Chael Sonnen and the Most Anticipated Octagon Returns

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2012

Chael Sonnen and the Most Anticipated Octagon Returns

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    Some of the best UFC fighters in the world struggle to maintain greatness.

    Whether due to injury, suspension or defeat at the hands of an even more elite fighter, these superstar talents don't always come out on top.

    But that doesn't mean they don't possess the resilience, dedication and perseverance required to come back stronger than ever.

    With that said, barring unforeseen setbacks, here are the most anticipated Octagon returns set to take place over the next year.  Enjoy.

Honorable Mention: Kenny Florian

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    Every diehard Kenny Florian fan holds on dearly to the possibility of him one day returning to the UFC.

    Florian is not only one of the classiest guys to have ever fought in the promotion, but he's arguably one of the most talented fighters to have never won a championship.

    If somehow, someway Florian's ailing injuries completely heal, there's a slight chance the 36-year-old would attempt a return to the Octagon.

    And as good as he is at announcing fights and offering his knowledge of the sport, he belongs in the cage amongst the world's best.

Michael McDonald

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    Last Fight: Victory over Miguel Angel Torres via first-round KO at UFC 145

    The UFC will be getting back one of the most promising prospects in the sport today when Michael McDonald makes his return to the Octagon.

    The 21-year-old has made a name for himself as the most heavy-handed bantamweight currently gracing the UFC's second-smallest division.

    If he can shake off a hand injury that knocked him out from potentially fighting Renan Barao for the interim championship, he'll have a chance to turn 2013 into a very special year.

    Heck, McDonald could even become the youngest titleholder in UFC history if he's able to win his next few fights.

Thiago Alves

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Martin Kampmann via third-round guillotine choke at UFC on FX 2

    Once considered a perennial top-five welterweight in the world, Thiago "The Pitbull" Alves has slightly fallen off over the past year.

    A huge third-round collapse in his last fight against Martin Kampmann in March not only left Alves choked out, but it ruined a potential title run.

    The fact of the matter is that after starting his UFC career at 9-2, Alves has lost three of his last five fights.

    However, as one of the most naturally talented athletes at 170 pounds, he most certainly has a chance to rebound. 

    Expect a big performance from the 29-year-old when he steps back inside the Octagon.

Shane Carwin

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Junior dos Santos via unanimous decision at UFC 131 (June 2011)

    Many people have written Shane Carwin off as a top contender in the UFC heavyweight division considering he's lost his last two fights.

    With that said, it's important to realize that Carwin, despite looking outclassed against Junior dos Santos, has finished each of his four UFC victories in the first round by knockout or TKO.

    That sort of production means a lot in a division that's currently growing by the year.

    If the veteran can maintain his health and not get distracted by Roy "Big Country" Nelson's attempts at trash talk, his raw power should reign true when he makes his return in December.

Diego Sanchez

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Jake Ellenberger via unanimous decision at UFC on Fuel TV 1

    Diego Sanchez has been an exciting fighter throughout his entire UFC career.

    His fast-paced, brawl-first mentality has made every one of his performances memorable, especially the ones as a lightweight.

    Well, Sanchez is set to make his return to the lightweight division after testing the waters as a welterweight.  It comes at a good time considering Frankie Edgar and Clay Guida have just announced their featherweight candidacy.

    Food for thought: "The Dream" has captured Fight of the Night honors in each of his last three fights.

Josh Koscheck

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Johny Hendricks via split-decision at UFC on FOX 3

    As a 34-year-old fighter who has produced back-to-back split decisions, winning one of them, Josh Koscheck seems like he's losing his ability to compete at an elite level.

    His loss to Johny Hendricks consequently knocked him out of title contention and, more importantly, has shelved "Kos" for nearly six months.

    With that said, Koscheck still has an insane wrestling game that could launch him right back into the thick of things as a top welterweight contender.

    Only time will tell if he can successfully rebound.

Frankie Edgar

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Benson Henderson via split-decision at UFC 150

    Freshly removed from his five-round battle opposite UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, Frankie Edgar isn't in as big of a rut as some of the fighters on this list.

    However, his next bout is truly something to look forward to.

    Edgar has officially decided to drop down to featherweight to make a run at Jose Aldo's title.

    It's a good move for the New Jersey native as he's now able to cut a little weight and lose the size disadvantage he possessed at 155 pounds.

    He was last scheduled to face Aldo at the previously completed UFC 153, but an injury to the champ has put Edgar's divisional debut on hold.

