OAKLAND, Calif. — Chael Sonnen spent weeks telling everyone exactly what he was going to do when he fought Anderson Silva for the Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight title.
He still couldn’t wrestle the belt from the organization’s longest-reigning champion.
Silva locked in a triangle choke and forced Sonnen to tap out at the 3:10 mark of the fifth and final round in the main event of UFC 117 at Oracle Arena on Saturday night.
Sonnen executed his game plan to perfection. He was able to put Silva on his back early in each of the five rounds and hold top position through the vast majority of the fight.
The challenger battered Silva with a variety of punches, slaps and short elbows and looked to be well on his way to pulling off a major upset.
Silva, however, was able to free his legs and lock in a triangle. Sonnen reluctantly tapped, then acted as if he didn’t quit. The continued action angered Silva and his corner, but referee Josh Rosenthal was able to free the fighters from their positions and restore order.
Silva acknowledged it was far from his best performance.
“I knew I was losing the first four rounds,” he said. “Not to make excuses, but about a week and a half ago, I hurt my ribs. The doctors asked me not to fight, but for (the fans) and for the UFC, I came out to fight.”
Before the decisive maneuver, Silva had little success.
One of his few glimmers came at the start of the fourth round, when Silva landed several shots that staggered Sonnen. Silva then took Sonnen to the ground and appeared to be taking control, but Sonnen reversed the position and maintained control from the top for the rest of the round, just as he had in the first three.
“They gave me my opportunity and I came up short,” Sonnen said.
UFC president Dana White said it was the type of performance that could cement the champion’s legacy.
“The fight that happened tonight is the stuff that makes legends,” White said. “This guy went out and got roughed up and beat up and he found a way to win.”
As Silva retained his belt, two fighters put themselves in position to fight for titles with wins.
Junior dos Santos gained a unanimous decision over Las Vegan Roy Nelson and will next fight the winner of the Brock Lesnar-Cain Velasquez heavyweight championship bout, scheduled for October.
“I feel as if I’m ready for the title shot now,” dos Santos said through a translator. “For me, it doesn’t matter who I fight, I’ll be prepared to fight either of those guys.”
Nelson became the first UFC opponent to go the distance with dos Santos, but couldn’t mount enough offense to win. The Brazilian landed a barrage in the first round and Nelson was able to survive. Both fighters were clearly exhausted by the third round, but dos Santos was the more effective striker.
Jon Fitch probably secured another shot at the welterweight title, though his scenario isn’t as clear-cut. Fitch stuck to his wrestling roots and took down Thiago Alves repeatedly to score a unanimous decision. Fitch improved to 13-1 in the UFC, with the loss coming to champion Georges St. Pierre in 2008.
St. Pierre will defend the belt against Fitch’s friend and training partner, Josh Koscheck. Fitch has said he won’t fight Koscheck, so an upset in the title fight could present an interesting dilemma for the American Kickboxing Academy.
Fitch has won five straight fights, all by decision.
UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes submitted Ricardo Almeida in the first round after putting him to the ground with a left hook and following him to the ground. Hughes then locked in a choke from a front headlock, a seldom-seen hold in mixed martial arts.
Also, Clay Guida broke Rafael dos Anjos to tap out in the third round after breaking dos Anjos’s jaw early in the fight. Guida was leaning on dos Anjos against the cage, forcing him to submit because of the pain.
Dennis Hallman, Tim Boetsch and Phil Davis claimed decision victories on the undercard.
Rick Story and Johny Hendricks won by second-round knockouts, as did Stefan Struve, who was battered around in the first round before landing a big right hook to end the fight.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509.