Unlike many professional fighters, Chael Sonnen doesn’t mind breaking the time-honored tradition of taking his career one fight at a time.
To hear the Oregon native tell it, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, his opponent in the UFC Fight Night 26 main event, might not even make the Top 3 on Sonnen’s MMA to-do list.
“Your goals change constantly in this sport depending on where you’re at,” Sonnen said Monday during a media conference call. “Aside from chasing a world championship, there’s some guys that I just want to fight. I don’t know if Shogun is one of those guys, but a few of his friends are.”
Those friends include Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva, both of whom currently reside at middleweight, which is part of the reason why Sonnen is planning to return to 185 pounds after his light heavyweight bout on Saturday night. Anderson Silva, who has already beaten West Linn, Ore.’s, resident gangster twice, remains a target as well, although UFC boss Dana White was quick to point out during the call that a Silva-Sonnen trilogy is nowhere in the promotion’s immediate plans.
“I do like to look ahead,” Sonnen said. “I don’t like to focus on one guy. I like the distraction of looking ahead. There’s some guys that I just want to fight; they’re not always title fights. There’s plenty of other matches that I want to do. If that gets me closer to the title shot, those are just byproducts.”
For now, however, there is the task at hand. The Sonnen-Rua pairing initially came about by chance, when Antonio Rogerio Nogueira was forced to withdraw from a UFC 161 showdown with “Shogun” after Nogueira suffered a herniated disk. Shortly thereafter, Sonnen began campaigning for a spot opposite Rua on the Winnipeg, Canada, card, but visa issues for the American ultimately nixed those plans.
Instead, the bout was tabbed to top the promotion’s debut on Fox Sports 1 in Boston. It will be Sonnen’s third consecutive main event appearance, and that alone, no matter the opponent, is motivation enough for the former 185- and 205-pound title challenger.
“I’ll be going straight ahead and he will be too. We both have our skills and we’re gonna bring our skills,” he said. “In addition, we’re in the main event and you can’t play around when you’re in the main event. Whether it’s positive or negative, I don’t know... but there will not be any feeling out. As soon as they say go, we will.”
In preparation for his upcoming bout, Sonnen relocated his training camp from Team Quest in Portland, Ore., to Reign MMA in California, where he worked alongside the likes of Mark Munoz, Uriah Hall and Kelvin Gastelum, among others. At best the move is an experiment, one borne out of necessity when Sonnen’s longtime coach informed the fighter that he was losing his gym. That was approximately six weeks ago, and Sonnen remains uncertain of how the change in routine will affect his performance.
“I always hear guys say that everything’s better when they change, but historically it’s not. Historically when a guy switches camps he doesn’t tend to do as well,” he said. “I was very pleased with the work, from the team to the coaches to the workouts to the facilities. It was still out of my comfort zone.”
As it stands right now, even as a 36-year-old fighter with a new camp and a two-fight losing streak, Sonnen has plenty of passion for the sport. And while he says he’s not sticking around simply to chase titles, Sonnen does still have a pretty ambitious hit list. If getting all the fights he wants means wearing out his welcome, then so be it.
“I like to compete -- I don’t know any other sport. I love it. I don’t have a lot of friends, so it’s nice to go to the gym and be in a social atmosphere -- be around good guys. I’m very impressed with guys that can extend their career,” Sonnen said. “If you’re healthy, you love something and you have a chance to do it, that window is very small, and it is for me too. It can be over any day now. I’m one of the guys that will be forced out of this sport. I will stay in it too long. I’m not gonna pull the plug on myself.”