The on-again, off-again UFC middleweight championship rematch between long-reigning kingpin Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen is nearly a done deal, according to UFC president Dana White, who made the announcement on Wednesday in Calgary.
A formal announcement of a June event in Rio de Janeiro is expected to be made within the next week, sources told NBCSports.com.
White also confirmed that the event -- numbered UFC 147 -- will become only the second UFC show ever to take place in a stadium. Though he did not name the venue, it is expected to take place at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange, the home field of a national soccer team. Though White said the venue might pack as many as 80,000 fans, the stadium, nicknamed Engenhao, has a capacity of around 47,000 for soccer, a number likely to be increased by field-level seats to a more realistic number of around 55,000.
The final number could ultimately threaten the UFC’s single-event attendance mark, which came at Toronto’s Rogers Centre in April 2011, drawing 55,729 fans to UFC 129.
The Silva-Sonnen rematch is likely to captivate the nation’s fast-growing fan population. Within the last year, the UFC has sold out a pair of events in Rio de Janeiro, and Silva (31-4) has become a huge star in the national media, collecting sponsorships from Burger King and Nike and becoming a frequent presence on television.
The rivalry with Sonnen has fired up many of his fans, as the outspoken Oregonian challenger has repeatedly ripped into Silva for what he perceives to be an unwillingness to engage him again after their first fight saw him nearly upset Silva before losing in the fifth and final round by tapout. Sonnen was later suspended for failing a post-fight drug test, a fact Silva has reminded fans of repeatedly while saying he was “possessed by a demon.”
Their feud reached a fever pitch after Sonnen tore through Brian Stann at UFC 136 last October, then used his post-fight interview to call out the dominant champion.
“Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck,” he said then. “Super Bowl weekend, the biggest rematch in the history of the business. I'm calling you out Silva, but we're upping the stakes. I beat you, you leave the division. You beat me, I will leave the UFC forever."
That date came and went when injuries to Silva’s shoulder and back made him unavailable for the date. Instead, Sonnen fought Michael Bisping, defeating him by unanimous decision. Afterward, he said he doubted he would ever fight Silva, but it finally appears as though the bout will happen.
Silva has won 15 straight matches, including 14 in a row during his UFC tenure. It remains the longest streak in UFC history, and now Silva, who will turn 37 years old in April, will look to add to his own personal history, getting his biggest stage on his home turf against his most hated rival.
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
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