Silva vs. Sonnen and Five of the Greatest Rivalries in MMA History

June 29, 2012
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Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen in Brazil
There have undoubtedly been some famous and infamous rivalries in mixed martial arts history, but none may top the main event at UFC 148.

Anderson Silva is arguably the greatest mixed martial artist the sport has ever seen, but much like Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier in boxing, he’s found his most heated rival in Chael Sonnen.

The two middleweights have become synonymous with one another ever since Sonnen first called the champion out when appearing on MMAWeekly Radio in January 2010 and the following two years have been nothing short of epic in terms of rivalries in MMA.

For most of the last two years, Sonnen went unopposed as he routinely bashed, poked and prodded at the UFC’s top middleweight. Even when Sonnen was defeated by Silva in their original fight at UFC 117, the fire wasn’t extinguished.

If anything the flames only burned hotter.

That was until Monday when Anderson Silva joined the UFC 148 media conference call and unloaded two years worth of frustration and vented with the brunt of his attacks landing squarely on the shoulders of one Chael P. Sonnen.

The heated confrontation over the phone led to the obvious question for UFC president Dana White: is this the greatest rivalry the UFC or MMA has ever seen?

“Yep,” White responded. “There’s been some bad ones. You had Rampage and Rashad, and things like that, but I think what makes this one so crazy is I’ve promoted every Anderson Silva fight in the UFC, and I’ve never heard him talk even remotely close like this.

“He usually doesn’t say anything negative, disrespectful; I’ve never heard Anderson Silva talk like this.”

From a direct translation of Silva’s Portuguese into English, the champion’s words were even more venomous than originally spoken by his manager Ed Soares on the conference call.

“This dude is a criminal! He’s the scum of our sport. This dude doesn’t deserve to be in the UFC. He he’s a guy who had problems with the law in America. A guy who got caught on doping. A guy that doesn’t respect anything. This dude is an imbecile! And on the 7th of July I’m gonna break his entire face and all his teeth. I’m gonna rip all his teeth out of his mouth,” Silva said.

“Listen, from the bottom, the top, the side, on our feet… I’m going to beat him again. This time he’s gonna get beat up! Beat up! The small talk is over. When we get inside the cage, he’s gonna swallow every one of his teeth. I’m gonna rip tooth from tooth from his mouth. Every one of them! After I finish, a lot of people are going to be scared about the path that our sport is going to take. I’m dedicated, focused, prepared and, most of all, on a mission to make something that anybody did before at the UFC: break every single bone of Sonnen’s body. He’s gonna walk out with his face broken, arms broken, legs broken. I’m gonna break him up entirely. He’s listening. He’s gonna get his ass kicked. He’s gonna get a beatdown. He’ll need a stretcher to get out from the Octagon!”

Needless to say very strong words from the champion, but if Silva vs. Sonnen is the greatest rivalry in MMA history, what are some of the other epic fights that define the sport?

Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz

These former champions battled it out on two separate occasions and while Liddell came out on top in both, his name will always be attached to Ortiz’s when it comes to their final legacies in the sport.
Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz at UFC 66
Former training partners and friends according to Ortiz, it took years to finally get the two of them in the cage, but at UFC 47 when it finally happened, it was a magical moment in UFC history. It’s rare that either can go an entire interview without the other’s name being mentioned. If there were a Hatfields and McCoys level feud in the annals of UFC history it’s Liddell vs. Ortiz.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva

During his incredible run as Pride middleweight champion, Wanderlei Silva wasn’t only the most dominant fighter, but probably the most feared fighter in the world. One fighter who wasn’t afraid of him however was brash American Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.

Jackson and Silva had more than one altercation that involved a verbal tirade by one of them or the other, and on a couple of occasions it became physical as well. In the Pride days, Silva destroyed Jackson in both of their fights, but not to be outdone, Rampage got his revenge when the two fighters met for a third time in the UFC.

No image was stronger, however, than when Silva and Rampage met for the second time in Pride and after a barrage of knees to the head from the Brazilian, Jackson literally fell, knocked out, through the ropes to signify the end of the fight.

