On May 19, WWE will hold its annual Extreme Rules pay-per-view event. The night will, like most of the WWE’s pay-per-views, see both of the company’s major titles on the line and, as the event’s title implies, other matches contested under a more “hardcore” rule set.

One of the night’s non-title affairs is a cage match between former champions Brock Lesnar and Triple H. Both of these men are considered legends among pro wrestling faithful, with Lesnar taking the industry by storm during the early part of the last decade and Triple H being a WWE mainstay since the mid-1990s, but because both men only perform part-time in 2013, it is unlikely that the result of the match will impact the company’s championship storylines. (It is pro wrestling, though, so theoretically anything could happen.)

Extreme Rules is not considered one of the WWE’s “major” pay-per-view events and typically does not attract the same number of viewers as, say, WrestleMania, which by name alone is worth a few hundred thousand buys. For this reason, the WWE must supplement the card with matches that might appeal to more casual fans through the inclusion of such famous figures as Lesnar and Triple H. Both of these men have seen their careers reach their apex, but they still have a promotional value to the WWE in terms of their ability to sell pay-per-views.

Over the years, the UFC has found itself with a number of fighters in a similar position to that of Lesnar and Triple H in the WWE. These fighters reach a significant level of popularity and often find themselves fighting for or holding a UFC title, but then time catches up with them and they’re ousted from the top 10. Nevertheless, the UFC retains these fighters on its roster because their big names help fill out cards that might not otherwise be as attractive to some fans.

Forrest Griffin is one tremendous example of this sort of UFC fighter. The winner of one of the most talked-about fights in the company’s history (The Ultimate Fighter Finale against Stephan Bonnar), Griffin battled his way into title contention with a surprise victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2007. He managed to take the title from then-champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in 2008 before dropping the belt in his next fight, a TKO loss to Rashad Evans. Griffin has gone 3-2 since his loss to Evans, but every one of his fights has not only been on the main card of a UFC pay-per-view, but also against similarly famous fighters (Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Rua again and Tito Ortiz twice). He’s currently on the shelf with an injury, but one can safely assume that his next fight will also be prominently featured on the card’s bill.

This group of non-contender draws, which also has included fighters like Ortiz, Franklin and Bonnar, will soon have a new member. Despite losing campaigns to capture both the middleweight and light heavyweight titles, Chael Sonnen intends to keep fighting in the UFC, and his aptitude for selling fights with his mouth coupled with his proven success against other elite UFC combatants will likely ensure his position on the company’s main cards until he retires.

Sonnen’s ascent to fame was an unlikely one which saw him rising from the middle of the 185-pound pack to earn a title shot with Silva in 2010. Before that fight, he was primarily known among UFC fans as a gritty grappler who mainly used wrestling to control his opponents en route to convincing decision victories. Few who follow the sport could have predicted that Sonnen’s fight with Silva—a fight in which he was the significant betting underdog—would serve as a launching pad to another stratosphere of stardom for the Oregonian.

Taking advantage of the fact that Silva’s previous two middleweight title defenses (against Demain Maia and Thales Leites, respectively) had been less-than-entertaining affairs, Sonnen crafted a character who was hell-bent on throwing “The Spider” off his game. Never before had a UFC fighter approached a bout with Silva with such brash confidence, and when Sonnen was able to back up his mouth by putting Silva on the mat for most of their UFC 117 fight, a lot of people actually thought he might pull of the impossible.

Silva ended up submitting Sonnen in the fight’s closing minutes, but that didn’t stop Sonnen from continuing to talk trash about the champion. Two victories later and Sonnen got a second chance at Silva. The rematch would not be so closely contested, as Silva finished Sonnen by TKO in the second round, but even that would not shut Sonnen up. Eventually, Sonnen’s ability to hype UFC fights (along with his previous Octagon successes) would earn him another title shot, this time in the light heavyweight division against champion Jon Jones. The two would trade barbs as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter before meeting in the cage just a few weeks ago, where Jones finished Sonnen in the first round.

Sonnen’s days of chasing a UFC title are likely over, but the last few years have proven that he is a valuable promotional commodity that the company can continue to use to bolster its events. Next, Sonnen is reportedly chasing a light heavyweight fight with Wanderlei Silva—another fighter who falls into the non-contender-draw category with Sonnen, Griffin and the rest—which the UFC might consider for a main-card slot during the promotion’s debut on Fox Sports 1. While neither fighter will be contending for Jones’ title anytime soon, both remain tremendous draws and would fit in perfectly as a featured attraction, if not as the night’s co-main event showdown.

The UFC on Fox Sports 1 debut (UFC on Fox Sports 1 1?) will almost certainly be headlined by a title contest, as has been the promotion’s habit for major shows, but the inclusion of Sonnen/Wanderlei Silva, while not yet official, would definitely serve to the company’s advantage. Sonnen’s ability to drum up interest in his fights with his mouth is second-to-none among the UFC’s main draws, and a bout against someone outside the pound-for-pound top five for a change will determine whether his physical skills match his rhetorical ones. If they do, Sonnen will likely remain a fixture on the UFC’s main-card programming for years to come, joining the Forrest Griffins and Rich Franklins of the sport in the unique position of non-contenders who nevertheless continue to draw.

Photo: Chael Sonnen (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.