Chael Sonnen's Uncertain Future Dampens UFC 159 Excitement
Let's get this out of the way before we even start delving into the real meat and potatoes of today's discussion: We don't know what's going to happen after UFC 159 concludes Saturday night.
I mean, we have a pretty good idea. But I can't sit here and tell you that Jon Jones is absolutely going to beat Chael Sonnen, because this is mixed martial arts, and anything can happen in mixed martial arts. I learned that lesson back when Matt Serra did the impossible and knocked out Georges St-Pierre.
If that can happen, then Sonnen can certainly pull off the impossible and beat Jones for the light heavyweight title.
But it's not likely. I've looked at this fight from every angle I possibly can, and I just can't see a viable path to victory for Sonnen. I know he's great at wrestling, but I just can't imagine him executing a wrestling-heavy game plan against Jones, who has turned takedown defense into an art form. Sonnen might be able to pull off a few takedowns, sure, but he's not going to be able to do it enough times to win the fight. It just isn't going to happen.
And here's the thing: I believe Sonnen is fully aware that he isn't winning the fight. I think he's aware that he's up against one of the best fighters in the world, that it's a terrible matchup for him and that it would take a miracle to win. I'm sure he put in a good training camp, because Sonnen is a tireless worker. And I'm sure he'll be in shape.
But I also believe that deep down in his heart of hearts, Sonnen just knows that he's not winning the fight. I'm sure he'd love to take that light heavyweight strap home, but I also believe he's fine with the idea of losing to a fighter like Jones. There's no shame in it.
If Sonnen's heart isn't in the fight, why is he in the fight in the first place? Because I think he's taking the opportunity to pull in one last mega-payday before he shifts to the broadcasting side of the MMA spectrum on a full-time basis.
I've stated before that I believe Sonnen should retire after this fight. I don't think he has anything left to accomplish in the cage. Sure, it'd be nice to win a UFC title, but I think we have to be realistic and acknowledge that the chances of him beating Jones are quite slim, and the chances of getting a third shot at Anderson Silva? That's not happening.
I also believe that Sonnen is an excellent broadcaster and host. Fox recognizes this, and they love having him in the booth. He's actually on par with many hosts from other sports, and he's better than some of the full-time broadcasters that Fox already has in its stable. It's not that far-fetched an idea that Sonnen may eventually be used in other sports outside of mixed martial arts.
Yes, I believe Sonnen will retire on Saturday night. And I think that's the right move. But that uncertainty about his future makes the fight with Jones less exciting than it should be.
It feels like Sonnen is going through the motions. Like my colleague Jonathan Snowden pointed out, Sonnen didn't even really bother to work up any new pro wrestling-style catchphrases or insults for this fight. He's just recycling old material from previous fights, and I think that's because he's just going through the motions. Sonnen wants to get in the cage, put up the best fight he can, collect his paycheck and move on.
That's great for Sonnen, but it takes away some of the intrigue from Saturday's main event. When you're getting ready to watch a UFC event—especially one featuring one of the very best fighters in the world, a man who might just be the future and the present of the sport all wrapped up in one—you want hype. You want some uncertainty. You want to believe that the championship challenger is ready to put it all on the line in order to capture that title, and that he has a genuine chance to do so.
I don't feel any of that here. That doesn't mean the fight isn't going to do gangbusters on pay-per-view, because Internet traffic—often a decent sign of how an event is trending—seems to indicate that this is going to be a big show.
This is just a personal reflection, and I may be alone in feeling this way. But I'm nowhere near as excited for this fight as I usually am for UFC title fights. Maybe it's because I don't think Sonnen stands much of a chance of dethroning Jones, or maybe it's because I think he's already looking past the fight at his future home in the broadcast booth.
But whatever the reason, the passion just isn't there. Maybe I'm wrong and the fight has captured the imagination of the casual fanbase, and maybe it'll do a million pay-per-view buys.
But don't be surprised if it doesn't.
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