With years of anticipation, the Bellator NYC main event between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva was set up to be a disappointment.
It was the first fight since 2013 for the 40-year-old Silva, and just the second for Sonnen, also 40, since returning to the cage earlier this year.
But on a strange night that delivered many surprises, fans got one more with a fairly exciting main event that kept the Madison Square Garden crowd engaged into the early hours of Sunday.
Sonnen picked up the victory, defeating Silva via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27x2) with a strong top game and few mistakes.
“It was a really hard fight, I felt like I dominated position on him,” Sonnen said. “He would never give up in positions.”
"Every time the going got tough, he got going."
Sonnen came out strong and brought the fight to the ground early in the first round, landing elbows and punches from the top and cutting Silva open. Sonnen postured and landed some heavy blows, but wasn’t able to pass Silva’s guard. Once Silva was back on his feet, he landed a heavy punch that sent Sonnen down, but he couldn’t keep him there as Sonnen finished the round on top.
Both men came out swinging in the second with Sonnen landing some stiff jabs, but Silva was able to grab a neck and take the fight to the ground, where both men lay motionless in a stalemate for over a minute. When referee John McCarthy stood them up, Sonnen took the fight down again, but was in a better position to land strikes on the ground and went to work.
Silva threw a few hands to start the third round, but Sonnen was back on top before long working his ground-and-pound. He eventually stated looking for submissions, working an arm here and there, but Silva wouldn’t give in. Sonnen continued to ride out the round on top, chaining submission attempts and punches until the bell to secure victory.
With his first victory since 2013, Sonnen acknowledged the pressure he was under to come out with a win.
“You never know when you’re done with the business, but one day the business will be done with you.” Sonnen said. “If you’re not winning, you don’t belong on top and that’s the reality.”
The fight was the culmination of a long-simmering feud between the two, but it doesn't seem the bad feelings have gone away.
“He even pushed me after the fight, I don’t know what he was upset about.” Sonnen said. “We just don’t get along. There’s just going to be tension.”