Posted: Tuesday August 10, 2010 1:58PM ; Updated: Tuesday August 10, 2010 5:26PM
Josh Gross
Josh Gross>INSIDE MMA

Looking back on Silva's thrilling, last-gasp victory over Sonnen

Story Highlights

Anderson Silva needed a last-gasp triangle choke Saturday to beat Chael Sonnen

The thrilling UFC 117 main event was Silva's seventh title defense, a UFC record

Silva fought through excruciating pain from bruised ribs suffered during training

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Anderson Silva needed to dig deep Saturday to defend his UFC middleweight championship against Chael Sonnen in Oakland, Calif.
AP

How did Anderson Silva submit Chael Sonnen?

For Sonnen and those close to him, that question will linger at least until the next time he gets another crack at the UFC middleweight championship. If, that is, he gets one.

"For 23 minutes, he didn't get triangled," said veteran fighter and trainer Matt Lindland, who worked Sonnen's corner during the fight Saturday in Oakland, Calif. "For one second, he did. You've got to stay focused for 25 minutes, not 23. That's all it was."

Sonnen has now tapped out five times in his career when confronted with the triangle/armbar position, raising questions not only about his ability to maintain focus throughout the duration of a fight, but also his technical proficiency when it comes to submission application and defense.

It was among the funnier lines Sonnen tossed out. He doesn't train jiu-jitsu, he said, because Republicans don't fight from their back with another man between their legs. But was he serious? Was it possible one of the best fighters in the world couldn't be bothered with a staple discipline of the sport?

As always, Sonnen's life is an exercise in semantics.

"Jiu-jitsu is a sport that you train that you have a gi on," said his chief strategist Robert Follis. "He doesn't train jiu-jitsu. Matt Lindland has never done jiu-jitsu, and he tapped out quite a few legitimate black belts on the ground. It's a positional game and a fight on the ground."

And yet, Sonnen keeps getting caught. Just last year Demian Maia locked in one of the finest triangles you'll ever see.

Silva and his camp noticed.

"We saw just that sometimes Sonnen gets too confident with his punching and he opens holes," said Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the heavyweight great who awarded Silva his black belt in BJJ.

The idea was for Silva to establish his guard -- he told people in his locker room before the fight that he would be taken down and would have to win the fight from his back -- and allow Sonnen to punch himself into a bad position.

Nogueira said he saw Silva attempt what they worked on in camp seven times before the final round. Each try was shut down when Sonnen made sure to stay in tight or back out. But in the fifth round, which Nogueira couldn't bring himself to watch as he "kept his head down and prayed," Silva finally nailed it.

For a full 30 seconds before sneaking his left leg across the top of Sonnen's neck to lock down the choke, Silva maintained wrist control on Sonnen's right arm -- a major error that led to the tap as much as any lapse in focus.

"He should have recognized that wrist control and peeled the hands," Lindland said.

But Sonnen didn't. Not only that, but he also continued to throw his left hand at Silva's head, which is exactly what the champion and his team hoped for after watching film of the strong wrestler.

"Anderson has long legs and Sonnen was really inside his guard," Nogueira said. "He was too outside or too inside. He was never in the middle. And in the middle of the position is when you find the time to submit a guy. Anderson held his arm and wrist and let Sonnen punch and get confidence. He put himself in the middle position and Anderson took the chance to take his knee outside so it was one arm in, one arm out so he could do the triangle."

Silva, Nogueira said, promised just before stepping in the Octagon that the finish would happen like that. Among the many memorable things that came out of Sonnen's mouth during the lead-up to the fight, nothing upset Silva as much as the challenger's disrespect of the Nogueira brothers' brand of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Earning a black belt from the Nogueiras is like a finding a toy with a Happy Meal, Sonnen joked.

"It was a crazy thing Sonnen did," Nogueira said.

After returning from Oakland to Los Angeles on Sunday, Silva watched a replay of UFC 117 with his manager, Ed Soares. As he sat through the four-plus-round war with his fighter, Soares said Silva had just one reaction: "Wow, that's a hell of a fight. Sonnen really took it to me."

During the bout's roughest patches, Silva thought about God, his family and the sacrifices he underwent on his road to becoming MMA's dominant middleweight, he told his manager.

