Let’s get the obvious out of the way first.
Chael Sonnen hasn’t earned a shot at Jon Jones and the light heavyweight title. He hasn’t fought at 205 pounds in half a decade, he’s gone 2-2 in his last four fights and he’s coming off a second-round TKO loss to Anderson Silva for the middleweight title.
Not exactly a resume that screams No. 1 contender.
Unfortunately for the fans that think a fighter’s accomplishments are the only things that should be considered when choosing a new contender for a UFC belt, Sonnen has one thing that the rest of the light heavyweight division does not: his mouth.
Sonnen may be the smartest fighter on the UFC roster when it comes to getting what he wants, and it’s obvious that what he wants is a UFC title.
The moment Sonnen made the move to light heavyweight, his verbal onslaught became fixed on Jon Jones. This was a brilliant move on Sonnen’s part because he’s so good at talking trash, it was clear that he would get his shot at Jones sooner rather than later.
When The Ultimate Fighter’s ratings started dramatically falling, the UFC needed a big time pairing to attempt to save the show, and there’s no better combination than Jones and Sonnen to draw in viewers.
Now Sonnen is right where he wants to be, next in line for a title shot with a huge paycheck on the way. But, even with 13 weeks of TUF to try and convince us, can the UFC really make us buy Sonnen as a true threat to take the belt?
The matchup with Jones is more than enough to cast doubt on Sonnen’s chances of winning a title at 205.
Sonnen’s chances at winning any fight depend almost completely on his ability to get his opponent on their back and grind them out, and that strategy is going to be nearly impossible to pull off against Jones. “Bones” has shown great takedown defense in his UFC career, and the fact that he is the bigger, and likely stronger, fighter is going to make him the hardest opponent to take down that Sonnen has ever competed against.
With Sonnen’s main asset taken away from him, all signs point to another successful title defense for Jones when the pair face off in April. After that, the road back to the title is going to be almost impossible for “The Gangster from West Linn, Oregon” to navigate.
Sonnen’s style worked great in the middleweight division, where most contenders lack in the wrestling department, but it’s going to be considerably tougher to utilize at light heavyweight. Guys like Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson all find themselves in or near the top ten of the division, and any one of those men would be a difficult opponent for Sonnen to fight due to their wrestling skills. Even Sonnen’s original opponent for his return to 205, Forrest Griffin, would have been a challenge for Sonnen to get to the mat based on his size alone.
And while Sonnen has been diligently working on his submission defense from the top position, he would have to consistently be worried about a submission attempt when he was trying to grind out Griffin.
The old saying is that there are no easy fights in the UFC, but even if that is true, there are definitely fights that are easier than others.
Sonnen’s dream is to become a UFC champion, and since it didn’t look like he was going to get near Anderson Silva again, it made sense to pack on the weight and make the move back up to 205. Yet, by moving up in weight, Sonnen suddenly becomes an average-sized fish in a pond full of killer whales.
He no longer has the size and strength advantages he had at middleweight, and he’ll have to depend on his technical wrestling skills to get the fight into his domain, which could lead him into trouble with other high-level wrestlers at light heavyweight.
Sonnen’s decision to move to 205 pounds was the only move if he wants to have a chance to win a belt, but in the end it probably won’t make a difference. Sonnen’s style just doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the light heavyweight division, and in the end, his move up in weight will likely result in a few more big paydays and little else.
Photo: Chael Sonnen (James Law/Heavy MMA)