Sunday, August 8, 2010

UFC 117 Warm-down: Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen

At UFC 117 we saw the real Anderson Silva. We saw a man, a human with true flaws and blemishes. No, ladies and gentlemen, Anderson Silva is not perfect. Despite his perfect 12-0 UFC record, Mr. Silva's vulnerabilities were exposed by one, Chael Sonnen.

What happened?
Chael Sonnen, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion, used the very best of his fighting repertoire, his takedown-to-ground-and-pound style, to isolate the the UFC Middleweight Champion. With the betting odds highly against him, most did not see it coming, but for four and a half rounds it appeared that Chael would pull off the almost unbelievable -- defeating Anderson Silva.

It was expected to be a classic wrestler vs. striker match-up, but it ended up a one-sided ground fight with Silva spending most of the bout on his back, suffering a slow but persistent storm of rabbit punches, elbows, and general mugging. Anderson Silva is highly regarded as an elite Muy Thai striker, so fans, in their hunger for flashy striking demonstrations, tend to ignore or forget that he is also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt.

The Jiu Jitsu Factor: Royce Gracie and the Psychology of BJJ
From the guard Anderson Silva was active, opening and closing the guard, and transitioning back and forth from full guard to half guard when necessary but, it wasn't enough to slow down Chael Sonnen's attack.

While watching Anderson Silva receive the worst of a Chael Sonnen ground-and-pound attack, my mind was taken back to Royce Gracie's early fights with the UFC.  My most vivid memories of Royce Gracie's mid-90's preeminence in the UFC are not occupied so much with his victories but rather his ability to maintain his composure while being brutally victimized. Royce is a master not only of submissions but also of the mental aspects of fighting. This is perhaps the most significant element of orthodox Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, specifically Gracie Jiu Jitsu, a remnant that probably stems from its Judo/Jiu Jitsu, traditional martial arts lineage.

When Royce Gracie fought Matt Hughes at UFC 60 in 2006, Hughes caught Gracie in one of the tightest arm bars I've ever seen. I just knew I'd finally see Royce Gracie tap. Instead I saw a stoic, plain-faced Royce Gracie who appeared to take on some meditative state. Now, that may sound too femininely yoga-ish to some of you hardcore cage fans, but whatever Royce did to avoid tapping (as most of us would have done) was far beyond the gruels and aggression of modern mixed martial arts (as we know it).

I believe we witnessed a similar method practiced by Anderson Silva last night. In spite of the beating Silva took from Chael Sonnnen, he maintained a relatively calm, self-controlled demeanor, and this is the essence of traditional martial arts at work. It's a part of the traditional martial arts that remains with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as it is exists in Brazil, a combination of calmness and patience that Anderson Silva relied on to pull out the submission win.

If anything Anderson Silva's submission win over Chael Sonnen stands as a reminder to the mixed martial arts community that the unpredictability of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is still alive and can be a deciding factor in mixed martial arts matches.

The Involuntary Tap
I have to go here because I just had a debate with someone about what I'll call "involuntary tapping."

The other night I attended a local mixed martial arts event. In one of the bouts, a fighter appeared to tap while in a modified guillotine choke, but the ref apparently either did not see it or did not recognize it as an actual tap. Eventually, the fighter did tap later in the bout when placed in the same choke. This occurs quite often in MMA fights. Sometimes a fighter will hold their hand out hesitantly, as if not ready to tap. Sometimes fans and even the referee are too anxious to call a tap.

But I believe there are other times when a fighter taps when he really doesn't mean to. This is especially true when a fighter is in a choke hold. Think about a time you may have choked on something, or maybe you've seen someone choking. It is human instinct to point, tap your chest, or hold your throat to loosen the trapped object and to signal to others that you are choking. Essentially, these are signs of distress. A person's life sources, air and blood circulation, are being cut off. The same occurs when sometimes when a choke hold is  applied to someone. The individual being choke may loose any sense of self-defense and revert to self preservation.

Such was the case last night with Chael Sonnen. When Anderson Silva applied a tight triangle hold to Chael, it presented the only truly vulnerable moment for the former Olympic alternate wrestler, who had dominated the match up until that point. But when in distress Chael panicked. He had every intention of continuing the fight but instinct kicked in. His actions at that point were involuntary, and for a moment he probably didn't even realize exactly what he had done -- Chael Sonnen tapped.

There were two things at work in that moment. One was the unpredictability of jiu jitsu. The other was pure human instinct.

To the point.
No matter how you look at it Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva was a fight well worth the fifty-five dollar pay-per-view. Anderson Silva still left the cage with his belt, as expected, and Sonnen gets to experience the thrill of almost victory.


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