That was something I expected from Sonnen on fight night. It was what happened after that really surprised me.
As Silva reminded us several times, talking is easy. Doing it as well and in as consistently entertaining a fashion as Sonnen is a little harder, but it's still nothing compared to going toe-to-toe with the pound-for-pound best in the sport. Sonnen's pre-fight routine seemed like an act, but his performance in the fight proved that even if no one else believed he could back up those words, he never doubted it for a second.
If he were in any other line of work, Sonnen's excessive belief in himself, his outlandish claims, his willingness to continue lying when confronted with evidence of his own lies, and his firm policy against any form of apology might mean he has a serious psychological disorder. But in MMA it just means he should get his own 'UFC Primetime' show when the rematch rolls around, which should be as soon as possible.
Now on to the winners and losers and everything in between at UFC 117.
Biggest Winner: Anderson Silva
He got pushed around, beat up, and carried into deep waters. Then he reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a submission when he needed it most. Maybe it's the best thing that could have happened to his legacy. Silva has all the quick, one-sided wins he needs. This one shows he can come from behind. Everyone loves a story about a champion fighting hurt and struggling through adversity to win. Consider Silva's image officially rehabilitated...for now.
Biggest Loser: Thiago Alves
It's not necessarily for his performance in the fight, which was adequate (though sadly predictable). But if you can't make weight for a top contender fight, you need to reevaluate some things. Not only did he come in a half-pound over, he didn't even try to cut that half-pound in the time allotted to him after the weigh-in. He just threw his hands up, forfeited 20% of his purse, and said (I'm paraphrasing here), 'Screw it, I'm going to the buffet.' Even if he'd won the fight after that, he probably wouldn't have gotten the title shot, according to Dana White. No matter what business you're in, when you become the biggest barrier to your own success, you have a problem.
Most Sympathetic Heel: Chael Sonnen
He may not have won the fight, and the way that he eventually lost it was many times more heartbreaking than if he'd been knocked out in the first minute, but somehow it actually made him seem like a more sympathetic character. How can you not feel for a guy who came so close to the upset of a lifetime, only to have it slip through his fingers? And by all means, isn't it time Sonnen had a full-time film crew following him? Think of all the awesome quips we're missing when he goes grocery shopping.
Most Impressive in (One-Sided) Defeat: Roy Nelson
Junior dos Santos hit "Big Country" with everything but a paternity suit on Saturday night, but he couldn't put the big man away. Nelson was right there in the final minute, still throwing that right hand haymaker, and still coming up just a couple inches short. We knew Nelson was a talented fighter. Now we also know that he's got the heart of a lion and a head made out of concrete.
Least Impressive in Victory: Jon Fitch
No doubt about it, Fitch is great at what he does. But honestly, is there anything less interesting to watch than what he does? With as much success as he's had taking guys down and controlling them for fifteen minutes, I can understand why he doesn't seem to want to change. But what bugs me is that Fitch rarely takes any risks to try and finish a fight. Whatever he may say to the contrary, he sure doesn't fight like a guy who minds winning decisions every time out.
Still Surprisingly Relevant: Matt Hughes
While the Dave Schultz-esque front headlock he used to put Ricardo Almeida to sleep still lacks a catchy name (though I've heard 'Farmaconda' tossed around some, and I like it), Hughes' win proved that he's still a force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division. As long as GSP is still active he'll probably never be champ again, but so what? There are still some interesting fights out there for him, and he seems perfectly willing to keep taking them...after hunting season is over.
Most Worrisome Performance: Dustin Hazelett
Maybe the knock on the head from Paul Daley did something to his motivation, or maybe Hazelett just wasn't feeling it on Saturday night, but after being overwhelmed by Rick Story's power early on he seemed like he was ready to go home. Granted, Story hit him with some serious blows, but in the second round Hazelett more of less dropped to the mat, covered up as best he could, and waited for it to be over. If that's all the enthusiasm he has for his own fights, maybe he should take some time before accepting another one.
Most Impressive Comeback: Stefan Struve
Anderson Silva's win aside, Struve had the best come-from-behind victory of the night after getting thoroughly trounced in the first round of his bout with Christian Morecraft. Despite barely surviving that disastrous first frame, he got Morecraft to stand in front of him for just long enough to put those freakishly long arms of his to work in the second. Now that Struve is training in the U.S. with MMA and K-1 vet Antoni Hardonk, it's going to be really interesting to see where he can go. He's still pretty green and is by no means completely well-rounded, but he's got time and genetics on his side.