Tito Ortiz vs. The Lion’s Den

Before the UFC was even under the ownership of Zuffa, Tito Ortiz was already in the business of creating some of the greatest rivalries the sport has ever known. Ortiz was the face of the UFC, but more importantly he was happy to also be the loudest mouth inside and outside the Octagon.

Ortiz picked fights with everybody from the legendary Lion’s Den training camp. From Guy Mezger to Jerry Bohlander to team leader Ken Shamrock, Ortiz was unrelenting in his attacks towards the fight team.

It all came to an end after Ortiz brutally finished Ken Shamrock in back-to-back fights, but this was a story that carried on for years and years, and still probably hasn’t completely expired today.

Matt Hughes vs. Matt Serra

He may go down as one of the greatest champions in UFC history, but Matt Hughes never met someone with as much verbal venom as he did when he engaged Matt Serra.

Serra was no fan of the former welterweight champion and even before the two fighters met as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter, the Long Island fighter routinely attacked Hughes whenever the chance arose.

While they only met once in the Octagon, with Hughes coming out on top, it’s a rivalry that will always be remembered and could probably be refueled given the right ignition.

Rashad Evans vs. Jon Jones

A more recent entry into the greatest rivalries of MMA history, but these two former teammates were truly a story only Hollywood should write.

Jon Jones and Rashad Evans at the UFC 145 weigh-insEvans was the elder statesman at Team Greg Jackson when a young, talented kid named Jon Jones came strolling through the doors. At the time, Evans was top dog in the division and also in the gym, but just about everybody took notice at Jones when he started fighting under the same team and coaches.

Fast forward more than a year later, and Evans had exited the team amidst a swirl of controversy and falling out with coach Greg Jackson and the two fighters were headed for a collision course with the UFC light heavyweight title up for grabs. Jones came out on top, but there will always be an uneasy tension between these two great fighters.

There are several other honorable mentions like Rashad Evans vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and B.J. Penn vs. Georges St-Pierre, but for now it appears Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen have claimed the top spot.


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  • adam1848

    A great rivalry should bring out the best in both athletes. I don’t think I ever saw Chuck look as good as when he was putting a whooping on Tito. Rampage looked like a different fighter altogether when he KOed Wandi. Tito had his best fights against Ken. I guess it remains to be seen, but I feel like Chael and Anderson just bring out the worst in each other. Yes I’m excited for this fight, but mostly just so A) Anderson can shut Chael’s mouth once and for all or B) Chael can prove his wrestling is the antidote to Anderson’s striking. I’m sick of the trash talking; I’m sick of the hype; and I honestly hope one or both guys retire after this fight because I think this “rivalry” that Chael manufactured reflects poorly on the UFC and MMA in general.

    • http://www.twitter.com/uncanny390 uncanny390

      I see Silva winning this fight and afterwards I dont really see what Sonnnen will be able to do with his career.

      • adam1848

        Silva has said for a while he wanted to retire around 35, now he’s what, 36? After he beats Chael (which I agree he will do) I don’t think he has anything left to prove, and I hope he bows out as the best fighter up to this point in this sports history. (Bones might some day be considered better, but it will be a couple years before that argument holds water). Although I personally detest Chael as an athlete and human being, his wrestling and chin are undeniably great. If Anderson retires, I don’t think this is the last time we will see Chael in a 5 rounder… unfortunately.

  • b-soc

    I personally would have thrown the golden original in……….the Shamrocks vs. Gracies or even Saku vs. Gracies.

  • CrazyDreams

    Sooo….. an all-time list of MMA’s greatest rivalries and you’ve got Rashad Evans vs Jon Jones ahead of Sakuraba vs The Gracies? I think that is absolutely terrible.

  • Triggerman99

    Serra and Hughes should not be in there. There was no pre-existing rivaly before the TUF comeback season, and even that portion of it was pretty mild as far as a direct rivalry with each other. Not to mention they only fought once, and also not to mention that neither one of them was the top dog at that point in time in most people’s eyes, as is the case for most of the other significant rivalries.

    There have been much bigger, better rivalries than this one. I’d even put Mir and Lesnar ahead of Hughes and Serra.