Video…MMA fight between Anderson Silva & Chael Sonnen. What strategies were used? by Steve Kanney

You can find the fight with this link. Watch at minimum the minute marks in bold below:

You can get the background on the fight in the first 2 minutes. The fight is fairly long. You can get the feel of what was happening in the first 4 rounds of the fight with part of round 4 (this part is optional if you have time at 33-35 minutes). Then you can see round 5 from 36-41 minutes or so. It is also helpful to view the interviews starting at 42-43:30 minutes or so.

Then let us know what you think of the strategies used in your comments…




Article Name
Andersen Silva vs Chael Sonnen




6 responses to “Video…MMA fight between Anderson Silva & Chael Sonnen. What strategies were used? by Steve Kanney”

  1. Jason Avatar

    Ok – so I’ll take a shot. We’re talking about strategies according to Musashi here? Five Rings? I don’t watch a whole lot of “ultimate fighting,” however, I know who Anderson Silva is, I’ve seen him fight before, and from what I know ( or what I’ve seen and/or heard) he is probably the greatest fighter in the history of the sport.

    Having said that, my first inclination was that Silva was feigning weakness in an effort to draw in his opponent and submit him. The fact that it took 5 rounds in order to do that makes me think twice however. It would not only take an enormous amount of skill, stamina and conditioning in order to do that, but a massive ego and a willingness to gamble everything you’ve attained as champion. That not withstanding, it is a clear possibility.

    Sonnen, on the other hand, took a polar opposite approach. His strategy appeared to be a “hold down a pillow” approach. He did not let Silva up for a moment; he did not let Silva breathe for a moment; he was always on top of Silva, in his face, working him from all angles. I think we also saw “collapse” and “release four hands” from Sonnen, as well as “treading down the sword”.

    I’m pretty sure all fighters in every fight employ some degree of “injure the corners”. Work the head, work the upper body, work the legs – this is an overall good strategy. The head is the most notorious area of the body for producing knock outs, but if you bang on the liver often enough your opponent goes down. Similarly, you kick the knee often enough, your opponent goes down. We saw this strategy employed by both fighters here. They were each working numerous angles in order to defeat one another, attempting to weaken the other’s whole body to secure a win.

    I think the reason Silva won was a combination of strategies – “cause loss of balance” and “to pass on”. Anderson Silva was on his back, on the bottom, in the fifth round (likely having lost the previous 4 rounds), and was not in a very favorable position. His movements were not quick, they were not strong, it was almost as though he was not being aggressive. Yet, in a moment you see him quickly throw on some submission hold (“loss of balance”). Perhaps Silva sensed a weakness, sluggishness or other opportunity from Sonnen – and when he did he capitalized on it (“pass on”), allowing him to secure the victory.

    If Sonnen was “holding down the pillow” the entire fight why did Silva win?? Not an easy answer to come up with – maybe he was conditioned for four rounds not five, maybe he was tired, maybe he just got sloppy. Perhaps a combination and culmination of factors, and Silva being the opponent you cannot afford to do that with? Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you…?

    Did Silva just get lucky?? Absolutely not. It was his training that got him that far in the fight, his training that provided the conditioning and endurance, and also allowed him to see and capitalize on the opportunity to win.

    Was it Silva’s intention to feign weakness and draw in his opponent? I’m not sure – I’d love to know the answer to that. If so, I’d like to know why? Why that strategy, why with this opponent? I’m sure feigning weakness as a strategy has its place. It worked for Ali and Rocky and countless others. On the other hand the implications of feigning weakness, as I outlined above, could lead to potential disaster. One would think that the primary and simple strategy of “strike first, strike fast and strike hard” would be the “go to” principle in the play book – to smite your opponent so severely that his retaliation be of no concern (very Machiavellian).

    That seems to run contrary to the principles of Aikido though. Yes, most if not all of the movements and techniques we study require speed and position and timing. And require an almost intuitive knowledge of your opponents intention – ideally. Perhaps what we do as Aikidoka is ALWAYS draw our opponents in – pull them into our circle, our sphere, our centifugal force – much like a feigning of sorts, so that we may break their position (not them necessary), and gain the advantage and neutralize the threat.

    I doubt that’s what Anderson Silva was thinking about. But it’s an idea.

    1. steve Avatar

      “It would not only take an enormous amount of skill, stamina and conditioning in order to do that, but a massive ego and a willingness to gamble everything you’ve attained as champion”

      Why the massive ego? Okay, you are Silva. You are the champion. Life is over and it is time to meet your maker. He asks “what have you done with your life?” Silva answers “I won all these trophies.” Is anyone in that room impressed?

      So if Sonnen was holding down the pillow, how well was he holding it down in the fifth round when Silva took control? Looked to me like he left an opening you could drive a Mack truck through. If his strategy was to hold down the pillow, he wasn’t doing a very good job. If you watched a little of the pre-fight discussion, Sonnen clearly had some issues with overconfidence. Overconfidence is a clear misperception of yourself in relation to the world. The mind becomes disturbed and concentration is lost. He could not execute his strategy effectively with that disturbance because it would leave large gaps.

      I think Silva could have beat him with one of those openings much earlier on. But it looks like he did have in mind the question of what he was doing with his life and he decided to do something different than just win trophies. If you watch him earlier in the fight, he just lied on his back and rested most of it. He was very active in making sure he never got hit very hard, but did nothing offensive other than feign a few attempts at a counter. He fed overconfidence. He could have used his energy for offense, but chose not to. He simply waited until Sonnen just got really stupid so he could make him realize the size of the opening he created by being overconfident. Then when he meets his maker he can answer differently than that he just won a lot of trophies. He can say he did his best to help Sonnen realize that overconfidence is not the way…it does not work.

