(This story appeared in today’s print edition of USA TODAY.)
NEW YORK – There might not be an appropriate word for just how much of an underdog Chael Sonnen is to Jon Jones on Saturday.
It’s big enough that UFC Dana White believes a win by Sonnen (27-12-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC) over Jon Jones (17-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC), the UFC’s light heavyweight champion who’s widely considered the second best fighter in the world, would be the biggest upset in his company’s history.
Odds in Jones’ favor have exceeded 10-to-1, and even Sonnen acknowledges the almost otherworldly level Jones is at ahead of their UFC 159 main event at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (10 p.m. ET, pay-per-view).
“I’ve watched very little of his tapes because every time you watch Jon, he’s kicking somebody’s [butt],” Sonnen told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com on Thursday. “It wasn’t doing a lot for me. I would have far more compliments than I would have insults about him. But I’ve got my skills too. I’ve been at this a long time.”
Sonnen has had one of the biggest career resurgences in MMA history, going from middle-of-the-pack middleweight to superstar. In large part, it has been thanks to an ability to draw interest in fights with his talk. At his longtime home at middleweight, through two unsuccessful title fights with champ Anderson Silva, he was a near-constant sound bite.
The knock on him fighting Jones has been he talked his way into it, given he hasn’t fought at 205 pounds in nine years. Lately, though, his talk has been highly complimentary toward Jones, unlike what he ever had to say about Silva. Sonnen said it’s not gamesmanship, and he’s not trying to sell a fight in which he’s a heavy underdog.
“I just answer the questions. I don’t manufacture conflict,” he said. “I would never try to sell a fight. I’m not going to disparage a guy and create a fake animosity to try to get $50. This is what it is. This is a superfight, the two baddest dudes in the world in a steel cage until one of us has had enough. If that interests you, it’s Saturday night – and it’s only on pay-per-view.”
But there he goes – selling a fight, apparently by not selling a fight, using a dichotomy that may be like no other in the sport.
White said interest in the headliner has to do with people wanting to see if Sonnen can do what no one else has been able to do, given Jones’ utter dominance throughout his career.
“The question becomes, ‘Can Chael Sonnen do something?’” White said. “Jon Jones is in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. It shows me two things. One, he respects Chael Sonnen. And No. 2, if there’s anyone on Earth he doesn’t want to lose to, it’s Chael.”
And Sonnen believes he’s as ready as he’s ever been and that the one thing missing from his resume is a world title.
“You can’t retire without a world title. You can just quit,” he said. “I’ve never thought about quitting. I’ve never thought past this fight. … Everything’s on the line.”
For more on UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.