He hadn't even left the cage before the challenges started coming in for suddenly relevant UFC gadfly Chael Sonnen.
His career had seemed on its last legs. A loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua might have even sent him packing for good. Instead, one first-round submission later, Sonnen has his choice of some of the sport's most prominent fighters in two different weight classes.
Leading the charge was Vitor Belfort, a UFC salvage job as well, powered at 36 by testosterone replacement and a new training regimen with the Florida-based Blackzilians team.
"Vitor," Dana White said at the post-fight presser, shaking his bald head. "Oh my god. Every time there's a fight, Vitor wants to fight that guy."
Not to be outdone, Belfort's proposed UFC 167 opponent Lyoto Machida, a fellow Brazilian, added his name to the mix as well.
But Sonnen, always one step ahead of the game, has his own opponent in mind, a bout he's been building up for the better part of two years. Again, his potential victim is Brazilian born, continuing a theme and an ongoing feud that has reinvigorated Sonnen's career.
“Wanderlei Silva, six feet tall and 205 pounds, boy, until I met you, I didn’t know they could stack crap that high,” Sonnen announced to Joe Rogan after the bout, pro-wrestling hat firmly in place. “Wanderlei Silva, three months, you and the bad guy.”
Analyzing the Opposition
Belfort, like Sonnen, has only fallen short in recent years just twice to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Those two gentlemen, until Silva's recent loss, were the best fighters in the sport and long-reigning champions at middleweight and light heavyweight, respectively.
A solid grappler with extraordinary knockout power, Belfort is a fighter's worst nightmare. You never know exactly what to expect with him. His hand speed is legendary, his grappling prowess is real, and he recently added a bevy of deceptively sneaky kicks to his arsenal.
He is a very dangerous man.
Machida poses his own set of unique risks. No, the former light heavyweight champion never quite ushered in the Machida era as promised. But he's a deceptively good wrestler with an exotic style of karate-based stand-up.
Nothing Sonnen has done in his career could prepare him for Machida. A training camp would be spent reinventing the wheel, something the 36-year-old Sonnen may not have time for between television appearances on Fox.
With Wanderlei Silva, however, what you see is what you get. The aging warrior comes charging forward and swings until someone falls down. His next fight will be the 37-year-old's 50th bout, and each one has exacted a toll on his body.
Silva has been waiting for years for someone to send him into retirement on his shield. Each time—against Michael Bisping, Cung Le and most recently Brian Stann—he emerged instead with his head held high.
Sonnen, of course, had a humorous answer prepared for the inevitable question: who is next?
"I would beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei's *ss, and I'll take care of the third guy whose name I've already forgotten on the way to the parking lot on the way to my afterparty," he said after the fight. But it all came back to Wanderlei.
"Wanderlei, not for nothing, he will show up when he says he'll show up. The same thing goes with Anderson Silva. Whether Anderson is hurt or not, if he signs a contract he shows up, and that means something to me. Some of those other guys don't, and it's tough."
If you're Sonnen, you can see why the Silva fight is the most appealing. Not only does it have the best backstory, let's be frank—it's by far the easiest. The risk-reward ratio would be tilted in Sonnen's favor, giving him time to get used to his new team at the Reign Training Center before taking on a major player like Belfort or Machida.
Silva is the most compelling fight. It's the fight with the best storyline. It's sure to return Sonnen to trash-talk mode to invigorate the sport and dominate the headlines leading into the bout.
Unfortunately for Sonnen, it's also a bout he may have fought his way right out of against Rua. By becoming the first man to submit Shogun in six years, Sonnen likely removed Silva from consideration.
Sonnen might have to start preparing jokes for a better class of fighter. When both were considered washed-up legends, Sonnen vs. Silva was a fight that made sense. Now that "The American Gangster" is a contender again, the fight may be out of the question.
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