"In this fight, Anderson showed he was human," Nogueira said. "He showed he could be weak. But he showed he is a fighter and he brings something from his heart. It was beautiful."

The injury

Six days before submitting Sonnen, Silva called Soares 13 times in 25 minutes because he didn't know what to do.

The champion was in excruciating pain after suffering what he would soon learn were bruised ribs during a training session that Friday. As the sun came out on Aug. 1 following a sleepless night, Silva was apparently having trouble breathing and Soares took him to an emergency room.

That's why he didn't corner Mark Munoz against Yushin Okami in San Diego.

Soares demanded that Silva rest, watch TV and relax. "Why are you going to sit in a car two hours down to San Diego and two hours back?" the manager told his fighter.

Silva was laid up in bed Sunday and Monday. Tuesday they traveled to Oakland and he didn't train again until Wednesday night.

Lasting through a brutal opening five minutes against Sonnen, Silva slowly retreated to his corner between rounds, pointed to his ribs and winced. Soares said the champion couldn't take full breaths, and that his core strength had been severely degraded.

Doctors told Silva immediately after the fight that it was difficult to see the extent of his injury. He'll visit a specialist in Los Angeles this week to compare X-rays taken on fight night against those zapped on Aug. 1. Chances are he won't compete again until 2011.

Better championship fight?

In a month's time, we saw two of the great comebacks in MMA championship history. So which was better: Brock Lesnar besting Shane Carwin or Silva's late heroics against Sonnen?

Knowing what we know now about Silva's ribs heading into the fight, coupled with the fact that he was well behind on the judges' cards after four rounds and managed to snap off a submission with just 110 seconds to go, you have to think the UFC middleweight champion's title retention was just a bit better.

Lesnar endured four minutes of hell against Carwin, but there was a sense of inevitability after he regained his feet with a minute remaining in the first. And the moment Lesnar put Carwin on his back in Round 2, you just knew it was over. There wasn't any element of that in Silva-Sonnen.

Anderson was going to lose for the first time since 2006, for the first time in 12 UFC appearances, for the first time since winning the UFC 185-pound title.

And then he didn't.

UFC 117 by the numbers

1 -- Status of contendership for heavyweight Junior dos Santos after he went the distance for the first time in his career, against Roy Nelson. The same could be said of welterweight Jon Fitch, though there seems to be some debate over whether the UFC will give the decision-prone welterweight, whose only loss in his last 23 bouts came against Georges St. Pierre, another shot at the title before Martin Kampmann or Jake Shields.

2 -- Strikes landed by Silva in Round 1 against Sonnen. ... Also, the number of times Thiago Alves has missed weight; the welterweight is in hot water after failing to make the 170-pound limit for this fight with Fitch and declining to shed half a pound in the allotted time. Had Alves won, it would have been interesting to see the UFC handle his potential title prospects.

3 -- UFC championship fights that ended in the fifth round. Silva-Sonnen joins Ricco Rodriguez's toppling of Randy Couture in 2002 and B.J. Penn's plastering of Diego Sanchez last year.

6 -- Sutures needed to close a cut above Sonnen's left eye.

8 -- Submissions losses during Sonnen's career, which began in 2002.

9 -- Victories, against zero losses, by Johny Hendricks since entering MMA in 2007. The 2005 and '06 NCAA wrestling champion at 165 pounds for Oklahoma State is positioned for a step up in competition in the welterweight division.

10 -- Rounds over two fights in 2010 for Silva. Add in the five-rounder against Thales Leites in 2009, and Silva has been putting in time inside the Octagon. Before this stretch, he had not faced the judges since a bout against Lee Murray in London in 2004.

12 -- Consecutive victories inside the UFC for Silva, improving on the record he owns. Contained in that number: seven straight title defenses, amounting to the longest title reign in UFC history.

19 -- Submissions for former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes after he put Ricardo Almeida to sleep with an arm-in front headlock. He shared submission of the night honors with Silva.

20:41 -- Length of time Silva and Sonnen fought on the floor compared to 2:43 on their feet.

208 -- Total number of strikes Silva was hit with in 11 UFC fights before Sonnen.

289 -- Total number of strikes Silva was hit with by Sonnen -- a record for one fight, according to CompuStrike.

 
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