“I’m not going to be one of the guys who hangs around if he doesn’t have a road to the title.
I believe that was my last opportunity.”
— Chael Sonnen
The shellacking Chael Sonnen took Saturday night was expected by nearly everyone with half a brain. You really had to do mental gymnastics to think Sonnen had any chance of surviving the first, much less winning the fight, and Jones mauled him like he was expected to. It was a professional victory for Jones, who finished him in emphatic fashion, and it adds one more scalp to his already impressive list of victims. In the last four years the only fighter to reach the scorecards with Jones was Rashad Evans as Jones ran through Chael like it was just another day at the office. Jones moves forward, his next victory setting the standard for light heavyweight champions that follow him.
But for Sonnen this latest loss in a title fight leaves him looking at a number of roads that aren’t all that good.
If he stays in the light heavyweight division he’s in the same spot Ryan Bader was after UFC 126; at the back of the line and needing to get a significant win streak together to get another shot at Jones again. And even then it’d be tough; Sonnen needs to put together a murderer’s row of wins to top the one it took to get both shots at Anderson Silva’s middleweight title. He’s going to have to pull together a win streak (with mostly finishes) of something along the lines of three to four of the following: Ryan Jimmo, Phil Davis, Glover Teixiera, Alexander Gustafsson, Lyoto Machida or Shogun Rua. To get a second title shot against Jones based on what he showed will require an effort I’m not sure he has.
That would be the type of streak that’ll take a couple years and would be a legendary run of wins. Odds are he won’t be able to pull that off but if he did it’d be undeniable for him to get another shot. And it’s not any better if he returns to middleweight.
If he returns to the middleweight division he’s in the same exact position. He’s already gotten two shots at Anderson Silva and a third won’t happen unless he can pull off another murderer’s row at middleweight. He’d have to go through Okami, Bisping and three to four other top middleweights AGAIN to get a third shot at Anderson (if he still holds the title). And even then it wouldn’t be guaranteed, either, as Sonnen can rightfully decline a trilogy fight against someone he’s finished twice. Their business has been settled and a third fight would be nothing but a fun fight, not one of relevance. If he pulled off another winning streak like that he could justify one but it’d be a tough sell.
So what’s left? You could reasonably sell a fight between Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva, who hasn’t been a fan of Sonnen’s for a significant period of time. A fight with someone like Vitor Belfort would be interesting as would be any other number of talented fighters between middleweight and light heavyweight that are on the fringes of becoming a contender. He has a style that isn’t reliant on reflexes, et al, and could last for a significant period of time as a top tier fighter based on his grinding top position game.
The question he needs to answer, though, is will he? We don’t know and one imagines that Sonnen himself probably doesn’t know either. If he continues in the sport it’ll be a long time before the “bad guy” is put into another title match.