Wanderlei Silva vs. Chael Sonnen to Headline Bellator 180 at Madison Square Garden

Fightland Blog

By Jake Hughes

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

Bellator clearly had big plans for 2017, given the calibre of fighters they have signed of late, including Rory MacDonald, Lorenz Larkin and, as of yesterday, one of the UFC’s few top-level light heavyweights in Ryan Bader.

The promotion’s 2017 campaign has had a further boost as the Associated Press broke the news that it will be holding Bellator 180, its second ever pay-per-view (PPV) show, at Madison Square Garden in New York City—its first foray into the Big Apple.

The long-awaited grudge match between Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen will be headlining this latest Bellator “tentpole” event, set to take place on June 24. No other match-ups have been announced as yet, but it looks like Bellator will be putting its eggs in one MSG-shaped basket.

"We always said that when we come to New York, we'll bring the biggest and the best fight card we've ever had in the history of this company,” Coker said in an official statement. “We're putting it together, and our roster is robust enough that we feel like it's time to get into the pay-per-view business, so here we go."

In a rather amusing turn, the UFC inadvertently promoted—no, heavily promoted—arguably Bellator’s biggest fight in its short history years ahead of yesterday’s announcement.

After years of trash talk between both men, both Silva and Sonnen competed against each other as coaches on season three of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. Their issues quickly boiled over as the pair infamously fought on the TUF Brazil set—a marketing tool later used by the UFC to promote this grudge match originally slated for UFC 173 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The fight was then scheduled to take place on The TUF: Brazil 3 finale card, before being rearranged for UFC 175 in July, 2014. However, the bout was cancelled altogether when Silva was adjudged to have deliberately skipped a random Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) drug test in addition to failing to submit an application to fight in the state—seeing plenty of money and strong marketing material going to waste for the UFC.

It was then arranged that Sonnen would face another Brazilian rival in Vitor Belfort instead, but the American failed the random drug test Silva skipped and another one shortly after—testing positive for presence of undisclosed human growth hormone (HGH), recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO), anastrozole, and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).

Though Sonnen had announced his retirement from competing in professional MMA upon his duo of failed drug tests at the time, the NAC banned him from competition for two years, while both the UFC and FOX Sports terminated his contract as a TV analyst.

Silva’s initial punishment was a lot more severe. The NAC, then led by tyrant Pat Lundvall, fined “The Axe Murderer” $70,000 in addition to handing him an absurdly-harsh lifetime ban from competing at their hearing. Fortunately for those sound of mind, state judge Kerry Earley overturned Silva’s lifetime ban in favour of a more reasonable three years.

Bellator 180 will see Silva compete in MMA competition for the first time since his ban. He was set to face Mirko Cro Cop in the Rizin FF Openweight Grand Prix in December, but pulled out of the fight citing injury. He did, however, appear in a bizarre two-on-two submission match under the Rizin banner, which saw him pitted against Kazushi Sakuraba once again.

While Silva clung on to his hopes of fighting again without mentioning the possibility of retirement, Sonnen announced his return to the sport following his seemingly-permanent hiatus from MMA on September 15, 2016, signing for Bellator. Sonnen made his Bellator debut in an underwhelming contest against UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz, losing via submission in the first round in controversial circumstances at Bellator 170 in January.

Neither fighter will be competing in their prime, but there’s no doubting this is a big fight which will grab headlines in the MMA world. Bellator is looking to position itself as direct competition to the UFC and will be utilising their opposition’s marketing machine against themselves in promoting the biggest fight in Bellator’s young history later this summer.


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