If Chael Sonnen has any chance of defeating overwhelming favorite Jon Jones at UFC 159, it will be because he became the first fighter to take the fight to the reigning champion.
Sonnen comes into their title tilt as a huge underdog (+500 according to Bovada). On paper, Jones holds just about every advantage that a fighter can hold over his opponent. He's bigger, quicker, more athletic and capable of damaging humans in more ways than anyone that has come into the sport before him.
There aren't many advantages to be seen for the controversial challenger. What Sonnen does have, though, is an undeterred aggression that has made him a threat to fighters far more physically blessed than he is.
Say what you will about Sonnen's personality outside of the cage. Hate him for his professional wrestling persona that has mastered the art of selling fights. Hate him for his lack of credentials to be afforded this opportunity in the first place, but it can't be denied that Sonnen isn't afraid to dial up pressure on dangerous fighters.
As polarizing as Sonnen's career has been, he'll always be connected to his first fight with Anderson Silva. For years, Silva has demanded the respect of his opponents. His ability to counterstrike and finish fights in devastating fashion has driven him to almost mythological status. Sonnen didn't care. He went after Silva with with an aggression that few of Silva's opponents have been brave enough to do. The reward was four rounds of domination over the reigning pound-for-pound champion.
How will Chael Sonnen fare against Jon Jones?
Ultimately, he came up short, but he proved that he was as worthy a challenger to Silva's title as anyone.
Jones is certainly a different test than Silva. His length and striking style will make it even more difficult for Sonnen to get close enough to secure takedowns. However, the principle remains the same.
If Jones has the time to break down Sonnen on the feet in the same methodical fashion that he decimated Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua, this fight will go exactly how everyone expects it to. Jones is simply too dangerous on the feet to be given that time.
The only way that Sonnen can make this interesting is by doing what he does best—he must put his head down, tuck his chin and work to put Jones on his back.
If he gets knocked out because that's his approach, so be it. He has a promising career in television ahead of him and he wasn't expected to win anyway. If he's able to make life difficult for the champion, he'll at least prove once again that he was a worthy contender.