|(photo courtesy of mmahammer.net)|
When Chael Sonnen lost his rematch to Anderson "The Spider" Silva at UFC 148, a statement was made. Not just in the context of a super-hyped main event, but it was a familiar story that has become a tragedy for so many middleweight fighters living in the Anderson Silva era. To compete in the UFC’s middleweight division is to compete for second place, and that is a stigma that grows more influential with every Silva victory.
One by one, world-class fighters have been handed their dreams back to them by the champ. Rich Franklin, Nate Marquardt, Demian Maia, Sonnen, and the legendary Vitor Belfort are among a laundry list of fighters who have all tried, and failed, to decipher the seemingly unstoppable Spider. Silva has even ventured up to light heavyweight and dominated former champs like Forrest Griffin, just for kicks. It’s created a desolate wasteland in the division, with a serious lack of legitimate contenders left. Many have simply jumped a weight class up or down to try their chances elsewhere (although with Jon Jones and GSP reigning at light heavy and welterweight respectively, their chances may not be much better there either).
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Chael Sonnen is a living representation of what it means to compete against a talent of Silva’s level. “The American Gangster” is easily the next best competitor at 185 lbs. He proved this by utterly dominating the champ in their first meeting, and even in round one of the rematch. Despite what were certainly his best efforts, Sonnen still couldn’t find a way to put the champ away, and that has to have a massive effect on him mentally. There are even rumblings that Sonnen may be done with the sport completely after this latest loss, and realistically, who can blame him?
At 35 years old, Sonnen, who is still widely considered the world number two, is likely another two or three fights away from earning third title shot. That’s about 18 to 24 months of training and competition just to get another crack at his arch-nemesis Silva. That’s an arduous grind for a guy his age, one that he already had some difficulty completing this time around. Sonnen barely made his way through Michael Bisping en route to his latest Silva rematch, and Bisping isn’t really considered a serious contender at the moment. Evidently the seeds of self-doubt have not just been planted in Sonnen’s mind, they’ve been cultivated, and after UFC 148, no one can blame him if that doubt is now in full bloom.
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It’s a culture similar to that of the PGA during Tiger Woods’ era of domination, or the NBA when the Jordan-led Bulls were reeling off multiple championships. There is just no answer to that level of brilliance. It may even be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the more contenders Silva eats up, the less inclined anyone is going to be to think they’re going to be the one to solve him. Fighters, after all, are only human.
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Just ask Rich Franklin, the man who looked so strong as title holder before the Spider came along. Franklin was knocked out twice against Silva, and has never made his way back to the title picture since. Now, at age 37, Franklin finds himself caught between two weight classes, and with little chance of ever holding UFC gold ever again. Fighting Silva sent him into MMA limbo, the same place Sonnen seems to find himself now.
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The second UFC 148 came to a close with a flurry of Silva strikes, the speculation began over who would be next up to take a swing at the middleweight strap. The problem is, there isn’t really a logical answer. Are Mark Munoz, Chris Weidman, or even Strikeforce champ Luke Rockhold really legitimate contenders? None have shown the skill level of a Chael Sonnen, but there is literally no one else left.
Rashad Evans, via Twitter, has expressed an interest in dropping down to middleweight to take on Silva. Now that would provide a tough and interesting matchup, but coming off a tough loss to Jon Jones, Evans can’t reasonably be expected to be given a title shot in his first fight at 185 lbs.
|(photo courtesy of cagepotato.com)|
|(photo courtesy of fotosnovas.org)|