Chael Sonnen remains one of MMA’s most polarizing figures. | Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
Light HeavyweightsChael Sonnen (28-13-1, 7-6 UFC) vs. Rashad Evans (18-3-1, 13-3-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Just when you thought Sonnen’s run of relevance had reached its end, the self-proclaimed “Gangster from West Linn” manages to keep sticking around. Sonnen’s most recent feat came at UFC Fight Night 26, where he submitted Mauricio Rua with a guillotine in the opening round. The win, which came under the scrutiny of the Fox Sports 1 launch, assured that the Oregonian will remain in significant bouts for the foreseeable future, whether at 205 pounds, 185 pounds or elsewhere. Regardless of the outcome of his showdown with Evans, Sonnen is already booked for a coaching gig opposite of Wanderlei Silva on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.” The bitter rivals will fight after the show concludes sometime in 2014.
Evans, meanwhile, scored a much-needed victory at UFC 161, using speed and superior activity to outpoint Dan Henderson. It was not the most enthralling of performances, but on the heels of a puzzling loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in February, it was a welcome improvement.
Wrestling figures to play a key role for both men. Sonnen was a three-time NCAA tournament qualifier at the University of Oregon. He was also a world class Greco-Roman wrestler and came close to qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in 2000. Evans won a national title at Niagara Junior College before moving on to Michigan State University, where he plied his trade against tough Big Ten competition and narrowly missed All-American status in 2003. In terms of pure versatility, Sonnen probably has the edge, but both men are able to blend their wrestling nicely with the other aspects of mixed martial arts.
Sonnen favors a pressure-based approach; he will move forward with one-two combinations and leg kicks before forcing draining clinches against the fence. He has solid dirty boxing and will diligently chain together multiple takedown attempts in order to get his man to the floor. The Rua victory aside, Sonnen is not normally a serious submission threat. Instead, he is often content to stay busy with punches and elbows inside an opponent’s guard. As a southpaw, he uses his left straight to transition to takedowns and clinches.
Evans also uses his striking to set up takedowns, often by throwing in combination and then changing levels once his adversary attempts to launch a counterattack. While Sonnen’s offense is based largely on forward movement, Evans relies on his superior speed to dart in and out of range. Against someone with a reach advantage who is adept at controlling distance, Evans has struggled. Against Sonnen, his primary task will be to fend off clinches and takedowns, whether through timely movement or sprawling.
On the feet, Sonnen can outpace Evans in terms of sheer volume, but “Suga” possesses the potent, one-shot finishing ability. The Blackzilians member’s superior speed could be the difference here, because he has the ability to make Sonnen chase him. Evans is not a large light heavyweight, however, and he sometimes finds himself expending too much energy on takedowns against bigger foes. With Sonnen’s wrestling pedigree in mind, Evans may elect to try and win this fight on the feet.
The Pick: Even if he cannot land a knockout blow, Evans is too quick for Sonnen. He outpoints the former middleweight title challenger standing and holds his own in the wrestling to capture a hard-fought decision.
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