Several Interesting Matchups Remain for Chael Sonnen

Duane Finley@duanefinleymmaContributor IMay 6, 2013

Apr 26, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Chael Sonnen weighs in for his light heavyweight title bout against Jon Jones (not pictured) at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There was an air of uncertainty lingering around Chael Sonnen at the post-fight press conference for UFC 159.

In the weeks leading up to his championship tilt with Jon Jones in Newark, rumors swirled of a possible Sonnen retirement if he were to come out on the losing end of the battle. While the hypothetical scenario seemed distant before the fight, after suffering a lopsided, first-round TKO loss to the young phenom, the possibility of "The Gangster from West Linn" walking away from mixed martial arts appeared to take on a realistic form.

When the question about his retirement came from the media, the mercurial former middleweight turned light heavyweight contender suggested he needed to take some time to think about his decision. Sonnen also clarified that needing time was not an allusion to retirement. It was simply getting some space away from the cage to consider what to do next.

As a writer who has covered the sport for several years, I believe Sonnen's choice to push any major decision away from the immediate aftermath of his fight was a the correct move to make. Stepping into a cage and finding out who is the better mixed martial artist is a turbulent and emotional situation—even more so when suffering a loss—and the short window of chaos in the post-fight realm is an electric and amplified environment. 

In the past, we have seen fighters like B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz declare their retirement in the wake of a disappointing loss only to re-emerge months down the road once their heads have cleared up and they've had time to process the situation.

This was not the road Sonnen chose to travel following his loss to Jones at UFC 159, and hats off to the man for having the foresight not to make a hasty decision in the heat of the moment. That being said, what comes next for the former middleweight contender is the bigger question. In one revealing response at the post-fight press conference, Sonnen claimed if he wasn't chasing a title then there was no reason to be in the sport.

While I agree with a fighter having championship aspirations, there are still plenty of interesting challenges for Sonnen in fan-friendly matchups that take place outside the realm of title fights. With his recent activity on Twitter calling out MMA legend Wanderlei Silva, it is clear Sonnen is very much aware that this path is available for him.

With the notion of Sonnen being a threat to Anderson Silva or Jon Jones turned to vapor, the 36-year-old could forge a memorable final chapter of his career by settling a few scores in the grudge match department.

No one promotes a fight better than Chael P. Sonnen, and here are three bouts that would be interesting to see put together.


Wanderlei Silva

The trash talk between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva may have kicked back up this past week, but their mutual disdain goes back a long way.

Other than Anderson Silva, no other Brazilian has been the target of Sonnen's vitriol more than "The Axe Muderer." The Oregon-based fighter has chipped away at the former Pride champion for years, and with Silva now returning fire in the media, a long-awaited showdown between the two appears to be a possibility.

Earlier this week, rumors swirled of Sonnen vs. Silva being the headlining bout for UFC on Fox Sports 1, but nothing has been confirmed at this time. While this fight would have no bearing on a divisional picture, there are plenty of other factors to make this an interesting dust-up.

It is no secret that MMA fans appreciate a good back-and-forth in the pre-fight buildup, and Sonnen vs. Silva would provide trash talk by the truckloads. Sonnen is in his element and at his promotional best when his opponent falls into the "lack-of-respect zone," which would put a bout with Silva directly in his wheelhouse.

There is absolutely zero love lost for Sonnen where Silva is concerned. The 36-year-old Brazilian is an emotional fighter, and Sonnen has been pushing his buttons for several years now. With the end of his career on the horizon, a chance to mix it up with Sonnen would certainly be a bout Silva could get motivated for.

"Wand" is coming off a Fight of the Year-worthy performance where he knocked out Brian Stann at UFC on Fuel TV 8 in Japan. Despite Sonnen dropping two consecutive fights, both have huge personalities in the sport and would do the legwork to give a potential matchup that "big fight" feel.


Vitor Belfort

Many of the reasons that make Sonnen vs. Silva an interesting fight are the same things which make a potential bout between Sonnen and Belfort appealing.

There are copious amounts of dislike shared between the two men, and neither has been shy about speaking their minds publicly. From his co-host chair on UFC Tonight, Sonnen told Belfort he would help arrange a meeting between the Brazilian and Jesus which was a response to "The Phenom" calling Sonnen a "clown" in his post-fight interview after defeating Michael Bisping at UFC on FX 7 in January.

Yet while Sonnen and Belfort would undoubtedly draw the attention of the MMA community, there are factors at play that would drastically cut down the chances of this fight becoming reality.

The former light heavyweight champion's victory over "The Count" put him back on the trail to title contention. If Belfort is successful in his upcoming bout against Luke Rockhold at UFC on FX on May 18th, it would likely earn him another title opportunity and throw the possibility of a fight with Sonnen out the window.

On the flip side of that coin, should Belfort come out on the business end of things against the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, a tussle with Sonnen could be in the cards.

Stylistically speaking, the fight would be a classic "striker vs. grappler" affair. Belfort has one-shot knockout power, and Sonnen has a smothering top game when the action hits the canvas. Can Belfort put him to sleep, or does Sonnen break his will? Both fighters are great at what they do, and that would make fight worth seeing.


Rich Franklin

In a departure from the "Chael vs. Brazil" theme, I believe an opponent who makes a tremendous amount of sense for Sonnen is Rich Franklin.

The former middleweight champion is the reigning king of "fan-friendly" matchups, and a fight between the two would be a great way to welcome Sonnen to that realm.

For the most part, "Ace" has been out of any type of title picture since losing a split-decision to Dan Henderson at UFC 93 in 2009. Since that time, the Cincinnati native has been the UFC's go-to guy when the promotion needs a main event or a last-minute replacement, competing in a variety of light heavyweight and catchweight bouts.

After a lengthy layoff due to injury, the 38-year-old was looking to make a resurgence in the middleweight division. Unfortunately, those plans came to an abrupt halt when he was brutalized by Cung Le in the first round of their main event tilt at UFC Macau.

Franklin recently told Yahoo Sports he wasn't ready to retire and was interested in a bout with Michael Bisping. With the former TUF winner coming off a victory over Alan Belcher at UFC 159 and trying to get back into title contention, a fight with Franklin makes little to no sense. On the other hand, where trading leather with Bisping doesn't necessarily fit, stepping into the Ocatgon with Sonnen does.

Both are coming off losses, and neither is anywhere close to a UFC title opportunity. Both are middleweights who have no problem competing in the 205 weight class and have high-profile names the fans would recognize. While a bout between Sonnen and Franklin would most likely be void of the trash talking and pointed banter, it would be hard to imagine the fight failing to deliver.