“Anderson Silva, you ABSOLUTELY SUCK!”. These are the words that reignited a feud that was at the time the biggest that the UFC had seen.
Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen delivered the line after submitting former WEC Middleweight champion Brian Stann via 2nd round arm triangle at UFC 136. Chael had just come off a year suspension for a failed drug test after his first fight with Middleweight champion and GOAT Anderson Silva.
Leading up to their first fight Chael launched a verbal assault against the champion. He called Anderson scared, prissy, a liar, and a fraud amongst other things while in reality Anderson was the pound for pound best in the UFC. However a controversial title defense against Damian Maia would alter the masses opinion of Silva.
Before the Maia fight Anderson was on a 10 fight win streak in the UFC, a streak where he would devastate his opponents. He utterly dismantled The Ultimate Fighter veteran Chris Leben in his UFC debut and went on to win the title from Rich Franklin with devastating clinch work. From there he held onto the title finishing opponents including former champions Forrest Griffin, Dan Henderson, and Franklin again. Anderson would completely dominate his opponents and would often finish them in extraordinary fashion but his performance against Maia would be a black mark on his career.
The fight between the two Brazilians was personal for Anderson. Anderson grew up poor in the favelas of Brazil, Damian Maia grew up with money on the beaches of Brazil. In Anderson’s mind Damian was a rich “playboy” who got to become one of the most renowned BJJ artists in the sport by buying his training. Anderson grew up fighting in the streets and working at McDonalds. This was class warfare for Anderson. The fight consisted of Anderson dancing around Maia with the clear advantage on the feet and refusing to engage with Maia on the ground. He felt Damian had disrespected him and didn’t deserve to be in the cage. An uneventful unanimous decision win for Silva led to Dana White saying if Anderson ever fought like that again he would be cut. As a result the UFC bought Chael’s trash talk and awarded him the shot against Anderson.
At UFC 117 Chael would use his wrestling to neutralize Anderson’s striking and even outstrike him on the feet. There were rumors Anderson had injured ribs going into the fight which led to Chael’s domination. Anderson was down 4 rounds going into the 5th but he endured with the heart of a champion. Chael would take Anderson to the ground late in the round before getting caught by a triangle armbar and submitting with less than 2 minutes left.
While falling short the first time, Chael would win his return fight against Stann and restart his trash talk against not only the champion, but against his native country of Brazil. Chael would paint Brazil as a hole in the mud with no sense of civilization or technology whatsoever. He stated he didn’t know they had computers. He insulted their women and their culture. In an interview with Ariel Helwani before his fight against Stann, he infamously stated the Nogueria brothers thought a bus was a horse when they touched down in Las Vegas for the first time. He said he’d pat Anderson’s wife on the ass. This created enormous heat from Brazilian fans and Chael would continue the classless insults with the jive of a pro wrestling heel.
The following January Chael would face Michael Bisping where the winner would get a title shot. In the lead up to the fight Chael would up his antics by parading a fake championship belt around claiming he was the real Middleweight champion only more pushing the narrative that Anderson Silva was a fraud. An uneducated and casual viewer might have thought the opposite of reality while listening to Chael, that he was the best and Anderson was a fraud. Chael would go on to defeat Michael by unanimous decision and earn his rematch.
With a #1 contender crowned the stage was set for the rematch. UFC 148: Silva vs Sonnen II was scheduled for July 7th, 2012 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada and at the time was the biggest fight in the history of the company. The card was stacked with talent, featuring Forrest Griffin vs Tito Ortiz III, rising Featherweight star Chad Mendes vs Cody McKenzie, Damian Maia vs Dong Hyun Kim in the Welterweight division, and even displaying UFC newcomer Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Gleison Tibeau. No spoilers, UFC 148 was an action packed card whose main event had extremely high stakes.
The stakes were the highest for Anderson. His family, country, culture, and honor had all been attacked by Chael. The MGM Garden Arena was roaring with Brazilian fans all night. At 37 years old, in front of his wife, children, and country Anderson would defeat Chael Sonnen and defend his title for a record 10 times.
Ending the rivalry Anderson was gracious in victory. He praised Chael for selling the fight and for being a worthy opponent. After years of enduring trash talk Anderson embraced his children in an emotional moment. Chael admitted defeat and accepted Anderson was the best while Anderson invited him to his house for a barbecue.
Years of trash talk culminated in UFC 148 selling a reported record breaking 925,000 pay-per-views. In a pre Conor McGregor world Chael’s trash talk illuminated the path to high grossing PPVs and media attention. It would also elevate Anderson to greatness. Despite Chael’s elite wrestling and insults Anderson withstood the pressure and proved to the world that on July 7th, 2012, Anderson Silva was the undisputed greatest of all time.