At 185 pounds, he's officially entered the Rich Franklin zone. Franklin was a former champion who lost twice, in devastating fashion, to Silva. He never got another shot at the belt.
For Sonnen, winning a world title is the goal, the reason he fights. And while the path to his goal at middleweight is currently long and arduous, he sees an opportunity to take light heavyweight by storm.
Can Sonnen compete successfully against the best at 205 pounds? Talk is cheap, but there is some precedent. Rashad Evans, another wrestler with a quick, powerful shot, has ridden a speed advantage all the way to the world championship.
Could Sonnen do the same?
We may soon find out. Chael is currently pondering his future, but it just may include a jump to 205 pounds. If so, here are five fights that could help him make an immediate impact on the division.
This is a rematch of a 2003 fight that Chael lost by, wait for it, triangle choke. It's a bout that has two things going for it if you're Chael Sonnen.
First, and perhaps foremost, it's a very winnable fight.
Griffin continues to struggle with the takedown, Sonnen's bread and butter. He can take Forrest down, and I think Sonnen's submission game has improved to the point where he can do so with very little risk to himself.
Second, this is a fight that could easily main event a Fox show and do big numbers for the UFC. It's a high-profile return to the division for Sonnen, which is exactly what he would need to propel himself into the title picture.
Prediction: Sonnen by decision.
Sure, Quinton Jackson claims that his next bout, a tough fight with Glover Teixeira, will be his last fight with the UFC. But does anyone actually believe that?
At some point, even Hollywood producers will be smart enough to realize that Rampage can't act. Then what?
I'll tell you what—then it's back to the Octagon. Rampage may already realize this. I suspect his recent attack on Sonnen isn't coincidence. He's angling for a big fight, and it doesn't get much bigger than this.
Prediction: I like Sonnen in this fight by decision. Chael's mentor, Matt Lindland, gave Rampage all he could handle, and Sonnen will be a much bigger 205 than Lindland was and has the more powerful double leg. This one might end up looking a lot like Jackson's fight with Rashad Evans.
This fight would allow Chael Sonnen to break out some of his trash-talk classics, a greatest hits remix for 2013. He spent so much time in the buildup to the Anderson Silva fight dissing the Nogueira brothers that you could be forgiven for thinking it actually was Rogerio he was facing in the cage. He shouldn't lack for material.
The bout would also sell itself. The quiet and respectful Brazilian warrior against the loud-mouthed American. Run it in Brazil, and you have a blockbuster on your hands.
Prediction: A very dangerous fight for Chael. His submission defense is improved, yes. But this is Nogueira. Rogerio by submission.
When Anderson Silva made the leap to light heavyweight, he tested the gentle waters first, taking on an overmatched James Irvin. Thiago Silva could be Chael Sonnen's Irvin, a striking specialist tailor-made for Sonnen's strong takedowns.
There is danger here. Silva is a very good fighter who packs a solid punch. This isn't a cakewalk. But it's an easier test than the graduate-level bouts with Nog or Rampage.
Prediction: Chael follows Rashad's template for success all the way to a unanimous decision.
Chael Sonnen built Alexander Gustafsson up nicely on UFC Tonight recently, saying:
I love this guy he is very strong. He comes out and gets beat by Phil Davis, so what does he do? He goes and trains with Phil Davis. I love his improvements. He has stepped into five title fights, like his fight against Thiago Silva, and he has absolutely dominated. He was saying that he thinks he needs a few more fights under his belt before he goes after Jon Jones. But I don’t think he needs more fights, but rather he needs the time. He needs the five, six months. He is working on all areas of his training. There is no one out there skill for skill that is like Jon Jones right now.
That's some serious praise, especially knowing how much Sonnen admires Jon Jones as an athlete. There are, however, still nagging doubts about how the young Swede handles a skilled American wrestler in his prime.
Sonnen would be a great test for the prospect. It's an interesting bout with no downside.
If Chael wins, why not promote him immediately into a title shot with Jones? He will have just beaten the top prospect in the division.
If Gustafsson is too much for the veteran, he will have answered all his critics. And done so on a very large stage. This would be a clever piece of matchmaking that would benefit the UFC no matter who wins.
Prediction: Gustafsson is too rangy and his wrestling defense too much improved for Sonnen to get inside. Alex by knockout.