Chael Sonnen Is the Most Deserving Contender for Jon Jones, Like It or Not
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Dearest MMA fans, you know this to be true. You may not like it. You may not be happy about it. You may prefer alternative choices. This, however, does not change the facts.
Chael P. Sonnen (and the “P” stands for “perfection”) is the most deserving fighter to face Jon Jones.
Again, whether or not you like the fight, and whether or not you like Chael Sonnen, this is irrefutable. In a perfect world, this would not be the case.
However, as you have probably noticed, this world is far from perfect.
This is a world where the UFC has a terribly shallow light heavyweight division. This is a world where Jon Jones handily beat Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans in a 13-month span. This is a world that fans always claimed they wanted, where their champions fight as frequently as possible against anyone who could reasonably put up a fight.
Is this an unforeseen situation? Is this even new ground for the UFC?
Not at all.
The UFC has been putting circular pegs into square holes when it comes to title fights since its inception. Fights like Erik Koch vs. Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber vs. Dominick Cruz III and Dan Hardy vs. Georges St-Pierre made less sense on paper—and did not even have half the intrigue of Sonnen vs. Jones—but generated essentially no uproar.
Yet here we are, where Sonnen, who should be regarded as the clear-cut No. 2 middleweight in the world, is supposedly undeserving of a title shot.
Is Sonnen the most deserving of a shot at Jones?
The problems people have found with this bout are numerous, but are all equally arbitrary.
“Oh, this is Chael Sonnen's first fight at light heavyweight in five years!”
This makes very, very little difference when you actually sit back and think on it. Sonnen fighting at light heavyweight does not suddenly make him something other than one of the best grapplers in MMA. It does not abate his victories over Nate Marquardt, Brian Stann, Yushin Okami and Michael Bisping.
More importantly, a change in weight class has not stopped fans and writers from declaring Frankie Edgar vs. Jose Aldo a must-see bout. It has not kept Anderson Silva vs. Rashad Evans from being one of the most intriguing matchups available among UFC fighters.
Those, by the way, are bouts that involve fighters dropping weight.
Remember, cutting weight is substantially more trying than adding weight (just keep in mind Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann). Sonnen was a big middleweight at UFC 148. Nine months' worth of dedicated weight training will make him even bigger. In all likelihood, he will be more closely-matched in the size department against Jones than Evans or Rua would be.
“There were other fighters more deserving of a title shot.”
Lyoto Machida? The “Karate Guy” who is one fight separated from being choked unconscious by Jon Jones? The same one who, let's be honest, should be 2-4 in his last six fights?
What about Mauricio “Shogun” Rua? You know, the one who got even more thoroughly dominated by Jones than Machida did? The one who has not had an official winning streak since he beat the “old” versions of Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell in 2009? The same guy who wheezed and struggled his way over Brandon Vera, who most avidly stated had no place in the same cage with him?
Dan Henderson, though, totally had a chance, right? The guy who has wilted after two rounds in every fight since he beat Rousimar Palhares at UFC 88? The same Dan Henderson who earned that title shot after one less-than-clear win over Rua almost a year ago? Who, given that Jones vs. Sonnen is scheduled for late April, would be looking at 16 months between fights?
Phil Davis and Alexander Gustafsson? Both supremely talented, for sure. But the two have combined for precisely zero wins against top-ten opponents and are the only true prospects in the division. Rushing them into a fight with Jones (and make no mistake, fighting Jones at this point would be rushing it for either one of them) would yield nothing positive for any involved party.
“Oh, but Chael Sonnen talked his way into a title shot!”
Nonsense. Utter nonsense.
Sonnen fought his way to being regarded as one of the UFC's best.He talked his way into being more famous than the likes of Tim Boetsch, Alan Belcher and Mark Munoz, for sure. That, however, does not take away from his actual skills.
Was Sonnen's fan-friendly irreverence a huge factor in why he was offered the fight? No question. Nevertheless, it is not like other, more worthy opponents were passed over to give Sonnen a chance.
“Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen is non-competitive.”
I have absolutely no idea where people are getting the idea that this is a viable argument, or that a fighter's odds are an especially important factor in choosing title contenders. The UFC, for a very long time, has had absolutely dominant champions.
If who is the most likely to beat the champion was the determining factor in picking title contenders, Sonnen would have been booked for an immediate rematch against Anderson Silva after UFC 148, because he had a vastly greater chance at beating Silva than Michael Bisping, Mark Munoz, Vitor Belfort or any other potential contender.
Jones, meanwhile, would be exclusively matched against Rashad Evans for the foreseeable future.
On top of all that, no other light heavyweight but Sonnen—short of Machida and Evans—has a better chance of beating Jones. He has almost all of the wrestling skills of Evans, but none of the fear that marred the UFC 145 main event. There are few fighters that have Sonnen's quickness while shooting for a takedown, and that neutralizes a great deal of Jones' reach-focused striking game.
This is not to say that Sonnen should be favored against Jones, by any means. It's just that this fight is not as lopsided as many seem to believe. The same cannot be said for Jones vs. Henderson, Jones vs. Davis or Jones vs. Gustafsson.
“Jones fighting Sonnen cheapens the belt.”
The hilarious thing is that many of the people saying this are the ones who criticize Renan Barao and Carlos Condit for not hustling to fight any available, random guy. But there are two sides to every argument.
Sonnen, once again, is a very good fighter.
Jon Jones fighting him does not detract from his role as the light heavyweight division's top dog. It simply shows what we already knew: the light heavyweight division is incredibly shallow right now.
Jones has already beaten the best light heavyweights available (and Vitor Belfort). The problem with him fighting Sonnen is that the division is so weak that Sonnen is the best fighter available. That, in a way, is what cheapens the belt.
In a perfect world, this would not be a problem. In a perfect world, Showtime would not have mishandled Strikeforce so badly and a semi-compelling, title unification match against Mo Lawal, Gegard Mousasi or Rafael Cavalcante would fit into that April slot perfectly. Perhaps Jones would not have motored through his opposition so quickly, thereby allowing another contender to surface.
This, however, is not a perfect world.
This is just a world where, through a combination of luck and timing, Chael Sonnen is the best choice to fight Jon Jones.
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