Chael Sonnen and 10 Fighters That Were Given Undeserved Title Shots

Andrew Saunders@SaundersMMACorrespondent IINovember 7, 2012

Chael Sonnen and 10 Fighters That Were Given Undeserved Title Shots

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    Chael Sonnen is one of the most polarizing figures that mixed martial arts has ever known. Between his overworked gift of gab, his money laundering scandal and his role in the testosterone epidemic that plagues MMA, there is no question that his place in history has already been created.

    After being appointed as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter against UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Sonnen is once again on the minds of every fan. At the end of the season, the two coaches will do battle for the big gold belt that has long eluded Sonnen.

    With an official 0-2 record in the division, the Oregonian's appointment as the top contender has rubbed many the wrong way.

    Fans and MMA pundits alike have claimed that Sonnen getting a title shot denigrates the belt and makes our sport seem more like pro wrestling in the fact that a well-timed promo earns title shots more effectively than actually earning them in the cage.

    Sonnen is far from being the first man to get an undeserved crack at the belt. Here is a look at 10 fighters who were given undeserved title shots.

Chael Sonnen

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    Let's go ahead and get this one out of the way, as Chael Sonnen's crack at the UFC light heavyweight championship has been a hot-button issue ever since it was announced last month.

    When Sonnen first announced a move to 205 pounds, there were questions out of the gate that wondered where he would fall within the pecking order. In August, UFC president Dana White fielded questions from the media and directly stated that "The American Gangsta" would not immediately challenge for the belt. 

    "He's a long way away," White said. "He's not coming off the [Anderson] Silva fight and just talking his way into a 205-pound world title shot. He's going to have to beat a couple of the best in the world. If he beats Forrest Griffin, we'll shoot him right into the top 5, let him fight some of those guys there and we'll see what happens."

    The Oregon native has a storied career at middleweight, earning victories over world-ranked fighters Paulo Filho, Nate Marquardt, Michael Bisping and Yushin Okami. However, his previous tenure at light heavyweight has not been as promising, with Sonnen unsuccessful in two UFC contests.

    With Dan Henderson, Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida all finding themselves on White's bad side, some argue that Sonnen is the best choice of what's available due to his achievements at middleweight. Whether that is true or not, I will let you guys decide in the comments, but it is undeniable that Jones vs Sonnen will generate big numbers both on pay-per-view and for TUF ratings.

Vitor Belfort

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    Let me make this clear: I have no issue with Vitor Belfort receiving a title shot at UFC 152. On short notice, he was one of few fighters that Jon Jones had yet to face who also had championship credentials.

    However, this article isn't about bad UFC decisions. It is about fighters who don't deserve the title shots they receive.

    "The Phenom" didn't fare so well against the light heavyweight elite during the early part of the 21st century. Losing fights to Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson, it seemed clear that Belfort wasn't good enough to be a world champion in the modern day UFC.

    Similar to Chael Sonnen, Belfort moved to the middleweight division and immediately had more success than his 205-pound tenure. In six fights, Belfort knocked out Rich Franklin, earned four more stoppage victories and had a loss to Anderson Silva. That's a pretty impressive resume.

    The argument against Belfort is based in his failures at light heavyweight. If he had announced a return to his former division, no one would suggest that he was in line for an immediate title shot. Making his return so suddenly doesn't change that.

Tank Abbott

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    One of the most recognizable faces from the early days of the UFC hides behind the goateed face of David "Tank" Abbott. Like most fighters on this list, Abbott got his unjust crack at championship gold based on little more than name value.

    Prior to getting his crack at Maurice Smith and the UFC Heavyweight championship, Abbott had put together six wins with the organization. The only problem with his title shot comes with his losses. 

    Immediately before challenging Smith, Tank lost fights to Vitor Belfort and Don Frye. Not only did he lose, but Frye choked him out in 82 seconds, while Belfort finished him with strikes in less than a minute.

Erik Koch

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    There is only one member of this list who has never actually received a title shot; however, featherweight Erik Koch was twice booked as the challenger for Jose Aldo and his UFC championship.

    While Erik Koch's 5-1 record with the UFC and WEC is impressive, the quality of his opponents is hardly the caliber that determines a title contender. The only member of the Top 10 that "New Breed" ever faced was Chad Mendes, who handed Koch his only career loss.

    When Koch was originally booked as an opponent for Aldo, it was an acceptable decision made based on short-notice booking, the unavailability of Korean Zombie and the decision of Hatsu Hioki to request one more fight before a crack at the belt.

    However, when Aldo was forced out of the bout due to an injury, many were surprised that Koch was given a second booking with the champion instead of a replacement bout.

Matt Serra

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    Despite the impact that Serra's monumental upset had on both The Ultimate Fighter and the sport as a whole, "The Terror" was not deserving of the opportunity that was handed to him.

