Chael Sonnen, right, celebrates his victory over Shogun Rua. (USA Today Sports)
BOSTON – The day Chael Sonnen retires and walks away from mixed martial arts is going to be a sad day for the sport, as well as the UFC.
Sonnen is already the gold standard as a TV analyst for the sport, but he remains a pretty fair fighter, as he showed on Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night at TD Garden. He submitted ex-light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua to a guillotine choke before 12,539 in a dominant, one-sided performance.
It might have been the most significant victory of Sonnen's career, because of who the victory came against, as well as the manner in which he achieved it. Sonnen, a one-time Olympic alternate wrestler, pulled guard to catch Rua, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, in the guillotine.
After the perfunctory jokes about potential opponent Wanderlei Silva, Sonnen literally walked out of the cage, made a right turn and joined UFC president Dana White, analyst Joe Rogan and play-by-play man Jon Anik in breaking down the night's fights.
"I love it," Sonnen said, grinning. "I would much rather participate [in the broadcast] than sit out."
Some don't like Sonnen's style – about three years ago, he adopted a WWE-type shtick and paraphrased Superstar Billy Graham in his post-fight remarks in the Octagon – but there is no denying that he commands attention.
Sonnen riles about half of the fan base with his wise-cracking, trash-talking ways, but he also appeals to the other half, who find his colorful comments amusing.
He's become one of a handful of the UFC's biggest draws. Each of his fights is an event.
He helped cap a superb card for the UFC in the debut of Fox Sports 1 by dominating Rua, who never had a significant moment in the fight.
Sonnen took Rua down several times and never let the feared striker get his punches or kicks off. Though Rua spent several weeks training with Hall of Fame boxing coach Freddie Roach, he was unable to use his newly found skills when he was flat on his back.
The show had a series of highlights, including Travis Browne's stunning and out-of-nowhere, front-kick knockout of Alistair Overeem in the first round of their co-main event bout.
Michael McDonald put on a show in a submission win over Brad Pickett, winning a $100,000 bonus for Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night.
Diego Brandao and Daniel Pineda had the crowd roaring from start to finish in a fierce battle in which the momentum kept flipping back and forth.
Sonnen, however, stole the show. He took down Rua less than five seconds into the match, and controlled it the rest of the way.
After the bout, Sonnen ridiculed Silva, as he has been wont to do recently, stealing a line from "Full Metal Jacket."
"Wanderlei Silva, you're 6 feet tall and 205 pounds, but until I met you, I didn't know they could stack crap that high," Sonnen said.
But at the post-fight news conference, Sonnen appeared humbled by what he had done. He said he was fortunate to have gotten the jump on Rua and said the submission was made easier because it came early and the fighters weren't too sweaty.
"It feels good because it's Shogun," Sonnen said of the submission. "The guy's a former world champion. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame. He's beaten [Chuck] Liddell. He's beaten Forrest Griffin. He's beaten [Lyoto] Machida. He's beaten all these guys. He's beaten guys I've known and looked up to, from the Kevin Randlemans and Mark Colemans of the world. So yeah, it feels good.
"Whether you squeak out a win or you catch a guy in a good, tight lock, it's the biggest win I've had."
Sonnen came into the fight off knockout losses at the hands of then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Though Anderson Silva and Jones are two of the greatest fighters in the world, there was a certain amount of pressure on Sonnen heading into the fight.
Had he lost to Rua, particularly in a one-sided manner, he might have had to give serious consideration to retiring and concentrating on his burgeoning broadcasting career.
Instead, he has a lucrative fight with Wanderlei Silva sitting ahead of him while Vitor Belfort and Machida each called him out via social media.
"Vitor – oh my God," White said. "Oh my God. Every time there's a fight, Vitor wants to fight that guy [who wins]. I don't know what to say. But there are options at [middleweight] and there are options at [light heavyweight]. Let's see what happens."
What will likely happen is that Sonnen will meet Wanderlei Silva in a heated middleweight bout that will turn out to be a big seller after Sonnen promotes it relentlessly for the two months leading up to it.
It's as if he is handling three roles – fighter, promoter and broadcaster – simultaneously.
Not everyone cares for the wrestling shtick, but not only does Sonnen make the events more fun and attract more attention to them, he's one of a handful of guys who will fight anyone, anywhere at any time.
Those kind of guys are rare, and should be appreciated.
With Sonnen, though, he may not be fully appreciated until he's gone.
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- Chael Sonnen
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