By Mick Hammond, MMAWeekly.com
Rematches are much like movie sequels. Most elements of the original remain, but for the most part there are slight changes made in hopes of outdoing the original but remaining close to its formula. Most often than not the second time around is less successful than the original, but in the case of Ricardo Arona and Wanderlei Silva’s rematch for the Pride Middleweight Championship at Shockwave 2005, the sequel should outdo the original.
When these two fighters first met each other at Final Conflict 2005, there was quite a buzz in the air. At the time both were considered two of the best middleweight fighters in the world. One was the reigning World Champion and the other was long considered possibly the greatest threat to that title.
So when they squared off, it would be finally the bout that many had thought that would have happened in the years leading up to the match. Arona in particular would relish the match-up. Having been close on numerous occasions to the number one contender status, but never quite achieving it, this would be his chance to finally get Silva in the ring.
Since entering Pride, Arona had fought well against some of the best 205lb fighters in the company. But it seemed for every step forward he took, he took two back and missed opportunities to get into title contention. It was a strange place for a fighter that had dominated in the beginning of his career.
Having started in Rings in 2000, Arona had won all but one of his bouts for the company en route to the Rings Middleweight Championship in 2001. Along the way he defeated such tough fighters as Jeremy Horn (twice) and Gustavo “Ximu” Machado, with the only loss coming to future Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko. So heading into Pride there were very high expectations for Ricardo.
After winning his first three bouts, beating veterans Guy Mezger, Dan Henderson and the rival Chute Boxe Academy’s Murilo “Ninja” Rua, it looked like Arona was setting himself firmly in contention for a title shot against Wanderlei Silva. An opportunity to get that shot presented itself with the 2003 Pride Middleweight GP, but Arona was forced out of the tournament due to injury and illness.
Returning the next year, Ricardo’s claim to the number one contendership would be placed on the line in a match with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson at Critical Countdown 2004. In a fight that Arona had appeared to be winning, Ricardo went for the win when he secured a tight triangle choke on Jackson late into the first round.
Jackson countered however with a tremendous powerbomb slam, rendering Ricardo unconscience. After the fight was over it looked as if there was some question to whether the slam or an inadvertent headbutt at the end of the slam caused Arona to be KO’d. With the referee’s ruling already final, there would be no petitioning and Arona lost his shot at Silva.
With the advent of the 2005 Middleweight GP, Arona would once again get his shot, and this time he took it. After dispatching Dean Lister and Kazushi Sakuraba, Ricardo would finally get Wanderlei in the ring at Final Conflict 2005 in the semi-finals.
With a birth in the finals looming overhead, Arona pressed the action and completely smothered the aggressive assault of Silva. After two rounds it was clear that Ricardo had won the bout and the judges agreed. Arona had bested Silva, but being part of the tournament the title was not on the line.
Ricardo would lose in the finals to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, but the damage was done. Arona had defeated the once undeniable king of the middleweights in Pride and proved that Silva was indeed vulnerable within the division. So with that victory came Silva’s desire for redemption, thus after years of being close to the title shot, Ricardo finally has it at Shockwave 2005.
Heading his bout against Ricardo Arona at Final Conflict 2005, Wanderlei Silva was on top the MMA world. He had gone undefeated in the middleweight division for five long years, a feat unmatched in the history of the sport. It had been a position in stark contrast to the inconsistent early years of his career.
After staring out on the Brazilian Vale Tudo circuit in the late 90’s, Silva’s striking had made him a feared enough opponent to warrant an invite by the UFC to face off against their reigning phenom, Vitor Belfort at UFC: Ultimate Brazil. Going into the match it seemed like it could be a toe-to-toe slugfest. But in reality it was over before it started as Belfort blitzed Silva, pushing him back to the cage in a hailstorm of punches, forcing the referee to stop the action just 44 seconds in.
The embarrassing loss to Belfort forced Wanderlei to reassess his style and when Silva reemerged a couple months later for a Vale Tudo event, it was clear that Silva was not going to let that happen again. Wanderlei stormed through his next three opponents in just under four minute’s total time. It looked like he was ready to take the next step.
Two average performances against lessor opponents at Pride 7 and 8 had people wondering if Silva had lost focus. But after a strong win, Wanderlei was invited back to the UFC to face off against Tito Ortiz for what would become the company’s 205lb Championship at Ultimate Japan 3.
After five rounds it was clear again that Silva could not step up against one of the rising talents in the UFC, as Ortiz took the belt in a unanimous decision. Wanderlei would not compete again for the UFC and instead go to Japan and Pride to regain the momentum he had building up prior to the loss to Ortiz.
Again as he had after his loss to Belfort, Silva became a man possessed, storming through every opponent on way to defeating Kazushi Sakuraba for Pride’s first Middleweight Championship in late 2001. From there Wanderlei never looked back, going undefeated in the division, only losing a hotly contested split decision out of his weightclass to heavyweight Mark Hunt at Shockwave 2004.
Going into this year’s Middleweight GP, Silva was the favorite to defend the tournament title he had won in 2003. This time against a larger field, Silva made his way through Hidehiko Yoshida and his student Kazuhiro Nakamura to make it to the semi-finals against Arona at Final Conflict 2005.
For the first time in years though the lethargic Silva reappeared as Wanderlei couldn’t apply himself against Arona and lost a clear unanimous decision. While the tournament win of teammate Mauricio Rua would help ease the pain, Silva fell under criticism for the first time in years. Thus Silva’s desire for a rematch at Shockwave 2005 against Arona to prove that he is still the most dominant middleweight in the world.
Admittedly while Arona looks to use much the same strategy he did in the first match, Silva’s strategy must change. He cannot allow Ricardo to dominate position and keep him pinned to the ground where Arona is the strongest. With somewhat questionable wrestling skills, Silva must keep Arona off him the best way he can, with aggressive striking. The Brazilian buzzsaw style that Silva employed in years of dominance must again reemerge if he wishes to win this fight.
For Ricardo he must do as he did in the first, stay away from exchanging strikes, where Silva is the better, and work the fight the way to the ground. While Silva possesses some of the best submission defense around, he can be held down as Arona proved in their last match. With Wanderlei looking to prove himself in this bout he most likely will be more aggressive, and with aggressiveness comes mistakes. If Ricardo can take advantage of these mistakes, he’ll once again be the victor.
For Pride this match is very much the compass to where the middleweight division is heading next year. If Silva wins, he will look to continue to defend his title throughout the year while the Heavyweight GP goes on. If Arona wins, it could present an opportunity for Shogun Rua to take his last step in becoming the division’s next great fighter should he get past Ricardo.
For the fighters involved this is as much a matter of personal pride as anything else. Silva is looking to redeem himself and silence the critics who say this may be the beginning to the last run in his career. Ricardo on the other hand is looking to prove the first time was no fluke and that it is he, not Shogun that is the future of the middleweight division.
Either way the fight goes, this will be exciting not because it has to be, but because it will be. Two hated rivals meeting to settle their previous score, this time with the higher stakes of a Championship and Japanese TV ratings on the line. Arona and Silva both know what’s at stake in this fight, and for once the hype of the sequel should deliver and outdo the original in every facet.