    The biggest issue with Serra's title shot doesn't lie in his tournament win, but instead with the quality of opposition he faced during the comeback season of TUF.

    By the standards of 2006, wins over Pete Spratt, Shonie Carter and Chris Lytle would earn you a contract with the UFC. However, in Serra's case, these wins would do more than that, as UFC president Dana White and company elected to add a golden incentive to the tournaments.

    Congratulations to Mr. Serra for becoming the first TUF winner to win a title; however, with guys like Gray Maynard and Jon Fitch needing seven and eight wins to fight for gold, this wasn't a warranted title fight.

Brett Rogers

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    I understand that Strikeforce has issues with roster depth. It makes sense that an organization that lacks top stars would have to eventually give an unworthy fighter a title opportunity.

    That being said, Brett Rogers vs Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce heavyweight championship remains one of the worst booking moves in the promotion's history.

    Although his bout with Fedor Emelianenko was competitive, nobody that felt Brett Rogers was next in line for a title shot after being on the receiving end of one of the biggest knockouts of 2009—nobody, that is, except Strikeforce matchmakers.

    Rogers would look foolish in his attempts to defeat "The Reem," as he was outstruck 54 to 1 and was stopped at 3:40 into the first round.

Urijah Faber

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    The golden boy of the WEC has made his transition into the UFC, and to the surprise of no one, he has been gifted two title shots in his four-fight stint with the organization.

    Urijah Faber could sneeze and have a title fight fall into his lap. In fact, since losing his featherweight championship to Mike Brown, "The California Kid" has received four title shots in nine fights.

    For those of you keeping score, that means Faber has been granted title shots in 45 percent of his fights since losing the belt. Is a win over Raphael Assuncao really worthy of a title shot?

    Meanwhile, fighters like Chad Mendes had to obtain upwards of six wins before getting a chance to fight for gold. Faber has never had to win more than two.

Justin Eilers

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    Some main events start out as epic and wind up being reduced to a meaningless fight that people are no longer excited to watch.

    At UFC 53, Andrei Arlovski was originally scheduled to take on Mirko Cro Cop in what would be an outstanding striker vs striker affair. When the event was moved from Yokohama Arena in Japan to New Jersey, the Croatian star did not move with it. 

    This change of venue led to a new main event of Andrei Arlovski vs former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez. That fight would have been a suitable replacement with a worthy title contender. Unfortunately, when Rodriguez pulled out of the contest, the third time was not a charm.

    At the time of his title fight, Justin Eilers was a fairly new member of the UFC roster who had gone 1-1 in the organization, but was on the heels of a first-round knockout loss at the hands of Paul Buentello.

    Similar to Buentello, Arlovski knocked out Eilers in the first round of their bout.

Kenny Florian

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    Kenny Florian received three title shots in the UFC. Before you guys smash your computer screens and start sending me death threats, allow me to clarify: KenFlo is on this list solely because of his featherweight title fight.

    If at first you don't succeed, start cutting weight. That has been the mentality of Ultimate Fighter veteran Kenny Florian, who remains the only fighter in UFC history to compete in four different weight classes.

    After coming up short in two title fights and a title eliminator at lightweight, Florian knew that his only shot at becoming a world champion would come at 145 pounds.

    Most fighters who came out of the inaugural season of TUF have a special place in Dana White's heart, so Florian was put on the fast track to contention in his new division. Instead of facing former champions or title contenders, Florian was gifted a crack at Jose Aldo after winning a lackluster decision against No. 6 ranked Diego Nunes.

    I'm not suggesting that Florian wouldn't have eventually earned his title shot. However, one win in a division with career featherweights like Chad Mendes (10-0) and Hatsu Hioki (24-4-2) in line meant he should have been required to win another fight first.

Brock Lesnar

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    That's right. A second member of this list who actually won his title fight.

    There is no question that Brock Lesnar was unworthy of his title fight with Randy Couture. Not only was he 1-1 in the organization, but there was another contender who was ahead of him in line.

    Lesnar debuted with a 90-second loss to Frank Mir. Regardless of him later avenging the failure, the fact remains. When he dominated middle-of-the-pack Heath Herring in his sophomore attempt at a UFC victory, it was akin to a modern-day victory over Roy Nelson. Sure, it's impressive, but it's not exactly worthy of a title shot.

    Aside from Lesnar needing another win or two to warrant a title shot, Antonio Nogueira was the UFC interim champion, which should have dictated that he fight for the title immediately upon "The Natural's" return to the Octagon.

    In the end, Lesnar fought and defeated Couture to win the belt, which he would defend twice against world champions. Whether or not he was worthy of his title shot, he made the most of it.

    Will Chael Sonnen have the same luck against Jon Jones? Would a win against the seemingly unbeatable champion overrule the fact that Sonnen doesn't deserve the opportunity that knocked on his door?