Rampage Jackson

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Ryan Bader via unanimous decision at UFC 144 (missed weight)

    The only reason Rampage Jackson is on this list is because his next UFC fight should be his last.

    That alone makes for an increasingly exciting departure for one of the most popular MMA fighters of all time.

    Jackson hasn't fought since February, but after recently accepting the challenge to fight the scary Glover Teixeira, the anticipation surrounding the legend's final Octagon appearance is gaining momentum by the minute.

B.J. Penn

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Nick Diaz via unanimous decision at UFC 137 (October 2011)

    As B.J. Penn makes his return to the UFC to settle his beef with a young Rory MacDonald, the MMA world will be getting back one of the greatest competitors of all time.

    Penn had immediately retired from the UFC following his loss to Nick Diaz, but after MacDonald called him out via twitter, his separation from the sport he loves was short lived.

    Now, set to fight MacDonald in December at UFC on FOX 5 following an injury to the young Canadian back in September, Penn has a chance to once again display world-class heart and skill.

Nick Diaz

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Carlos Condit via unanimous decision at UFC 143 (failed post-fight drug test)

    Nick Diaz is set to make his return to the UFC sometime early next year after he finishes serving his one-year suspension for testing positive for marijuana metabolites following his fight with Carlos Condit.

    The return of Diaz is considered highly anticipated because he brings an instantaneous spark to the welterweight title picture.

    He may even get in the way of Georges St-Pierre putting the division on hold to fight Anderson Silva for money and bragging rights.

    Regardless, despite what GSP actually decides to do, it will be nice to get back one of the best trash talking, pound-for-pound brawlers in the sport today.

Dan Henderson

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    Last Fight: Victory over Mauricio Shogun Rua via unanimous decision at UFC 139 (Fight of the Year)

    It was truly a shame to see an injury get in the way of Dan Henderson hurling his 42-year-old hands into Jon Jones' face.

    Henderson may not have been able to last long against the UFC light heavyweight champion, but seeing the ageless legend brawl with the sport's youthful prodigy would have been simply enthralling.

    Now unsure of when he'll make his return, Henderson has still vowed to come back and come back strong.

    If Chael Sonnen happens to beat Jon Jones in April, how sweet would a Sonnen vs. Hendo showdown be?

Alistair Overeem

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    Last Fight: Victory over Brock Lesnar via first-round TKO at UFC 141 (December 2011)

    Alistair Overeem poses a true threat to dethrone Junior dos Santos and take his UFC heavyweight championship.

    As a world-class kickboxer with an over-sized frame, Overeem possesses a skill set that "Cigano" simply hasn't seen.

    Dana White recently said, "The Demolition Man" would most likely face the winner of dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez sometime in 2013 when he's eligible to return from his suspension (elevated testosterone levels).

    If dos Santos can hold off Velasquez, which is no easy feat, Overeem's Octagon return will be one for the ages.

    It would finally determine if kickboxing is more useful than boxing.

Chael Sonnen

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    Last Fight: Defeated by Anderson Silva via second-round TKO at UFC 148 (left the division)

    Without even defeating a relevant fighter in the division, Chael Sonnen has talked his way into a title fight with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.

    The recent news caught many people off guard considering Sonnen was set to take on Forrest Griffin in December as his divisional comeback.

    One of the biggest selling points for this deal is that Sonnen and Jones will coach the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, something that could change the landscape of the show heading into the future and save its ratings.

    As for Sonnen, who has lost both of his two UFC title fights to the great Anderson Silva, taking on a bigger version of "The Spider" is truly going to test his elite cardio, unmatched heart and hilarious trash talking.

    As for Jones, kudos to him for accepting the fight.  Maybe he'll regain any popularity he lost from the UFC 151 debacle.

Georges St-Pierre

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    Last Fight: Victory over Jake Shields via unanimous decision at UFC 129 (April 2011)

    It's astonishing that the UFC has continued to flourish in the absence of Georges St-Pierre.

    Completely unrelated to one another, GSP's health struggles haven't hindered the UFC's ability to promote newsworthy fights and sell them out.

    Interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit has carried most of the division's weight and guys like Jon Jones, Jose Aldo and Junior dos Santos have picked up the pay-per-view slack.

    With all of that said, it'd be beyond crazy to consider GSP's November return at UFC 154 anything but highly anticipated.

    It's arguably the biggest comeback in UFC history. 

    As a perennial champion, sporting six-straight title defenses, GSP will jump right back into the fire against Condit.

    After that, barring a disastrous return to the Octagon, he'll set his eyes on Anderson Silva.

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