Chael Sonnen has a better shot than most are giving him against Jon Jones.
While many are excited about finally seeing Jones and Sonnen bury the hatchet, few are giving the challenger much of a chance to win. That, though, is a big mistake.
While this seems like it should be a slam dunk for the champion on paper, “The American Gangster” has a better shot at the belt than anybody else who has challenged Jones so far. Sonnen is a unique figure in the 205-lb division and has an edge in a few key areas.
So what could result in the belt changing hands this Saturday? Find out right here!
What can a man say about Chael Sonnen's wrestling that hasn't already been said before? He is really, really good.
Jon Jones is no slouch, mind you. We've seen him demolish high-caliber wrestlers and seasoned MMA veterans since he first joined the UFC. Ryan Bader, Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill were all taken down and beaten up by Jones.
However, Sonnen's Greco-Roman pedigree is something that few fighters can claim to possess. Jones is not among that lot, and his frequent use of the clinch plays into his opponent's hand.
In the wrestling department, Chael Sonnen has an advantage over Jones.
But how would this be an advantage for Sonnen? Jon Jones is a big light heavyweight, while Sonnen is debuting at 205 lbs after years of fighting at middleweight. How could Sonnen possibly be the one with a size advantage?
First of all, consider Jones' frame—his lanky, trim, 6'4" frame.
Certainly, Jones' reach and length have given him things that few fighters are capable of imitating. That said, those advantages would be largely in the submission and striking departments. They will do little to hinder Sonnen's wrestling-focused attack.
While many may complain about this, since Sonnen got his therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy, he has ballooned in size. The difference was obvious between his two fights with Anderson Silva, but during The Ultimate Fighter, he looked like a miniature Hulk.
Considering there are few legitimately large light heavyweights (Rashad Evans, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Lyoto Machida have all teased about going to middleweight at some point), it is possible that Sonnen is Jones' largest opponent since Brandon Vera in 2010.
When we consider Sonnen's wrestling and size, we're likely going to see Jones' striking being impeded for the first time.
While Jones hates the accusation that he gets away with a great deal of his unorthodox strikes because of his reach, it's totally true. There isn't anything wrong with that, mind you, just like there's nothing wrong with Stefan Struve using his long legs to lock up body triangles on smaller guys like Pat Barry.
The thing is, Jones is not going to be able to throw his Dhalsim-like kicks or do many looping spins against somebody with Sonnen's willingness and ability to charge into a single and power things to the ground. That instantly neutralizes one of Jones' greatest tools.
While Jones and his coaching staff are great at making adjustments, having them work out is no guarantee. Jones may not even stick to his game plan, given his love of going off script.
Vitor Belfort has been around the block several times. A huge percentage of his wins over the years have come from his wild, stampede-like striking, where he closes his eyes and charges while flailing his dynamite-loaded fists.
You saw none of that in his fight against Jones, and the same goes for nearly every opponent Jones has faced thus far. He has an incredible ability to take fighters out of their comfort zones.
Some of this is because Jones is really, really good (I had to set a strict two “really” limit on myself). Some of it, though, is the “champion aura," where top fighters can instill fear into opponents, causing hesitation at every step.
Sonnen doesn't know fear. We saw it in his two fights with Anderson Silva. As Silva pawed and waved, Sonnen walked toward him and punched him in the face.
We are going to see somebody actually press the action on Jones.
Jon Jones has solid cardio. We haven't seen much of Jones in the championship rounds (he has only made the judges earn their paychecks once as champion and just three times in his MMA career), but what we've seen of him has been nothing greater than "good."
Chael Sonnen, though, possibly has the best cardio in the sport. As a fighter who gets by on a tough chin, powerful wrestling and lots of ground-and-pound, that is no small feat. His cardio is the biggest factor in a possible Sonnen victory.
Even the biggest fan of The American Gangster would have to take a couple of drinks before calling him a finisher. So far, including his stints with the UFC and his time in the WEC, he has precisely one stoppage win, which came against Brian Stann.
With that in mind, we all know that Sonnen is going to try to wear Jones down early in order to soften him up for the later rounds.
If he is capable of plying his trade against the champion, he has a good chance of dethroning Jones. While Sonnen is unlikely to knock out the champ, he can conceivably win three rounds in the eyes of the judges.
I'm not saying you should rush to bet on Sonnen. Just don't be fully convinced that this is a slam dunk for Jones.