Will we see the version which wrecked its way through the middleweight division? Or will we see the version which looked lethargic, disinterested and downright disrespectful in a recent five round title fight against Demian Maia?
For everyone’s sake, including Silva’s, I hope it is the former. Another lackluster performance against Chael Sonnen could lose the pound for pound king all credibility and potentially rob the sport of one of its stars.
Fortunately for everyone concerned Sonnen has been doing his bit to ensure that Silva has plenty of motivation for this fight. He has basically not shut up since Silva’s antics at UFC 112 in April in a concerted campaign to insult, annoy or simply irritate the middleweight champion.
Silva tends to keep his own counsel so it is impossible to gauge how much effect Sonnen’s words have been having on him. He should not need any extra motivation. For reasons best known to himself he decided to make a mockery of the UFC fans and management as well as his opponent at UFC 112. The fact that he chose not to take the fight with Maia seriously casts serious doubt over Silva’s commitment and respect for the sport. The fact that he was able to get away without taking the fight against Maia seriously speaks volumes about how much better he is than anybody else the UFC is putting in front of him at present.
There is no doubt that Silva is a superior fighter to Sonnen. If he can demonstrate this by beating Sonnen emphatically then all will be immediately forgiven. Another disappointing decision win is unlikely to be tolerated, particularly if it is accompanied by the sort of reluctance to engage which undermined his last victory. Under these circumstances you would hope Silva would put on a performance but after his inexplicable antics at UFC 112 anything is possible.
For his part Sonnen will be looking to exact some vengeance on behalf of every fan who felt let down by Silva’s last performance. His best chance of doing so will be to use his outstanding wrestling skills to put Silva on his back but he will have his work cut out to do so and can expect to sustain some sort of punishment for as long as the fight remains standing.
The UFC matchmakers obviously feel Silva can no longer be relied upon to carry a card and, by way of an insurance policy against another embarrassing performance from the Brazilian, they have backed the card with another four major fights.
Thiago Alves came up against Jon Fitch early in his UFC career and did what most fighters do when they face Fitch, he lost. That was in 2006 and Alves went on to win his next seven fights before dropping a decision to Georges St Pierre in a fight for the welterweight title. Fitch was already riding a ten fight win streak when he beat Alves and went on to win another five fights before suffering the same fate as Alves later would in his title fight with St Pierre. He has gone on to win another four fights, all by way of decision, and is widely regarded as the second best welterweight in the world.
This is a massive fight for both men. If Fitch keeps winning than the UFC cannot deny him a title fight for too much longer. For Alves, who has not fought in over a year since the St Pierre loss, a win is crucial to get his UFC career back on track. There was a lot of talk about St Pierre potentially moving up to middleweight. Whether such a move will materialize remains to be seen but these are probably the top two contenders for his crown.
Clay Guida will face off against Rafael Dos Anjos in a lightweight clash. Guida does not have the most distinguished UFC record, currently standing at 6-5, but he has a propensity for getting involved in fight of the nights which makes him extremely handy to have around.
After losing his first two UFC fights Dos Anjos is now on a three fight winning streak and will be looking to take this momentum into the fight with Guida. If Dos Anjos can make it four in a row he will edge a little closer to a lightweight title shot. Guida will be looking to demonstrate that he is a serious contender in the division and that his ability to fight is as good as his ability to get in good fights.
Matt Hughes vs Ricardo Almeida is a facinating match up which will tell us a great deal about the future prospects of either man. Once the welterweight king Hughes is now merely a welterweight attraction, albeit one most fans would still happily pay to see fight.
While Hughes was ruling the welterweight division his opponent Almeida was taking a four year break from the sport. Almeida has gone 4-1 since his return to the UFC and is hoping that a drop to welterweight will help propel him towards a title shot.
Almeida’s strength is his grappling but Hughes is no stranger to facing BJJ black belts. Hughes will probably feel he has the advantage standing up while Almeida will be looking to take the fight to the floor.
While Hughes’s days in the octagon are almost certainly numbered he is still a tough test for anyone in the division, with the possible exception of St Pierre. After a couple of decision wins it was good to see Almeida using his submission skills against Matt Brown recently. He will be looking to send a statement of intent by following in the footsteps of Dennis Hallman, B.J. Penn and St Pierre and becoming only the fourth man to ever submit Hughes.
In what is surprisingly scheduled to be the first pay per view fight of the night Roy Nelson will face Junior Dos Santos in a heavyweight title eliminator. The winner of this fight will face the winner of the fight between heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and unbeaten contender Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 .
Nelson might have won The Ultimate Fighter 10 but he didn’t really impress too many people in the process. Eyes were raised at the emphatic manner in which he dispatched of Brendan Schaub in the final and he followed that up with another quick fire victory over Stefan Struve.
Nelson’s unprepossessing physical appearance and the fact that he came into TUF 10 on the back of losses to UFC rejects Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson make him a difficult fighter to promote. With two consecutive knock out of the night performances under his belt Nelson will feel he has a point to prove against Dos Santos. If he can get past the big Brazilian the UFC will have no option but to move Nelson up to the head of the card next time out.
It will be no easy task. Dos Santos has a very respectable record of 11-1 and none of his fights have ever gone the distance. He is unbeaten inside the octagon with his punching power making the difference in all of his UFC wins. While it would be refreshing to see Nelson continue to defy both stereotypes and expectations by winning this fight Dos Santos probably has the better chance of the two of actually making a credible challenge for the heavyweight title.
Prior to Silva’s performance against Maia the UFC probably regarded their middleweight champion as a big enough attraction to carry a card on his own. Now they feel the need to pack a card headlined by Silva just to be on the safe side which is why UFC 117 has not one, but five very interesting fights.