Jeff Chiu / AP
Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010 | 2:12 a.m.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Prior to Saturday night at Oracle Arena, a lot of people thought UFC 117 would be nothing more than the end of Chael Sonnen’s 15 minutes of fame.
His trash talk toward Anderson Silva during the past seven months had no doubt been entertaining — but talk doesn’t mean much if you can’t back it up, and there was certainly no way Sonnen was backing up his.
But then something unexpected happened.
Sonnen came out and landed a hard jab early, wobbling Silva’s legs in the process. Then he stuck a double-leg takedown and pinned Silva against the fence exactly like he had told everyone he would.
Three dominant rounds later, Sonnen’s 15 minutes were all accounted for, but there he was. Still around.
“Chael talked a lot of smack and then he went out and backed it up,” said UFC President Dana White. “This is one of those fights where a lot of people were saying Chael Sonnen wouldn’t be able to do anything.
“Chael deserved to be here. He was two minutes away from winning the fight.”
However midway through the final round, a beat-up Anderson Silva proved why he’s considered one of the best in the world.
Looking to stay active so the referee wouldn’t stand him up, Sonnen (26-11-1) postured up from top position and threw a punch downward. In a second, Silva (27-4) saw an opportunity and caught Sonnen in a triangle choke.
With 2:10 remaining in the fight, Sonnen gave a slight, but undeniably genuine, tap of submission — a moment he says may haunt him the rest of his life.
“I’ll replay (that moment) constantly,” Sonnen said. “I’ve had competitions like this, and it’s one of those moments I’ll think about the rest of my life. I’ll go to bed at night and just can’t shake it.
“I can’t sugarcoat it. My heart is broken.”
Sonnen’s performance may have fallen short of his own expectations, but what he accomplished in the octagon Saturday falls nothing short of remarkable.
Even with Silva’s marketability at a perceived all-time low following a tantrum against Demian Maia in his last fight, Sonnen’s ability to promote turned UFC 117 into the highest grossing pay-per-view of Silva’s career.
“I didn’t know what to expect with Anderson after what happened in his last fight,” White said. “The trending tonight was insane. We think we did a really big number. It’s by far the best number (Silva) has ever done.”
That number will only rise in the next week as thousands more viewers will likely purchase the replay of the event on cable packages and websites.
Typically, a UFC replay can add somewhere around an additional 10 percent of the original buys to a pay-per-view number — but when fans catch word of Sonnen dominating one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world for 23 minutes, it could add more.
“Not only did he take him down, he did very well in the stand-up,” White said. “Anderson Silva overcame adversity and won the fight after he was put in very deep water.
“There’s no doubt about it, this was a legendary fight.”
Nearly as impressive as how well he handled Silva was simply Sonnen’s ability to back up the considerable amount of talking he did to build the fight.
In covering everything from accusing Silva of knowing how to speak English to a random shot at former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong, Sonnen brought a ton of attention to himself. And at the end of the day, he proved he could fight just as well as he talked.
In a matter of months, he turned himself from a poor substitute No. 1 contender for the injured Vitor Belfort into an immediate rematch candidate.
“We have to see how some things play out,” White said. “We’ll see what happens. I know Vitor is waiting right now. But I think it’s definitely a rematch fans want to see.”
Sonnen may not have won a world title Saturday, but he certainly bought himself an extension on those 15 minutes of fame.