by Jerry Perzigian
In sports, to make a name for yourself, you gotta kick ass. You gotta win, whether you’re a low-post defender knocking a ballsy two-guard into next week, a power-hitting DH ripping the cover off a hanging slider, or Rex Ryan cursing like a drunken sailor on “Hard Knocks.”
Two upcoming mega events—UFC 148: Silva vs Sonnen II in Las Vegas on Satuday and the MLB All-Star Game in Kansas City on Tuesday—promise to offer all of the above with massive entertainment value courtesy of larger-than-life competitors.
Let’s start with the fight.
The UFC delivers fans an epic grudge-match when Brazil’s Anderson “The Spider” Silva takes on Chael “The American Gangster” Sonnen. They danced before—remember UFC 117, August, 2010? Silva eked that one out with a last-minute armbar, but he took an unforgettable pounding, absorbing more hits in that one fight than he’d previously endured in his entire UFC career. For four and a half rounds, Sonnen dominated before Silva managed to force an in-the-nick-of-time submission. You think that memory isn’t chewing at Sonnen’s stomach lining? He’s been dreaming of a rematch for only about…oh, the last 24 months. Sonnen has called Silva a “wuss,” a “mannequin,” a “scumbag” and a “coward.”
According to Silva, Sonnen has insulted his wife and his country.
Normally reserved outside the ring, "The Spider" has cracked. And made a promise.
"I'll make sure that every one of [Sonnen’s] teeth are broken, his arms are broke, his legs are broke. He’s not gonna be able to walk out of the Octagon by himself, I can guarantee that.”
In other words—when superstars collide, how can you not like what happens?
Speaking of superstars colliding...
They might talk as much (or as nasty) in Major League Baseball and the setting is a diamond, not an octagon, but Josh Hamilton, Buster Posey, Robinson Cano, et al, will be just as intense. Just ask the champions of the last three World Series, who, by winning that season’s All-Star Game, got their Series victories jump-started with guaranteed home-field advantage. That advantage, instituted in 2003, means every All-Star now comes to the game with extra incentive to beat the crap out of the opposition. Simply put, baseball’s All-Star competition isn't merely a showcase—it's Silva-vs.-Sonnen, in spikes.
Seriously, this year’s AL vs. NL assault will feature central characters no less fired up than Anderson or Chael. They just show it differently. Let’s make a couple of comparisons: Silva with the American League’s starting shortstop, Derek Jeter, and Sonnen with National League All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun.
Jeter and Silva are of remarkably similar builds, only a year apart in age. They're consummate professionals, enduring icons, consistent standouts, adored with a Timberlake/Bieber-like fervor by their fans… and with far more “hits”. Chicks dig ‘em, guys respect ‘em, and I bet fathers wouldn’t mind if their daughters brought ‘em home.
Sonnen and Braun are also accomplished, but have not—at least not yet—reached the Jeter/Silva stratosphere. Both boast outstanding college careers, not just athletically (Sonnen was a Division I All-American wrester at Oregon, Braun was an All-American twice at Miami), but also academically (Chael holds a sociology degree, Ryan attended Miami on a 3/4 academic scholarship).
They've distinguished themselves as pros, but are considered renegades who still have more than a little to prove. And they know it. Playing in Milwaukee, not exactly America’s glamour capital, Braun is working hard to lift the dark cloud of last season and affirm the legitimacy of his 2011 M.V.P. award while proving that he is, always was and always will be pharma-free. And Sonnen, far from being satisfied with his ranking as middleweight number two, has put the UFC —in particular Anderson Silva—on notice that he will win this belt or retire.
So there will be a lot going on in this week’s competition beyond just the physical. How will it all play out? Who’s gonna prevail—the icon who’s already reached his profession’s zenith and hung in at the pinnacle enduringly and outstandingly? Or the frustrated striver who’s hungry for the top-spot and burns to prove he deserves to take it over?
It’s like a litmus test—which one you like, which one you’re rooting for will tell you as much about yourself as about the athlete.
And in terms of fan appreciation, let’s face it—either way you win.
Watch UFC 148 on PPV this Saturday at 10/7p ET/PT and the MLB All-Star Game this Tuesday, July 10 at 7:30/4:30p ET/PT