Did Anderson Silva fight dirty at UFC 148?
The beginning of the end was vintage Anderson Silva, avoiding a ferocious jab and spinning elbow like a scene out of The Matrix.
Then came the flying knee to a grounded Sonnen.
The fight ended shortly thereafter.
Tracy Lee managed to catch the moment of impact. It had appeared to many to be to the face, an illegal attack on a downed opponent.
While the point of the knee clearly drove into Sonnen's chest, some part of the knee also appeared to connect with Sonnen's head, but perhaps without significant impact. However, in determining the legality of a strike, referees are instructed to assess the responsibility of BOTH parties.
For example, if a punch is thrown, and would have hit clean at the moment it was launched, but the defensive fighter turns and is thus hit on the back of the head, the blow is not illegal. That is the case here. When the knee was initiated, its path was to a legal target. To the extent that Sonnen was struck in the face, it is because he leaned into it.
Another factor is holding the fence. Under the Unified Rules, the hand can be placed on the fence, but the fingers cannot extend through, changing the play of the game. There is a degree of ambiguity on that score, with some observers seeing the fingers through the fence as steading Silva, and thus aiding the knee, while others see it only as being placed on the fence without the fingers reaching through to effect.
“You know, he got me with a good shot,” Sonnen told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan immediately after the fight. “I was on the ground and he got me with a good knee; other than that, I’m just going to have to look at the tape.”
Yves Lavigne, one of the best in the business, called the attack legal.
The controversial technique started at the weigh ins, where Silva, incensed by months of goading by Sonnen, shoulder bumped the Gangster from Oregon in the face.
Before the fight even began, Silva clearly wiped his hands over the legally applied grease on his face, and then wiped his chest, something he has done previously:
An alert Lavigne intervened, and towelled off Silva before the fight began.
The first round was a repeat of the first fight (sans Triangle), with Sonnen manhandling Silva, ending the round in full mount on the Brazilian black belt.
The second round was different. Silva landed to Sonnen's face, and the fight turned around abruptly.
However, the standing portion of the fight was marred by unfortunate tactics, including blatant holding of the shorts.
Tim Kennedy summed up the feelings of many, via Twitter.
"Wipe grease on your arms, grab your opponent shorts, and knee them in the face when they are down. That's how champions should act?"
Anderson Silva is the greatest pound for pound fighter in the sport, maybe ever.
After the fight was over he gave a magnanimous speech to the crowd, exhorting his countrymen not to boo, to show that Brazilians understand respect. He even gave Sonnen an invite to come over for a BBQ, putting months or harsh talk to needed rest.
But did Anderson Silva fight dirty at UFC 148?
And does it matter?