Here's something I've been pondering lately: What happens next Saturday night, after UFC 159 has come and gone?
More specifically, what happens if Chael Sonnen can't beat Jon Jones? What happens if Sonnen is unsuccessful in his third title fight in the last three years?
If you're Sonnen, where do you go from there?
Do you move back down the ladder a few notches and then attempt to work your way back up? That doesn't sound like such a bad idea, at least not on the surface. Sonnen is still somewhat young and still a very good fighter. And he's still the best trash-talker in the entire sport (if not in all sports, period).
And the UFC loves him for his willingness to promote and to push their product, which means he's never going to be more than a few fights away from a main event or a title fight.
But if Sonnen loses to Jones—and that's the likely outcome of their UFC 159 main event—the UFC would be hard-pressed to move Sonnen back into title contention, at least in the next two years. Unless Sonnen goes in the cage and beats several top-shelf contenders like Lyoto Machida, Dan Henderson or Alexander Gustafsson, he's going to be on the outside of the title picture looking in.
This is reality: At UFC 159, Sonnen is getting a chance for another big payday and another moment in the spotlight, but he's facing one of the best fighters in the sport in a bout that he has very little chance to win. When I sat down to compile my own personal handicapping for the fight, I gave Sonnen a 12-percent chance to win the fight.
Even with that number, I think I might have been generous.
I'm sure Sonnen is aware that he's a long shot against Jones. And he's probably already contemplated what happens after the lights dim, when he goes home one more time without a championship belt.
If I were Sonnen, standing in the cage after losing to Jones, I'd immediately announce my retirement when Joe Rogan walked up to interview me.
Let me tell you why.
The truth is that Sonnen is likely more valuable to the UFC as a television personality than he ever was as a fighter. Sure, he's capable of getting fans to tune in to pay-per-views, but he's not a world-changing draw like Brock Lesnar or Georges St-Pierre. He's an excellent fighter who crafted a late-career popularity surge by melding bits and pieces of the professional wrestling shows that he enjoyed as a kid with his own personality.
It's that personality that is going to give Sonnen a career that will last long after he's done fighting.
Have you seen any episodes of UFC Tonight since Sonnen started hosting the news magazine show with Kenny Florian?
He's simply excellent. He's fluid, polished and entertaining, and watching him host feels like watching someone who could slot right into SportsCenter and never miss a beat. He's that good.
I don't know exactly what Sonnen is paid for doing UFC Tonight, but I do know that there is real money to be made in television when you're hosting a regular show like that. If Sonnen made $3,000 per episode of UFC Tonight—and from talking with friends in the industry, I suspect that's on the low side of the pay scale—well, do the math. He'd make more just doing UFC Tonight than he would from fighting three times a year on his current purse.
And that doesn't even factor in all of the other work Sonnen does for the Fox family. He's already a staple on UFC on FOX broadcasts, and he'd likely be integrated even more if he didn't have to deal with training camps and media obligations and the like.
With the launch of Fox Sports 1 in August, the UFC will have even more programming than they currently do on Fuel; Sonnen could even be given his own show. I know I'd watch a broadcast featuring Sonnen taking calls from fans and ranting on all manner of topics.
After all, he's already better than Jay Glazer, and Glazer's been doing television work a long time.
Factor in health considerations, too. Sonnen could walk away from a sport that he's been competing in for a long time with his brain wholly intact. No more taking blows to the head. No concussions. No degradation of his quality of life when he's older.
And no sticking around the sport past his expiration date—like a Jens Pulver or Ken Shamrock—because he needs the money to survive, since he'll have regular checks from Fox bolstering his bank account.
I'd never presume to tell a fighter of Sonnen's current standing and caliber that he needs to retire, especially since I don't think Sonnen NEEDS to retire. He doesn't. He still has fights remaining on his current contract, and he can continue making that walk when his music hits for as long as it makes him happy. And I'll gladly tune in to watch, because I cannot imagine a time when watching Sonnen becomes boring.
All I'm saying is this: He should at least consider retirement if he loses to Jones. If he beats Jones and becomes the new light heavyweight champion? Forget every single thing I typed up there, because that's an entirely different story.
But if he goes in the cage and loses to Jones—and remember, there's no shame in losing to one of the best young fighters in the world—walking away from active competition should at least be an option, because there seems to be a wealth of opportunities awaiting Sonnen on the little (and perhaps the big) screen.
Sonnen doesn't need me to tell him any of this. He's probably already given consideration to every single thing I've written here.
Which is why you shouldn't be surprised if next Saturday night is the last time you ever see the "Gangster from West Linn" make that walk to the cage.