Chael Sonnen answered his critics on Saturday in Boston. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Though it might seem like an irrational thought at the moment, Chael Sonnen may have saved his Ultimate Fighting Championship career at UFC Fight Night 26 on Saturday at the TD Garden in Boston.
It was not as if he was on the precipice of being released from the UFC. He remains as popular as any of the stars signed to the Las Vegas-based promotion; he entertains with his best-in-the-business trash talk; and he has fought for world titles in two different weight classes. However, his lofty status within the UFC may have been vindicated when he forced former light heavyweight champion Mauricio Rua to tap to a guillotine choke in the first round of their headliner.
Sonnen had lost two consecutive bouts and three of his last five. All three of those defeats had come via stoppage, and he was on the verge of becoming something of a buffoonish caricature of himself. He had called out his last two opponents and insulted them repeatedly in television interviews, during conference calls and through social media outlets, only to wind up getting smoked by Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. In a matter of months, Sonnen went from a go-to guy to a loudmouth who could not back up his constantly flapping gums.
In Beantown, Sonnen was all business in the main event of the UFC’s inaugural event on Fox Sports 1, scoring what he considers to be the most significant win of his career. Rua, one of the fiercest and most accomplished competitors of his generation, was supposed to pose all sorts of problems for Sonnen, but the 36-year-old Oregonian was unflappable. They traded takedowns, but Sonnen seemed to always be in control. After Rua tried to rise to his feet, Sonnen latched on the guillotine and ended the fight.
A win like that against an opponent the caliber of “Shogun” keeps Sonnen in the thick of it at middleweight and light heavyweight. He has leaned towards a return to 185 pounds, but after dispatching Rua in such decisive fashion, he has more options at his disposal and likely forced his critics to do an about face.
While it is doubtful the Mouth of the Pacific Northwest could land a crack at the winner of the forthcoming Jones-Alexander Gustafsson matchup his next time out, there are several upper-tier fighters that would make for excellent dance partners with Sonnen in the light heavyweight division. Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Glover Teixeira immediately spring to mind, along with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ryan Bader; though unlikely to ever happen, a scrap against fellow Team Quest alum Dan Henderson would be loaded with intrigue. This says nothing of the potential matchups awaiting him if he returns to 185 pounds.
Sonnen was never in any serious danger of winding up on the Zuffa chopping block, but his win over Rua certainly put him on much better footing.
Now, he can focus on what he does best: talking trash and putting butts in seats.
Miscellaneous Debris: Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts export Travis Browne is a wrecking maching; that much we know. After suffering his first professional defeat to Antonio Silva, the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian has flattened Gabriel Gonzaga with elbows and leveled Alistair Overeem with a front kick. A logical next step would be a rematch with “Bigfoot.” If he were to succeed there, it would not be out of the question to see Browne challenging for the heavyweight title sometime in 2014 ... Urijah Faber survived a scare from Iuri Alcantara and went on to dominate the Brazilian. It was a sensational victory for “The California Kid,” who has won three in a row. Considering his popularity, the UFC could conceivably reward him with a shot at the interim bantamweight crown or a rubber match with injured champion Dominick Cruz, depending on when “The Dominator” is physically able to return to action ... Rua might find his back against the wall soon. He has lost two straight for the first time in his career and has compiled a mediocre 5-6 mark since arriving in the UFC. Seldom has he looked like the juggernaut we saw under the Pride Fighting Championships banner Japan. It will be curious to see what route Zuffa takes if he loses his next fight.
Follow Mike Sloan on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mieksloan19.