There’s a danger in thinking out loud. And, at this point the UFC must realize this better than anybody.
For the past couple of months, Chael Sonnen was assuredly fighting Anderson Silva in Silva’s native Brazil, and the only thing left was to sort out the nagging details. Those details finally got in the way, and now the fight is headed for Las Vegas, which is a bit of crushing news for romantics.
Yet when you think about it, didn’t this thing always feel too good, too tantalizingly ominous to be true? The brazen American getting dropped into hostile territory in an attempt to take the belt from the company’s best-ever fighter? This was dramatic overload. It was the “Rumble in the Jungle” -- only it wouldn’t be held at a neutral site. This was Sonnen being lowered into a burbling cauldron. It was the odds being stacked so impossibly against him that the situation shared more in common with movies than reality (think “Rocky IV”).
And from the American perspective, the sweeteners were Sonnen’s motormouth in conjunction with the immensity of the setting. The event was targeted for Rio de Janeiro's Joao Havelange Stadium -- a.k.a. Engenhao -- which could feasibly hold a record number of people (between 60,000-80,000).
Sonnen was played up to be the man of risks -- the security risk with an overnight bag of asterisks. Bold enough to walk the plank. Silva was to be the deliverer of comeuppance. The rectifier. Fighting in Brazil for Brazil.
For the sport of MMA, it was history in the making, in a setting as big as their rivalry.
Only it didn’t get entirely made. The rematch is officially happening on July 7 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the “fight capital of Earth” as Sonnen says. Another way of looking at it is like this: Sonnen/Silva II is happening in a common setting on a big weekend of fights.
In a news conference yesterday from Rio de Janeiro, Dana White broke the news of the switch and explained the problems they had in securing a venue in Brazil. White, Silva and Sonnen showed up in person first and foremost to apologize, and second to redirect hype.
No doubt this whole thing is a bummer for the UFC, who sensed the historical value we’re talking about.
It’s disappointing to Calgary, the Canadian city that is likely losing featherweight champion Jose Aldo to fill the void at UFC 147.
It’s disappointing for Silva, who has fought an 11 times in the States, once in Canada, once in Abu Dhabi and once in Rio as a UFC employee. He is 14-0 in those fights, which means he doesn’t exactly have any big druthers. But his fifteenth fight -- and remember, every fight these days could be his last -- was meant to be epic. It was meant to shatter the UFC 129 attendance record -- in his native country.
None of that will happen now.
The good news is the fight is booked -- that’s the practical thing to remember. UFC 148 now looks like the most loaded card of the year, a card the promoters could easily dub as “Rivals” with all the continuations in play -- Sonnen/Silva II, Urijah Faber/Dominick Cruz III, Tito Ortiz/Forrest Griffin III. It’s a lot of sequels and trilogies in a city where whatever happens is meant to stay there. And that’s a little salt on the wound to Brazilians and romantics and any fan of "Mission: Impossible."
Yet plenty of people will like this switch. There’s a lot of foot traffic in Vegas come Memorial Day weekend, and this fight becomes accessible. The American media will rejoice because now they can attend without having to secure visas. This thing becomes a lot more convenient to cover.
But we weren’t dealing in conveniences; we were dealing in historic backdrops. We were dealing in extreme inconveniences, which is exactly why Sonnen-Silva II in Brazil was so alluring. The “Rumble in the Jungle” wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling as the “Fracas in Las Vegas.”
And it’s disappointing to wave good-bye to what could have been, especially knowing the magnitude of the thing that nearly was.