Sonnen, though, is now. It's make or break, put up or shut up, now or never. However you want to phrase it, it's all the same. The stakes couldn't be any higher for Sonnen.
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