Silva, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight champion, is now by universal consensus both the best pound-for-pound Mixed Martial Artist of today, he's also the best ever.
Unfortunately his amazing abilities and incredible performances haven't translated into commercial success for Silva. He has stubbornly refused to become a draw for American fans. His last showing was yet another poor performance for the Brazilian champ. According to Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer (subscription required), the event had less than 300,000 buys. That's down 15% from UFC 133 featuring a non-title bout as a headliner.
There's one exception to Silva's underperforming however, and that's when he's facing a credible threat who's also a compelling personality. It was true against Vitor Belfort, the Brazilian celebrity and decade-long UFC legend. Silva vs. Belfort. That fight sold over 700,00 pay-per-views and made Silva a household name in Brazil.
Unfortunately for business -- the fight business always loves a rematch -- Silva wiped the floor with Belfort and killed any interest in a rematch for the foreseeable future.
That leaves only one middle-weight contender who meets the criteria to make Silva a success for the UFC. That man is Chael Sonnen. Yes, the infamous convicted felon, money launderer, documented serial liar, and self-promoter par excellence.
Sonnen helped Silva sell over 650,000 pay-per-views last August at UFC 117. Even better he gave Silva the scare of his career. Though Silva would later claim a rib injury slowed him down that night, Sonnen looked like the completely dominant fighter for 4 and 1/2 rounds. Unfortunately for Sonnen, there are five rounds in a UFC championship fight and Silva tapped him out at the very end via triangle choke.
Not only did Sonnen tease out Silva's championship heart and will to a level no other opponent has done in years, he looked great in the process. He dominated Silva on the feet with crisp boxing that he quickly capitalized on for slick take downs. On the ground he stayed out of trouble for the most part while battering Silva like a steady rain on a parking lot.
That is until the very end when he got himself into a triangle choke/armbar combination that Silva was not about to let go. Things got worse for Chael from there. He failed a drug test after the fight for using Testosterone Replacement Therapy without proper clearance from the California State Athletic Commission and had to serve a year's suspension.
He dodged another bullet when he avoided jail time on a guilty plea to federal fraud and money laundering charges. So far the felony conviction hasn't prevented him from getting a license to fight.
He very nearly got himself suspended indefinitely by the CSAC for a variety of extremely dubious statments at a CSAC hearing, but a technicality in the state's laws forced the commission to end his suspension at the termination of the original one-year period.
That fight could either be the ugly end of Anderson Silva's title reign, or Silva's crowning achievement as a middleweight. If Sonnen wins, particularly if he dominates Silva again, it would mark the end of Silva's reign as champ and the best in the sport.
If Silva wins, he'll have banished the personal boogeyman that is Sonnen.
Either way the fight could be huge business for the UFC.
Here's hoping Chael Sonnen beats Brian Stann soundly so we can get on with the rematch that fans have wanted badly since last August.