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Chael Sonnen: Where Does He Rank Right Now in the Light Heavyweight Division?

Aug. 7, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; UFC fighter Chael Sonnen during the middleweight title bout in UFC 117 at the Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIAugust 15, 2012

Spending most of the last 30 months as the No. 2-ranked middleweight in the world, Chael Sonnen has officially made the move to light-heavyweight. His return to 205 pounds will take place on the UFC's year-end show on December 29 against Ultimate Fighter winner Forrest Griffin.

Now that Sonnen has made the move, we have to think about where he will rank among the elite fighters who already swim in light-heavyweight waters. How will Sonnen's victories compare to those of fighters like Lyoto Machida or Dan Henderson, who have found sustained success in the division for years?

First, we need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of Sonnen, and how those attributes will be affected in a new weight class. Then, we'll take a glance at the level of competition that Sonnen faced at middleweight. Finally, we need to find a fair place to rank Sonnen among his new peers.

Since returning to the UFC, Sonnen has won five of his eight bouts by utilizing a takedown-centric game plan that has rendered many opponents helpless. But how will Chael's wrestling be impacted by fighting in a new weight class?

Optimally, Chael should be competing at 185 pounds, but he will be facing other fighters who are fighting in their proper division. Does Sonnen lose the strength advantage that has helped him work opponents to the canvas? Can he take down the large light-heavyweight wrestlers like Phil Davis, Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans or Jon Jones? 

Size has played a big factor in the career of both Chael and his UFC opponents. Of Sonnen's wins, his latest two have come over former light-heavyweights who are better suited for competition at 185 pounds. Another two were decision wins over combatants who have since dropped to welterweight, and his first loss came to current welterweight Demian Maia.

So where does Chael rank? It's safe to say that Sonnen does not have victories on par with that of the division's top five. That is a group of elite former champions who could all enter the Hall of Fame one day. 

What about the bottom half of the top 10? The Oregonian's takedowns would be neutralized against solid wrestlers like Bader and Davis, who possess a size advantage, although he would likely fare well against a striker like Alexander Gustafsson.

It's a toss-up to predict Sonnen vs. Lil Nog, as Nogueira would be susceptible to the takedown, but he has the standup advantage and a solid chance to secure a submission.

Chael's UFC 155 bout with Forrest Griffin gives him an opportunity to avenge a 2003 loss. It will tell us a lot about where he belongs in his new division, although Griffin has been on the decline for some time now.

For the sake of argument, I'm willing to make it public that I plan to rank Sonnen eighth on my ballot for the official B/R MMA light-heavyweight rankings. Where do you think he fits?

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