It just wouldn’t be a Chael Sonnen title fight without a couple what-ifs sprinkled about, now would it?
What if he hadn’t gotten himself triangle choked by Anderson Silva in the waning moments of the final round in their first meeting? What if he hadn’t briefly confused himself with the kind of fighter who successfully throws spinning backfists in the rematch? And, of course, what if referee Keith Peterson had been content to let him get elbowed in the face until the end of the first round in his UFC 159 bout with Jon Jones, thus making a serious issue of what we shall henceforth refer to simply as The Toe?
I guess we probably know what would have happened in that last scenario. Jones would have trailed blood all the way back to his corner. A cageside doctor would have looked at it and then thrown up in his own lap. The bout would have been ruled a TKO due to injury, and Sonnen would have become the UFC light-heavyweight champion after five minutes of lying on his back and bleeding.
Then, because an injury involving exposed bone matter is not something you fix with Advil and athletic tape, Jones probably would have had to wait a while before attempting to get his belt back. In the meantime, UFC president Dana White said, Sonnen likely would have defended the belt at least once.
“That would have been horrible if that happened,” White added.
And, yeah, he’s right. It would have been pretty ridiculous if the guy who just got crushed at his own game was declared the new champ based on a gruesome technicality. The fact that we came so close to that actually happening should probably scare White and the UFC, or at least make them rethink the “Pay-Per-View Buys Rule Everything Around Me” approach that got them here.
Sonnen, as expected, was no match for Jones. Not only did he fail to execute his usual gameplan against the champ, he couldn’t even stop Jones from executing the very same gameplan on him. At the post-fight press conference Sonnen acknowledged that Jones was the best fighter he’d ever faced.
“He’s a lot better than I thought he was,” Sonnen said, which makes you wonder exactly what he was expecting from the 25-year-old who is already looking like the greatest light-heavyweight in MMA history.
We know the Sonnen playbook well enough by now that his post-fight humility shouldn’t have been any more surprising than his pre-fight bluster. This is what the man does. He talks a big game before title fights, delivers on anywhere between almost all and absolutely none of it, then immediately transforms into a gracious, sympathetic loser once it’s over. He plays the role of the arrogant loudmouth who’s got a beatdown coming, and then he gets in the cage and takes it willingly, almost eagerly.
That makes him likable. But when you look at his bloody, lumpy face after UFC color commentator Joe Rogan pats him on the back on his way out of the cage and praises him for being the greatest “promoter” in the sport, it also makes him seem a little sad.
Is that what he’s going to be remembered for, even after becoming a top-10 middleweight with wins over the likes of Yushin Okami and Michael Bisping? Sonnen is probably still one of the best middleweights in the UFC, but will his most significant career accomplishments include being the guy who gave Silva at least one good fight, and then somehow talked people into thinking that he’d be a competitive matchup for the world’s best light heavyweight?
Maybe, and maybe that’s not so bad. You could argue that greats like Jones and Silva need guys like Sonnen who excel at gathering a crowd around to witness these displays of violent artistry. It just seems like that’s probably not what Sonnen thought he was going to be doing when he got into this sport. If all you wanted was to be known as a great promoter, you wouldn’t work as hard in the gym as Sonnen does. You also wouldn’t take it so hard when you inevitably got throttled by one of the best fighters on the planet.
Not unless, while you were doing those interviews and making those outrageous claims, you actually got yourself to believe them, at least a little bit. At least until you found yourself underneath someone like Jones, who might not be so skilled at gathering the crowd but always manages to be the one they’re talking about on the way home.
For complete coverage of UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.