Silva-Sonnen: If you missed it, you missed out

ONE of the joys of writing this column is the ability to share with you, and thus hopefully spark an interest in, sports which toil out of the radiant glare of the mainstream spotlight.

Regular readers - if there are any, you’re all going to heaven - will know that one of my cause celebres in this area is the often misunderstood, always controversial and utterly thrilling sport of mixed martial arts (MMA).

And MMA once again gave me reason to rejoice and the urge to evangelise this past weekend, with one of the single best pieces of sport that I have seen all year, rivalling even Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador’s epic battle on the slopes of the Col du Tourmalet in July’s Tour de France.

As with much of great sporting theatre, its undeniable greatness was thoroughly unexpected.

UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, unbeaten and largely untested in eleven octagon visits and widely recognised as the greatest fighter on the face of God’s green, was supposed to walk right through cocky, confident and loquacious challenger Chael Sonnen.

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But Sonnen, who had spent the last few months verbally abusing Silva at every opportunity, was having none of it.

First shocking a rabid crowd in Oakland by wobbling Silva with a punch - there was an audible collective gasp as Silva briefly lost his sense of equilibrium for the first time in years - Sonnen spent the next four rounds dumping his foe on the floor and beating him up.

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I should point out here that Anderson Silva, in all the years he’s been fighting, has never been ‘beaten up’. He’s lost, sure, but no-one has ever done what Sonnen did to him - make him look utterly helpless, amateurish even. It wasn’t meant to be possible.

And thus I, along with my better half The Angry Blonde and millions of MMA fans around the world, looked on in amazement, mouths hanging open and brain boggling at the sheer implausibility of what we were watching.

Fight forums and Twitter went into overdrive - the great Anderson Silva was about to lose, this was to be MMA’s Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas, an earth-shattering shock of pant-wetting proportion.

Unfortunately for Sonnen, UFC title fights are five rounds long. As he pressed to claim a stoppage victory, fists and elbows reigning down on a seemingly beaten Silva, the champion did what champions do - he found a way to win.

With less than two minutes left in the battle, ‘The Spider’ suddenly exploded in a last ditch bid to keep his belt, wrapping his long legs around the left arm, shoulder and neck of the ultra-aggressive American in a jiu-jitsu move known as the triangle.

In seconds, Sonnen slipped from the brink of victory to the brink of consciousness. His oxygen supply cut off, the brave challenger was forced to tap once on Silva’s thigh, meek recognition that somehow he had come up short in a fight that he won almost every single second of.

The crowd exploded, I almost fell off my sofa and another chapter was duly etched into Silva’s legend. It was a privilege to watch, a battle of such breathless intensity that sweat and blood practically dripped from the TV screen.

I know football is de rigueur at the moment, what with the return of our national game - but never forget that there’s a bounty of other sports out there just waiting to be discovered.

- Let me know what you think on e-mail at or on Twitter at mark__heath

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