How Would Chael Sonnen Fare Against Top 10 UFC Light Heavyweights?
Chael Sonnen failed to dethrone Jon Jones at UFC 159, but that doesn't mean the outspoken veteran is finished in the 205-pound division.
Almost immediately after his loss to Jones, Sonnen was already beginning to sell a rivalry fight with Wanderlei Silva. During an episode of UFC Tonight on Fuel TV, Sonnen said, "I'm not going anywhere until me and Wanderlei straighten this thing out once and for all."
While no fight has been booked, it would seem the bout between Sonnen and Silva is an inevitability and could take place at the UFC's debut show on Fox Sports 1.
With a win over Silva, it's possible the UFC could look to push Sonnen back into fights with top 205-pound contenders. Let's take a look at how Sonnen might match up against those top-10 UFC light heavyweights.
10. Ryan Bader
An All-American wrestler with knockout power, Ryan Bader presents a difficult stylistic matchup for Sonnen.
Jon Jones has been the only fighter to out-wrestle Bader, so Sonnen would have a difficult time imposing his will in this potential light heavyweight contest. Solid grapplers like Vladimir Matyushenko and Jason Brilz have come into fights with Bader looking to win a wrestling match, but both were knocked down before even attempting a takedown.
Even though Bader has not shown much when fighting off of his back, Sonnen is not the best finisher from the top position. With every round starting with both fighters standing, Bader's wrestling would likely allow him to stay on his feet long enough to land a big right hand.
Bader defeats Sonnen by (T)KO in the first round.
9. Gegard Mousasi
Gegard Mousasi would have a significant advantage over Chael Sonnen in the striking department. However, remaining standing would prove difficult for the former Strikeforce champion.
Although he dominated the fight, Mousasi was taken down by UFC newcomer Ilir Latifi in his last outing. Keith Jardine also scored six takedowns on Mousasi en route to a draw.
Mousasi was able work back to his feet in those fights. Against an elite MMA wrestler like Sonnen, as he did against Muhammed Lawal, Mousasi would likely have difficulty escaping if he were to be taken down.
Sonnen defeats Mousasi by decision.
8. Phil Davis
Chael Sonnen was widely considered the best wrestler in the middleweight division. If he wants to earn that distinction among light heavyweight contenders, Sonnen might have to prove himself against the likes of NCAA champion wrestler Phil Davis.
While Davis' amateur wrestling credentials are arguably stronger than Sonnen's, he hasn't had as much time to adapt his grappling for MMA purposes. His wrestling has been good enough against most opponents, but when Davis met another elite wrestler in Rashad Evans he was taken down multiple times.
Davis has developed some solid jiu-jitsu, but he's only recorded submissions from the top position. If forced to fight off his back against Sonnen, Davis would be in for a long night.
Sonnen defeats Davis by decision.
7. Mauricio Rua
Mauricio Rua has been slipping from the top of the light heavyweight division, but he's still a fighter Chael Sonnen would have to surpass in order to return to title contention.
Although Rua has had some shaky takedown defense in the past, denying only 34 percent of opponent attempts, he did out-wrestle Dan Henderson in November 2011. That's not to say he would be able to take Sonnen down at will, but it could mean he's capable of remaining standing in that potential matchup.
With a much more dangerous striking arsenal than Sonnen, Rua wouldn't have to stay on his feet for long to land a finishing blow.
Rua defeats Sonnen by (T)KO in the second round.
6. Rashad Evans
Coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, 33-year-old Rashad Evans appears to be fading, but he's still one of the better light heavyweights in the world right now.
A bout between Evans and Chael Sonnen would feature two of the better 205-pound wrestlers competing under the UFC banner. For that reason, wrestling might not be a deciding factor at all, as Evans would be capable of shutting down Sonnen's predictable takedown attempts.
Instead of looking to counter with his own offensive wrestling, Evans would opt to keep this fight standing, where he could take advantage of an advantage of quickness and win with his striking.
Evans defeats Sonnen by decision.
5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Had Rashad Evans utilized his wrestling more frequently in his last outing, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira might still be sitting just outside the top-10 light heavyweight rankings.
Though he has respectable takedown defense, stopping 72 percent of attempts against him, both of Nogueira's UFC losses came against opponents who continually looked to put the Brazilian's back on the canvas. Evans, for some reason, did not employ that game plan against Nogueira at UFC 156.
Nogueira has submitted Dan Henderson, but his jiu-jitsu isn't quite as dangerous as his brother's. While Sonnen would have to show improved submission defense, it's quite possible he would be able to grind out a decision win against Nogueira just as Phil Davis and Ryan Bader did.
Sonnen defeats Nogueira by decision.
4. Glover Teixeira
Although Glover Teixeira has not been taken down since joining the UFC roster, he's also not faced a wrestler like Chael Sonnen.
From a technique standpoint, Sonnen would have an advantage over Teixeira in the wrestling department. However, it's also very possible Teixeira's mix of size and respectable grappling ability would help prevent regular Sonnen takedowns.
One of the heaviest hitters in the 205-pound division, Teixeira only needs to land one big shot to finish a fight, and Sonnen has crumbled recently when facing powerful strikes in bad spots.
Teixeira defeats Sonnen by (T)KO in the first round.
3. Dan Henderson
Team Quest fighters Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen don't train at the same location, but they have a long-standing relationship through their gym affiliation.
While both Henderson and Sonnen come from wrestling backgrounds, they bring very different approaches into the Octagon. Sonnen relies almost exclusively on his wrestling, while Henderson utilizes his wrestling defensively and tries to land his big right hand while standing.
Out-wrestled by Mauricio Rua in the later rounds of his most recent win, the 42-year-old Henderson's wrestling has certainly declined over the years. Knowing all he has to avoid is that overhand right, Sonnen would have a good chance of beating "Hendo" with takedowns.
Sonnen defeats Henderson by decision.
2. Alexander Gustafsson
Since he started working with former opponent Phil Davis, Alexander Gustafsson has had little problem with the wrestlers he's faced.
Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko were unable to get inside on Gustafsson and were ultimately knocked out. While Sonnen is widely considered to be a better wrestler than either of those fighters, he's still going to face the same problem of finding a way to deal with Gustafsson's long reach.
Gustafsson may have to fight off a takedown attempt or two because of Sonnen's relentlessness, but he should be able to stay upright enough to pick Sonnen apart with straight shots.
Gustafsson defeats Sonnen by (T)KO in the second round.
1. Lyoto Machida
Lyoto Machida has been a tough puzzle to solve for stocky wrestlers. In his past four fights, Machida defeated Dan Henderson, Ryan Bader and Randy Couture by striking from the outside to evade takedown attempts.
With a success rate of 82 percent in defending takedowns, Machida is one of the worst stylistic matchups for Sonnen in the light heavyweight division.
After gauging his distance early on, Machida would likely be able to catch Sonnen coming forward as he did in a brutal knockout finish against Bader.
Machida defeats Sonnen by (T)KO in the second round.