COMMENTARY | Chael Sonnen did more than just win the war of words against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC Fight Night 26 on Aug. 17 in Boston. He shocked people by submitting the former champion with a first-round guillotine.
Now, Sonnen has options: Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida.
If "The American Gangster" had his pick, he'd take all three.
"I would beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei's (expletive), and I'll take that third guy, whose name I've already forgotten, in the parking lot on my way to my after-party," Sonnen said during the post-fight press conference. "I will take all three."
Which fight Sonnen (28-13-1, seven KO/TKOs) pursues is one thing, but perhaps the more important question is which weight class he'll fight at next?
"There's options at 205 and options at 185," UFC president Dana White said during the post-fight press conference. "We'll see what happens."
Sonnen said before the event that he planned to drop back down to middleweight after the fight, but backed off the stance following his win over Rua.
"That was the plan, but let me stick around Boston a couple of days," he said. "I'm going to get over to a place called Regina's Pizza before we get out to UFC Tonight on FS1 on Wednesday."
The reality is, each of the aforementioned matchups could be held at either weight class given that Silva and Belfort have bounced between divisions and Machida has been involved in middleweight-bound conversations.
Sonnen has now tasted of the light heavyweight fruit -- and it was certainly sweet. But no matter whom he fights next, a drop in weight class may still be in his best interest.
Home Is Where The Wins Are
"The American Gangster" has only fought twice at 205 in the UFC, losing his first fight and topping Shogun in his second. At middleweight, however, he's 5-2 with victories over Yushin Okami and Michael Bisping, both of whom are ranked above him in the UFC's division rankings.
It was also at 185 that Sonnen nearly claimed the belt from then-champion Anderson Silva at UFC 117. Conversely, there wasn't much in his first-round TKO loss to Jon Jones at UFC 159 that inspires much confidence in a rematch.
Right now, the UFC's No. 2-ranked middleweight, Belfort, is challenging Sonnen to a duel. A win over "The Phenom" could have major implications…
Clearest Path To A Title Shot
What implications? A path to the Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva winner at UFC 168 in December.
Given Belfort's rank in the division, there is a strong chance -- especially with a convincing victory -- that Sonnen could leapfrog the rest of the division and attain top-contender status despite entering UFC Fight Night 26 as the ninth-ranked middleweight.
A win over Wanderlei Silva or Machida at 185 could also put the Oregonian on the doorstop of a fourth title shot, but Belfort would be the most compelling of the three.
Sonnen has already topped two middleweight contenders and is becoming a bigger draw (and personality) with each passing day.
Additionally, White was quick to articulate his view of the 185-pound landscape following UFC Fight Night 26. And that's worth noting...
UFC Boss Provides Clue
During the post-fight press conference, White was careful to note that nothing had been decided about Sonnen's next move.
He did provide an interesting clue, though, by addressing the media about its middleweight rankings.
"Chael is ranked by you guys at No. 9," White said. "[Luke] Rockhold, [Costa] Philippou, [Mark] Munoz, Jacare, Michael Bisping, who he beat, and Okami, who he beat, are all ranked above him. And then you go to the top three: Weidman, [Anderson] Silva, and Belfort. Makes sense. Champion, then No. 1 is Silva, and No. 2 is Belfort. How is Chael Sonnen not No. 3? Ask yourselves that question, ladies and gentleman."
White didn't break down the light heavyweight division. He evaluated the 185-pounders.
Even though Sonnen said he would spend a few days in Boston mulling his options over pizza, the answer is clear: drop to middleweight.
And while Wanderlei Silva (35-12-1, 25 KO/TKOs) might provide ratings and a resume entry, and Machida (19-4-0, seven KO/TKOs) would garner intrigue and validation, a win over Belfort (23-10-0, 16 KO/TKOs) could launch Sonnen to another title shot.
There may be temptation to stay at light heavyweight for Sonnen, but his future is at 185.
The best part is Belfort is calling, ushering him back.
Sonnen would be wise to answer.
"Oh, I'm in," he said during a post-fight interview on FS1 when informed of Belfort's Twitter challenge. "And if Vitor said my name first, that's all you have to do is say my name. You don't have to ask me twice. I'm like Beyonce's Child. Just say my name, say my name."
Paul Putignano lives in Southern California, where he has covered mixed martial arts and a wide array of sports across the Greater Los Angeles area. His work has been published in a variety of newspapers and online publications.
- Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation
- Chael Sonnen
- Wanderlei Silva
- Vitor Belfort
- Anderson Silva