      BTW – Your strike fast strategy is “break maia.” We use this and every other strategy in Aikido.

      So look again at what you were saying and see what you think.

      1. Jason Avatar

        Yes – ego. If it was Anderson Silva’s plan to spend 5 rounds on his back – then at some point during the fifth round submit his opponent – that would take a massive ego. That would require an enormous amount of confidence in yourself and your abilities! If that were in fact his plan. I suppose that any tactic or manner of drawing your opponent in would assume that you’d have the ability and skill to handle your opponent once he’s drawn in… But with Silva, for me, it was the degree to which he was doing it – that is the reason for the ego part.

        I agree with the rest of your comments. I’m not sure I got the overconfidence thing from Sonnen, but then again I didn’t really watch the interviews or pre-fight stuff. I’ve seen Silva before – he is wildly talented and so remarkably good at what he does. I think he could’ve provided a much better fight than what actually occurred.

        My thought on strategy when it comes to fighting – whatever ends the fight the soonest with no injury to myself is what I’m going for – since training in Aikido, I will add “and without substantial harm or death to my opponent” to my strategy. I would assume that fighting in the UFC isn’t terribly different. I assume that Anderson Silva wants to go in and crush his opponent as soon as he can and with little or no injury on his part. And that didn’t appear to me to be what happened. Yes, I understand there is much more to professional fighting than that – but that would take me back to my earlier argument.

        I know that we want to strike first (although I’m not sure the rest of the world believes that about aikido), and I know that we want to strike fast and hard. I was thinking about that in relation to strategy in a UFC fight and thinking of the mantra of the Cobra Kai dojo in the Karate Kid – “strike first, strike hard, no mercy, sir”. That led me to the quote I threw in at the end, which actually is from Machiavelli. This is the same guy that said it is better to be feared than loved. I was saying that his thought – the thought that we should injure our opponents so that the thought of their vengence is of no concern – was not aligned with the principles of Aikido. Right?

        Lastly, I appreciated the dialogue between Silva and his maker…

        1. steve Avatar

          Let’s talk about what ego means. Confidence, on the other hand, is healthy as long as it is accurate. Normally ego refers to an idea of oneself, particularly the body, as a permanent fixed entity – “this is me.” It is a wrong idea.

          So are you saying that he is so enamored with what he has been able to do with his body in the past that he thinks he can just lie on his back for 5 rounds and still be able to pull off a victory. This is all based upon his incorrect idea that he is this body? And this worked? Normally, wrong ideas only get us into trouble; I fixate on my body when someone attacks me and I cannot perceive the attack. So the only way he could of pulled this off is with enormous luck. Sonnen must have been doing the same thing but much worse. It was crazy.

          Let me give you an alternative explanation. I mentioned the discussion he had with his maker for a reason. Silva may not have been overly concerned with whether he won or lost. His job was to get through the match without leting Sonnen to do material harm to him – good for Sonnen & good for him. He was accurate in his confidence that he could pull that off. Next on the agenda was to help Sonnen see his own weakness. He let it get nice and LARGE, note how foolish Sonnen looked right before he was countered. Then Silva struck so Sonnen could understand the cause of his loss.

          Silva did not need to end the fight immediately. He had control of Sonnen and simply let him go on. Fight or no fight was the same to him. If you get stuck on trying to end a fight fast, that will be your opening & a skillful opponent will nail you for that lack of patience.

          So Sonnen was doing Aikido. The focus is not on winning a trophy, but surviving and changing the heart of the attacker. Look how kind he was to Sonnen after the fight. It was what was best for Sonnen and not Silva. That’s why he waited so long.

          Your analysis of the actual strategy was very good. I think that is exactly what was going on. You just seem to have trouble understanding why anyone would do something like that. Martial arts training teaches precisely to love even your enemies and do the best you can to help them in the most important ways. Silva wanted to give Sonnen peace from the angst of overconfidence that was plaguing him, and he had to win the match to do so. Would this not explain why he did this?

          1. Jason Avatar

            I loved your explanation, Sensei! I really enjoyed the way you laid that out and think it’s well put. It is definitely way outside the scope of how I perceived the fight, but it is an outlook I can warm up to. You are absolutely correct that I had trouble understanding why someone would do what Silva did, and I’m not totally convinced that what you explained is what he did. I really enjoy the “helping your enemies” thing…it is a principle of Aikido training and philosphy. But Silva wasn’t in a street fight – he was being paid to fight as part of a sporting event. Sonnen wasn’t the enemy – he was his opponent in a contest of skill. I STILL have trouble understanding why Silva would do what he did in the fight – but I do understand your explanation. I don’t think I’ve thought of something quite like that before and I find it a really novel way of looking at an issue. Thanks Sensei.

            …but I think I do have one last question…how is what Silva did helping his enemy to realize his weakness and the cause of his loss, and not exploiting an enemies weakness to his own advantage??

  2. Jason Avatar

    WOW… it is fortuitous that I just read this while reading A Life In Aikido – a biography of O Sensei by Kisshomaru Ueshiba… understand that this is out of context… its a direct quote by O Sensei as transcribed by Hideo Takahashi…

    “It is for this that we always pray, avoiding conflict at all cost. For this reason, I prohibit competition in Aikido. However, the love which is part of Aikido actively seeks concord and peace. Thus, one should encompass the opponent with the energy of love; in this way, you can cleanse him.”

    O Sensei is discussing these exact same issues – loving your enemy, not being attached to winning or losing. What he was discussing here specifically was why there is no competition in Aikido. He was saying that he didn’t want the distraction of winning or losing to detract from the teachings.

    It’s all starting to come together…

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