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Myth Martial Arts: Chael Sonnen Talks His Way to a Title Shot

August 22, 2012

There are some irrefutable facts about Chael Sonnen’s two bouts with Anderson Silva.

1) Sonnen did a whole lot of talking before each of them. Long before each of them, as a matter of fact.

2) Silva was of the opinion that Chael did not deserve the chance to fight for Spider’s title, particularly for the rematch.

These two facts have combined together to form a meme that Sonnen had talked his way to a title shot at Middleweight, and that he is looking to do so again at light heavyweight with his current war of words with champion Jon Jones. Silva’s own manager cited the meme in his latest round of explaining why nobody deserves to fight Anderson, saying the following of fighters calling for a shot at the belt:

“That’s a big joke,” Silva’s manager, Jorge Guimaraes, said about Chris Weidman, Tim Boetsch and Alan Belcher’s challenges. “Everybody saw that it worked for Chael, and he got really famous with that, and now everybody wants to be on the spotlight”.

While it may well be true that Sonnen’s words man end up helping him get to Jones’ belt faster,  no matter what Dana White claims, to say he earned his shots at Silva with anything other than his fights inside the cage is to misrepresent Sonnen’s impressive resume as a UFC middleweight. Sonnen’s mouth sold his two title shots, it didn’t book them.

Sonnen came into the UFC fold as a highly ranked middleweight, and the uncrowned WEC champion. After outworking undefeated WEC champion Paulo Filho before, well, pulling a Sonnen in their first bout, Sonnen got a second crack after defeating Bryan Baker and took a clear, if bizarre, decision over Filho, himself the #1 ranked middleweight by many at the time, Anderson Silva included. While Filho’s behavior, and a submission loss to Demian Maia in his promotional debut, saw Sonnen’s stock lowered, he still sat at #10 in the rankings come May of 2009. There was also a bout booked between world #2 Yushin Okami and Dan Miller, at the time listed in the five man “other contenders” group on Sherdog, a hybrid group for spots #11-#15.

When Okami went down injured, Sonnen stepped in to replace the Japanese fighter, and earned a unanimous decision victory. The UFC booked Sonnen to face Okami next, and with Sonnen a credible #10 in the consensus rankings and fresh off a win over the man previously scheduled to face Okami, it is a fair piece of fight booking. You’ll note that time off had seen Okami drop to #4 in the rankings, though he remained a highly credible threat for Silva, and the most common name called for to receive the next shot. Sonnen changed those plans by dominating all three rounds of the fight. And so it was that Sonnen came to face Nate Marquardt in February 2010 in a match-up pairing #2 vs. #5. Three more rounds, one more dominant victory for Sonnen.

Silva defended his belt in April against Maia in a lackluster decision victory, a recent trend of Silva’s. The UFC wanted to book him again in the late summer, and wanted a fighter who wouldn’t be afraid of Silva. There was only one real option when the rankings at the time are looked at.

Okami and Marquardt fall below Sonnen for obvious reasons. Maia was the most-recently vanquished challenger. Jake Shields was a welterweight. Vitor was out until November (and even that proved optimistic.) Sonnen was not only the highest ranked fighter other than the champion, he was the only top-ten fighter who was healthy, at middleweight and able to claim any kind of title-worthy run. Easy fight to book, and based entirely on the merit of Sonnen’s record.

After being a half-round from defeating Silva, Sonnen was put on ice for a year for failing his post-fight urine test. While he was away, Silva destroyed Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami. Sonnen returned in October 2011 and took on Brian Stann. At the time, Stann was ranked #6 and on a tear which had him on the very doorstep of a title shot. Sonnen had maintained his #2 ranking because, frankly, nobody did anything to say he should lose it. Sonnen ran through Stann, securing his first finish in the UFC with a second round arm-triangle choke. The win set up a bout with Michael Bisping in January of this year, a #2 vs. #7 bout on FOX. The fight was close (so close that Bisping moved up the rankings in defeat) but Sonnen again found his hand raised. With the UFC looking to book Silva for a bout in the summer, the fight announcement came in March. A quick look at the top ten then:

Although the UFC owned more of the top-ten in this occasion, with Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold the lone exception, the list whittles down just as quickly. Stann and Bisping find themselves on the outside looking in thanks to losses to Sonnen, while Okami had just lost to Boetsch, who had himself looked outclassed for two rounds before the come-from-behind KO earned a win but no buzz for a title shot. Belfort had lost worse and more recently than Sonnen, and his two wins (Anthony Johnson and Yoshihiro Akiyama) didn’t measure up to Stann and Bisping. Munoz was originally scheduled to face Sonnen in the bout Bisping got but was out injured. That leaves only Chris Weidman, the current front-runner for a shot at the belt. Unfortunately for Weidman (then as well as now, possibly) timing is everything, and Weidman had just fought Maia on short notice. Though his biggest win to date, it was also his least dominant as the short notice robbed Weidman of the flair and finishing he has had in abundance in his other UFC bouts. Once again, the list of eight possible top-ten challengers for Silva is very quickly reduced to only one man, Mr. Chael P. Sonnen.

Love Chael or hate Chael, and he remains a fighter with as little middle-ground as anyone around in fan’s eyes, either is a perfectly reasonable position — just give the man his due. His action’s in the Octagon earned his chances at Anderson Silva. His mouth just filled both of their pockets a little better when they left it.

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