We came within inches of having the belt change hands. That is, the six inches or so between the tip of Sonnen's chin and his upper chest.
The telling blow in Silva's second-round TKO came after the challenger had missed with a spinning move and lost his balance, falling to his rear against the cage. Chael was sitting there when Silva charged in with a knee to the chest that took the fight out of him.
It was a risky move for Anderson. Had the knee landed just to the north, it would have been illegal, costing the champ at least a point and, if Sonnen was unable to continue, perhaps the fight and with it his belt.
Watching in real time, the knee did appear to be directed at Sonnen's face. Pay-per-view broadcasters Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan questioned whether it was a legal blow, and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva could be seen at cageside screaming for the referee to jump in. However, replays show that Silva's knee made contact with Sonnen's chest, although his thigh might have landed on his face.
Sonnen declined to complain afterward ("We can't sit and nitpick these things") and White used his sheepdog control of the MMA media to head off a question about the knee that was posed to Silva. "The knee was legal, the knee was legal," he blurted out before Silva could say a word. "We watched it on tape. The knee was legal. The ref called it legal. There's no need to talk about the illegal knee. There was no illegal knee."
Perhaps there wasn't, but it would have been nice to hear what Silva had to say about a move that could have been disastrous for him. The questioner chose not to follow up with a request for Silva to comment. Baaah.
A surreal scene played out in the immediate aftermath of the main event. The crowd was roaring, stunned by Silva's lightning-quick turnaround and finish. Sonnen stood in his corner looking dazed, perhaps contemplating what might have been if he had made better use of his 50 seconds in full mount and had not thrown the crazy spinning move.
And Silva stepped to the microphone, interviewed by Rogan at the center of the octagon. Asked about the animosity that had built in the lead-up to the fight, Anderson didn't wait for his manager, Ed Soares, to translate. "Me and Chael working hard, for the show for all the people here," he said. "Please, this is nothing. Chael fight against me. I fight Chael. No have problem. I don't have nothing for Chael. Chael disrespect my country, but it's fine. This is a sport. This is UFC."
As a rumble of boos arose from the sections of MGM Grand Garden Arena that were filled with flag-waving Brazilian fans, Silva quieted the crowd. "Brazil, one second, one second," he said, then walked over to his vanquished opponent's corner, Brazilian flag around his shoulders, and grabbed Sonnen by the hand. You could lip-read Chael saying, "Good fight," as they walked together back to the center of the octagon, to scattered boos. Which Silva quickly put a stop to.
"Hey, hey, one second, one second," he said, then switched to Portuguese, eliciting polite applause. Soares translated: "He said, 'Let's show Brazil has manners. And I want everybody to applaud Chael.'"
As cheers slowly built, Silva then turned to Sonnen, his arm draped over his drooping shoulders, and added, in English: "Chael, thank you for the fight, bro." And then back to Portuguese, drawing another cheer. Soares' translation put a smile on Rogan's face: "If you'd like to have a barbecue at my house, I'd love to have you over for a barbecue."
When Sonnen was asked at the post-fight news conference if he would accept Silva's invitation, he said he's starving and would love some Brazilian barbecue, "as long as it's medium rare." Both fighters smiled. Doubly surreal.
And a short while later, Sonnen changed his anti-Brazilian tune, praising the country's MMA supporters. "The Brazilian fans have it down right. They back their guy," he said. "North America is the only country in the world where we don't do that. And that's fine.
"But I really admire the Brazilian fans, and that includes when I'm getting booed on the way in. I should getting booed when I'm taking on their guy."
The UFC has seven champions. One of them fought Saturday night, and in the days leading up to the fight, the other six belt holders offered their opinions of how he'd do.
The on-the-money prognosticators who picked fellow champ Anderson Silva were heavyweight Junior dos Santos, light heavyweight Jon Jones, lightweight Benson Henderson and featherweight Josť Aldo. That last one is an assumption, since I didn't actually see an Aldo prediction among those I dug up on Twitter and various MMA websites. However, Josť trains with his Brazilian countryman, so he surely wasn't with Chael Sonnen.
But welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and bantamweight Dominick Cruz were. And so were a couple of other champs: Strikeforce's heavyweight Grand Prix winner, Daniel Cormier, and welterweight titlist Gilbert Melendez. They were in the minority among the MMA fighters who weighed in. And rightly so, as it turned out.
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