chael-sonnen-45.jpg(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

These days, Chael Sonnen has UFC middleweights and light heavyweights alike lining up for the chance to fight him. That’s not normally a good sign in MMA.

In most cases, unless you have the championship belt around your waist and the bull’s-eye on your back that comes with it, an overabundance of challengers means you’ve been singled out as an easy mark. It’s just a matter of who’s going to get to you first and scoop up a nice paycheck for his trouble.

But with a first-round submission victory against former UFC light heavyweight champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (21-8 MMA, 5-6 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 26 in Boston over the weekend, Sonnen (28-13-1 MMA, 7-6 UFC) proved he’s anything but an easy out. What he is, thanks in part to his way with words and nose for the spotlight, is a walking lottery ticket for UFC fighters in need of a little hype.

Right now, it’s a Brazilian contingent that’s most eager to cash in.

Sonnen left little doubt as to whom he’d like to face next, dedicating almost his entire postfight interview to calling out former PRIDE Fighting Championships champion Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1 MMA, 5-7 UFC).

Silva wasn’t on hand to accept the offer right away, but fellow Brazilian fighters Lyoto Machida (19-4 MMA, 11-4 UFC) and Vitor Belfort (23-10 MMA, 12-6 UFC) were quick to jump on Twitter and offer their services as a replacement.

“I would beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei’s (butt), and I’ll take care of the third guy (Machida), whose name I’ve already forgotten, (in) the parking lot on the way to my after-party,” Sonnen said at the postfight news conference, employing all the pro wrestling-style panache fans and media have come to expect.

To many, Sonnen’s schtick is just good comedy. But ever since his rivalry with former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva took a nationalistic turn, the Brazilian fighters aren’t laughing.

A victory against Sonnen now might make them heroes back home, and Sonnen’s star status in the UFC all but guarantees the bout will be a big-money, main-event affair.

That’s the upside. The downside, as Rua found out, is Sonnen’s no slouch in the cage. He has demonstrated a willingness to bounce between the 185- and 205-pound divisions without losing much in speed or strength, and his wrestling-heavy attack has the potential to be a problem for most anybody.

For now, Sonnen says he’s waiting for an answer to his initial offer before considering alternatives.

“Wanderlei Silva tells the media he wants to fight me,” Sonnen said. “I would love to fight Wanderlei. (He) insists that fight has never been offered. That’s been a big marquee fight for years. To believe he hasn’t been offered that fight is ridiculous. All I need for him is to say he doesn’t want to do it, then I’m out. … But if he continues to say it, he’s going to continue to get me to respond.”

For complete coverage of UFC Fight Night 26, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

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