If I went back in time one week, and told you we’d be seeing Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar before the year was out, you’d probably have laughed in my face, shook your head, and walked away.
But when the injury gods come calling – as they have some many times in MMA this year – crazy things can happen. We were a hair’s breadth away from Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen actually happening, until Jon’s sensible/reprehensible decision to always fight prepared/puss out against a middleweight killed all that.
And then we got this. After Jose Aldo injured his foot and had to pull out of his featherweight title fight with Frankie Edgar (himself a short-notice replacement for Erik Koch), UFC 153 seemed to be in serious trouble. When “Rampage” Jackson pulled out of his fight with Glover Teixeira, it was on life support. Fresh off the heels of UFC 151′s cancellation, and Dana White was looking at a card headlined by Jon Fitch vs. Erick Silva. No offense to either man, but that’s not exactly a fight that’s going to make North American fans dive into their wallets for their $49.99.
Back when the Jon Jones/UFC 151 drama was unfolding, an interesting morsel of news passed mostly under the radar: Anderson Silva offered to fight a light-heavyweight contender on short notice. Dana White declined at the time, but with his Brazillian mega-card falling apart it appears he has taken “the Spider” up on his offer.
Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar. That’s the new main event of UFC 153.
There’s been a wide range of fan opinion on this fight, from ecstatic to incredulous and everything in between. But you really can’t deny that this is a fantastic Hail Mary from the UFC. As far as short notice main events go (when you’re top TWO fights fall through) it would be tough to do much better than this. Sure, there’s absolutely zero argument to be made for Stephan Bonnar topping a PPV card, but luckily for all parties involved it doesn’t matter whatsoever.
Every fight Anderson Silva has from now until the end of his career will be an “event” fight. It wasn’t always that way – for a while, Silva struggled to draw interest against guys like Patrick Cote and Thales Leites – but post-Chael Sonnen (arguably post-Forrest Griffin) Silva is a bona fide star. Add in the fact that he’s moving up a weight class, and the intrigue builds exponentially. Hell, Silva once main evented a UFC card against James Irvin, so in many ways Stephan Bonnar is a big step up.
And let’s be honest here: in many ways, Bonnar is a very dangerous fight for Anderson Silva. That doesn’t mean I think Bonnar is going to defeat Silva; only that he has the potential to seriously derail Silva’s gravy train. Silva has such a mystique built up around him, and is riding such a wave of hype, that he has only two options in a fight: win in a blowout, or disappoint.
And Bonnar could end up making Silva look disappointing, even in defeat.
For one, Bonnar has shown a strong chin over the course of his UFC run. Even Jon Jones (circa 2009) couldn’t put him away, and he’s fought hard-hitters like Lyoto Machida, James Irvin, and Rashad Evans without having his lights shut out. He’s a Golden Gloves boxer with good (if not great) striking skills and a willingness to brawl. He’s also a Carlson Gracie BJJ black belt, so I don’t think it’s likely that Anderson Silva catches him in a Chael Sonnen-esque mistake submission. Then again, I don’t think it’s likely this fight hits the ground, either.
And finally, Bonnar is a big, physical guy with the gas tank to go hard all fifteen minutes. Is this the recipe to beat the greatest fighter in MMA history? Perhaps not, but it could very well be the skillset that forces the normally composed Silva into an ugly fight. And if Silva can’t put Bonnar away convincingly – or worse, shows even a moment of doubt, weakness, or humanity against the “Ultimate Fighter” runner-up – watch how quickly the MMA compass spins on Anderson Silva.
History has shown us how mercurial fans can be when it comes to Silva. I remember Anderson getting anointed king of the freakin’ world after he torched Forrest Griffin – only to be burned in effigy exactly one fight later, after his 25 minutes staring contest/dace-off with Demian Maia.
Like every other fan out there, I’m hoping for a ballet of violence when Silva steps in to the ring in a few weeks time. But I’ve also got enough respect for Stephan Bonnar to not acknowledge the fact that he has a chance, if only a small one, to mar the visage of Silva’s perfection.