It has been nearly two years since the middleweight belt came within two minutes of changing hands for the first time since 2006 at UFC 117. The five-round affair shocked both those in attendance and watching at home as the sport’s most dominant combatant looked vulnerable for the first time since joining the promotion. Come July 7, the same two men will meet in the main event of UFC 148 as Anderson Silva will once again put his belt on the line against Chael Sonnen.

The anticipation surrounding the rematch has reached a level of epic proportions for the entire MMA community. Sonnen has repeatedly attacked the champion with verbal warfare since the first fight, even though he was submitted via triangle choke. The onslaught has prompted the normally reserved Silva to return fire and threaten one of the most violent fights in MMA history.

Can Sonnen back up the years of trash talk and actually defeat the Brazilian? Will a healthy, motivated and disrespected Silva make short work of the challenger to send a statement to the rest of the division? Is it possible for the fight to live up to the hype?

All of this will be answered live on pay-per-view on Saturday night from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Silva will look to extend his UFC record of title defenses to double digits, while Sonnen hopes to capture gold for the first time under the Zuffa banner.

Let’s take a deeper look at the fight. And as a reminder, this is a side-by-side comparison of how the fighters’ skills matchup against one another.

Striking: Silva – 10, Sonnen – 6

Silva (R) knocks out Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 (James Law/Heavy MMA)

The most obvious reason Silva has dominated the sport for so long is his world-class striking ability. Silva’s lethal attack of Muay Thai, Taekwondo and boxing has propelled him to 18 victories by way of KO or TKO. His speed, timing and creativity have led to numerous highlight-reel finishes over the likes of Vitor Belfort (front kick), Forrest Griffin (counter jab) and Tony Fryklund (reverse elbow).

Sonnen’s striking skills are best described as adequate. In his 39-fight career, he has only one knockout, and of his six career TKO wins, none have come since 2007—before his return to Zuffa. Despite his lack of finishing ability on the feet, Sonnen is very effective in using his strikes to set up his takedowns. In the first fight with Silva, Sonnen’s wrestling actually opened up his striking. He was able to land a number of shots flush to Silva’s chin as the Brazilian expected Sonnen to shoot.

Although this is clearly where the champion has the edge, both fighters possess chins of granite. In almost 75 combined fights, neither has been knocked out. In fact, the only two defeats by strikes—both on Sonnen’s resume—came by way of TKO more than seven years ago.

The Clinch: Silva – 8, Sonnen – 8

Sonnen has weathered punishment before (Sherdog)

Depending on who you favor in this bout, you may have a very different opinion of this aspect of the fight. Both fighters utilize the clinch as part of their offensive attack, but in very contrasting manners.

One of the biggest reasons that Silva owns the 185-pound strap is his attacks from the Muay Thai clinch. Rich Franklin has twice had his face involuntarily rearranged by the Brazilian’s vicious knees. While the close quarters of the clinch might seem like a safe place against a flashy striker, Silva’s destruction with the plumb proves otherwise.

As a veteran wrestler, Sonnen uses the clinch for a much less dangerous purpose, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. From in close or against the fence, Sonnen grinds on his opponents and looks to get the fight to the ground. The most recent display of this came against Michael Bisping in his title eliminator bout. The Oregonian simply outworked Bisping along the fence and claimed a decision win.

Ground Game: Silva – 9, Sonnen – 4

Silva (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Sonnen may be a vaunted wrestler, but for all of the positional grappling skills he possesses, he equally lacks those skills in the submission department. The first fight was a perfect snapshot of this fact. Once Silva went for a submission in the fifth and final frame, Sonnen found himself tapping.

There aren’t many fighters who can claim the rank of black belt under the Nogueira brothers, but Silva is one of them. While his primary weapons may be on the feet, his long limbs give him a dangerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game as well. Although only a handful of his opponents have fallen into the “Spider’s” dangerous web, he has submitted two of the most decorated wrestlers in the sport in Sonnen and Dan Henderson.

If you believe what comes out of Sonnen’s mouth, you might think that Silva got lucky in their previous meeting. But the facts would tell you otherwise. Of Sonnen’s 11 career losses, eight have come by submission—including his last five defeats. For lack of a better analogy, submission defense is Sonnen’s Achilles’ heel. Even after spending the majority of the fight in the top position, he could not avoid the perils of Silva’s guard.

On the other side of things, Sonnen did submit Brian Stann in his first fight back after his suspension for elevated levels of testosterone at UFC 117. But that’s his only submission win—or finish—since 2007. Silva does have two submission losses on his record, but save for Ryo Chonan’s spectacular flying scissor heel hook in 2004, the Brazilian has not been tested in that regard in nearly a decade—even against noted grapplers Thales Leites and Demian Maia.

Wrestling: Silva – 6, Sonnen – 10

Sonnen (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

By now, it should be obvious as to why Silva hasn’t lost since joining the UFC. However, in the first meeting, Sonnen exploited a hole in Silva’s armor—takedown defense.

For anyone who has followed Silva’s UFC career, seeing him on his back time and time again came as a surprise. After all, the 37-year-old is credited with stuffing more than 80 percent of his opponents’ takedown attempts. Yet, against Sonnen, he had no answer.

As discussed, Sonnen may have deficiencies in a number of areas of MMA, but where he makes up for it is in the wrestling department. With a relentless attack and great positional control, the former All-American can smother opponents from bell to bell. Other than the aforementioned finish of Stann at UFC 136, all of Sonnen’s wins with the promotion have come by decision.

The first fight was largely decided by this aspect of bout and in all likelihood, the second installment won’t be any different. Sonnen wants this fight on the mat, with him in the top position, and Silva will have to do a better job of preventing that if he wants to avoid a repeat of the first 20 minutes of their initial encounter.

X-Factor

Silva celebrates victory (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Following UFC 117, there were two items that could have played a major factor in the way the fight went.

The first was Sonnen’s 16.9:1 testosterone to epitestosterone ratio which earned him a year-long suspension from the California State Athletic Commission. While Sonnen did receive a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) from the state of Nevada for UFC 148, his ratio must not exceed 6:1 this time around. Because the effects of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) are not well known for combat athletes, it’s hard to predict how much this will impact the fight.

Perhaps even more critical than Sonnen’s use of TRT is Silva’s health. The champion and his camp declared that the Brazilian stepped in the Octagon with injured ribs against Sonnen. They cited that as the reason for Silva’s uncharacteristic performance. Now healthy, it will be interesting to see if Silva fights the way that most have come to expect when he’s motivated.

Total: Silva – 33, Sonnen – 28

Verdict: This fight will come down to the same thing as the first fight: finishing ability. Sonnen has finished just 11 opponents in 39 fights—just a tick over 25 percent. Meanwhile, Silva has polished off nearly 70 percent of his bouts. Furthermore, a motivated Silva is a dangerous man, as so many have learned in the past. Sonnen may get a takedown or two, but Silva will eventually overwhelm the American with a brutal TKO stoppage in the third round to retain his belt.

Top Photo: Anderson Silva (L) submits Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 (Esther Lin/AOL)

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