By Raphael Garcia
The dejected look that adorned Chael Sonnen’s face after the main event of UFC 148 spoke more loudly than any of the vitriol that he sent toward the champion during the buildup of their fight. Not only was Sonnen defeated once again, he was dismissed in less than 10 minutes, becoming just another name on the list of fighters that Anderson Silva has dispatched from the cage. Though he is now forced to move on to the next chapter of his career and life without a middleweight title win, Sonnen still has a large amount of value to the sport of mixed martial arts, which he can continue to take advantage of for years to come.
The “loser leaves town” aspect of the main event may have been taken off the table, but Sonnen’s words post-fight make mention of him potentially moving onto another area.
“I got my chance, and then I got it again. I’m not going to ask for anything,” Sonnen said. “I’m grateful for it, but I will not hang around for one day to blend in. It’s either to be the world champ or I’ll move on and do something else.”
Hopefully, that "something else" becomes competition in the light heavyweight division. It’s well-documented that Sonnen is a very big middleweight, and his last two bouts have been plagued with last-minute weight cutting issues. This past Thursday he was 20 pounds over the 185 pound limit, and while he still made it, such drastic shedding and rehydrating has a long-term effect on a fighter’s abilities. If Sonnen were to reevaluate and move up one weight class, he can quickly place himself in the title hunt, especially since current champion Jon Jones has cut down the majority of the Top 10 opposition at 205. We’ve seen what Sonnen can do when it comes to selling a fight, and there’s no reason to doubt that he could recreate a form of that magic against Jones, or any other competitor he was matched against.
Think of the work that Sonnen could put in against fighters such as Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Rampage, or Ryan Bader. Not only would the buildup to these bouts be interesting enough, but the in-cage contrast would be something worth watching as well. Each of these bouts are winnable for Sonnen, and if he found a way to put together a string of 3 or 4 victories, you could bet that the UFC brass would love to have him back in the title picture, especially against a fresh opponent. The light heavyweight division would be a great way for the 35-year old to restart his career after his second failure to obtain the 185-pound title.
That brings up another topic regarding how valuable Sonnen has become to MMA. While his 27-12-1 record is far from the best in the sport, it will be interesting to see how Sonnen’s payout for this bout compares to some of those with better records. His ability to work in front of the microphone or the camera made UFC 148 a huge success that is expected to break viewing records. Early reports are that the UFC has set a new live gate attendance record in Las Vegas, and much of that can be attributed to the work Sonnen put in over the last two years.
That ability to create an intense interest in a bout is what much of the MMA community needs to learn from Sonnen. It doesn’t have to be in such an over the top manner, but if all fighters were able to create the same kind of their fights as Sonnen, imagine where the sport would be today. This is one of the main reasons why MMA athletes lag so far behind some of the bigger names in boxing when it comes to pay outs. The ability to sell a fight should be embraced in a sport such as mixed martial arts, instead of being shied away from. In a sport where you are placing your physical well-being in such harm’s way, Sonnen has repaved the path, to show fighters that their mouths and wits are just important as their hands and feet when it comes to earning the large payouts.
Chael Sonnen is a valuable commodity in the world of mixed martial arts. Love him or hate him, he’s a major reason why so many millions of people watched UFC 148 with a high level of anticipation. While the defeat came very harshly, hopefully we will have the opportunity to watch him contribute to the sport of MMA in the future.
July 9, 2012
By Raphael Garcia