This Saturday's UFC 153 brings with it a reminder that not all pay per view main events need be title fights. Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar wasn't exactly a match-up fans were clamoring for but nevertheless its one we're getting. Sure, we all know how this is supposed to end, but Bonnar's enthusiasm when he talks about his once in a lifetime shot at Silva has been downright infectious. That combined with the legend of Matt Serra knocking out GSP is almost - almost - enough to get me to suspend disbelief and start thinking of scenarios where Bonnar could pull of the monumental upset. Does Bonnar actually have a chance against Silva? Let's take a look at that question and a few more below...
1) Can Stephan Bonnar shock the world in the biggest fight of his career? There's a reason nobody is giving Bonnar a chance in this fight: he's a gritty journeyman facing perhaps the greatest fighter of all time. While Bonnar's toughness has never been in question, he's the owner of a pedestrian 8-6 UFC record compared to Silva's superlative 15-0. As a recent commercial featuring Forrest Griffin alluded to, there aren't many obvious paths to victory against Silva. Bonnar is good at a lot of things, but there's no area where he outshines the preternaturally talented Silva. So what does he do?
Bonnar's biggest asset in this fight is his resilience. He's never been knocked out or submitted. However, what that means against a pinpoint striker who turns out the lights upstairs with the frequency of a high school janitor remains to be seen. Bonnar has mentioned in interviews that he needs to make it ugly and bring the fight to Silva. While this might be akin to trying to bum rush a hungry tiger after taking a bath in steak sauce, it's probably his best route to victory. Given all the potential avenues of attack MMA is a game where any skilled fighter can conceivably win on any given night despite long odds. If Silva and Bonnar fought 100 times it's probable Bonnar would win at least a few. Make no mistake about it, I'm still picking Silva to win, but it's not out the realm of possibility that Bonnar could nail Silva with a punch on the button or catch a limb in a scramble. Even if he doesn't pull off the mother of all upsets, just taking the fight to Silva for five rounds and not getting finished would be an incontestable moral victory.
This Saturday has a chance to be the biggest moment in the career of a fighter who has spent the past seven years chasing a moment as transcendent as the night he and Forrest Griffin put the sport on the map. Win, lose, or draw I'm betting he's going to do everything in his power to make it memorable.
2) Just what is Anderson Silva's drawing power on PPV? For years the knock on Silva was that his pay per view drawing power wasn't commensurate with his dominance in the octagon. Despite his skills, for whatever reason he failed to connect with fans in a way that motivated them to open up their wallets to watch him fight. Based on this table provided by MMA Payout.com Blue Book, if you take out instances where he appeared on the same card as proven draws like Tito Ortiz (hey, this was in 2007), Chuck Liddell, and BJ Penn, Silva drew an average of 340,000 buys per show until he faced Chael Sonnen for the first time at UFC 117. That show drew 600,000 buys. His next fight against Vitor Belfort did even better at 725,000. Then when Silva faced Yushin Okami at UFC 134 he was back down to around his pre-Sonnen average at 335,000. The middleweight champ rebounded in a big way with his rematch against Sonnen scoring a blockbuster 950,000 buys at UFC 148 back in July.
These numbers would seem to indicate that Silva historically hasn't been a big PPV draw on his own. When he faces the Yushin Okamis of the world he does a respectable number but nothing staggering. Put him in with the right opponent though and he can draw huge business. For all his role in helping the sport to go mainstream I think even Stephan Bonnar would admit he's in the former category rather than the latter. Silva is coming off the biggest PPV number of his career and it feels like his popularity is at an all time high. It will be interesting to see how much the second Sonnen fight added to his star power and whether or not he's become the kind of draw who can score 400,000 plus buys just by having his name on the marquee.
3) Will Saturday be the night when Dave Herman learns that this jiu jitsu stuff actually does work? Look, we all know it's coming. Dave Herman's bluster about jiu jitsu being "useless" might just be a ploy to get attention, but that kind of hubris has a nasty way of setting people up for a fall. If this was 2004 I'd say Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was just the man to give Herman his first taste of what it felt like for his joints to be making like Rice Crispies, but it's now 2012 and Big Nog hasn't pulled off a submission in a fight since 2008. Then again, Herman didn't exactly look like a world beater himself in his past two fights. Nogueira would no doubt love to prove a point in this one and a victory by submission over a man who has insulted the honor of BJJ would make for a special moment inside the HSBC Arena.
4) Is Glover Teixeira for real? A debuting Teixeira steamrolled Kyle Kingsbury in impressive fashion at UFC 146 but at the time it remained unknown how he would perform against the upper echelon of the division. Unfortunately we're going to be left waiting for an answer for awhile longer as he faces a fighter in Fabio Maldonado who is a mere 1-2 in the UFC. A win over Maldonado won't do much to help build Teixeira up as a possible contender for Jon Jones but a loss would certainly keep him out of the title picture for the foreseeable future. It's a shame the fight against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson fell through due to injury because it would have provided Teixeira with a solid test against an opponent who UFC fans see as a big star. If he gets by Maldonado look for Joe Silva to give him a bigger name next. In a light heavyweight division full of top contenders who have almost all been thoroughly outclassed by Jones, Teixeira would vault into the title picture with a couple more wins.
5) Can Jon Fitch return to his winning ways or is this Erick Silva's time to shine? It feels surreal to be typing this, but Jon Fitch hasn't won a fight in over two years. Granted he's only fought twice in that time, but for a fighter who was once 13-1 in the UFC it's got to be frustrating to have gone so long without a win - not to mention a winner's purse. Fitch by all rights should have won his fight against BJ Penn which was ruled a draw, but there's no sugar coating his knockout at the hands of Johny Hendricks. He's coming off a knee injury suffered back in June and following the Penn fight he also injured his shoulder. We haven't seen Fitch for any sustained amount of time since these injuries which leads me to wonder whether he will still be the stifling fighter he once was.
Erick Silva has looked fantastic so far in the UFC, but all his fights have ended in the first round. Does he have the gas tank to deal with the relentless, grinding pace Fitch likes to employ? Will it even matter if he can connect early? Fitch may have a reputation as a boring fighter, but Silva has been anything but during his short UFC tenure. This is one I'm really looking forward to in order to see where both men stand in the current welterweight pecking order. If Fitch can shut Silva down as he has so many opponents in the past he keeps his UFC career relevant. If Silva defeats Fitch he announces his presence as a future contender.