Fights We Would Like to See Chael Sonnen Take on His 5-Fight Deal
A short-lived stint at light heavyweight will end for Chael Sonnen when "The American Gangster" locks horns with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event at UFC Fight Night on Fox Sports 1 on Aug. 17.
He inked a five-fight deal with the UFC in late July, and win or lose against the former light heavyweight linchpin, a descent back to his natural weight class of 185 is in the cards for Sonnen.
In all likelihood, Sonnen, a two-time UFC middleweight title challenger, will face a difficult journey back to top contendership. But there are still plenty of potentially captivating matchups for the 36-year-old Oregonian to entertain in the future.
Here's a glimpse at five fights that Sonnen should pursue in his new contract.
All stats gathered via Fightmetric.com.
When the suspension of Rousimar Palhares gets lifted in September, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard will assumingly return to the Octagon hungrier than ever.
"Toquinho," on a two-fight losing skid for the first time in his career, suffered a brutal KO at the hands of Hector Lombard at UFC on FX 6 in his last bout. And to make matters worse, Palhares received a nine-month suspension after failing a post-fight drug test (elevated testosterone levels).
Toquinho's recent woes will undoubtedly make the Brazilian a desperate fighter, but that's nothing that Sonnen hasn't dealt with before.
While Palhares has only allowed four takedowns in 11 UFC fights, he doesn't possess the wrestling chops to fend off a barrage of shots from The American Gangster.
Toquinho does bring to the table a feared Brazilian jiu-jitsu game that includes some of the sport's most devastating leglocks.
With 10 of Palhares' 14 career wins coming via submission, Sonnen would have to employ a mistake-free game plan against Toquinho to avoid losing for the ninth time via submission.
In his nine-year pro career, Alan Belcher has never dropped three consecutive bouts.
Because he's on his first career two-fight losing skid, fans will surely see a desperate and dangerous Belcher in his next bout.
"The Talent" finished four straight fights (two via TKO and two by submission) before dropping back-to-back decisions to Yushin Okami and Michael Bisping at UFC 155 and UFC 159, respectively.
Although he's got better-than-average striking and submission games, Belcher may struggle to contend with Sonnen's wrestling pedigree.
Sonnen, however, would have to execute his typical wrestle-heavy scheme on Belcher in a flawless manner, unless of course he wants to suffer his ninth submission loss.
A black belt in both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Belcher can end a fight in an instant on the ground, a fact that makes him an attractive potential opponent for Sonnen.
While Vitor Belfort has yearned for years to punish Sonnen, The American Gangster simply wants to take what he believes "The Phenom" has—top contendership in the UFC's middleweight division.
After years of tussling verbally, it seems that a bout between Belfort and Sonnen could realistically come to fruition in late 2013 or early 2014.
During an August interview with FIGHT! MAGAZINE, Sonnen explained his desire to lock horns with the UFC's second-ranked 185-pounder by saying:
Vitor had issued a challenge, which I accepted. I've challenged Vitor many times (and) he's challenged me. My timing's always been a little better than his. I challenge Vitor when Vitor's available. Vitor challenges me when I'm not. But Vitor's got a title, too, and the title of number one contender is a good, important title. And if he wants to put his title up, I will definitely fight him.
Belfort scored spectacular knockout wins over Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold in his last two outings, while Sonnen has dropped two fights in a row and has won just twice in his last five bouts.
Granted, the trajectories of these two 36-year-olds seems radically different. But Sonnen was the top-ranked middleweight last summer, and only setbacks in title fights to Jon Jones (light heavyweight) and Anderson Silva (middleweight) have made his stock plummet.
He's faced plenty of dangerous strikers, but the UFC's third oldest fighter, Cung Le, has yet to tangle with a former NCAA Division I wrestler.
While Le obviously possesses the KO power to flatten any middleweight in the UFC, the former Strikeforce middleweight champ hasn't proven that he has the wrestling prowess to stay off his back against Sonnen.
A former All-American wrestler at the University of Oregon, Sonnen has scored 26 takedowns in his last 10 bouts.
But Le, a former California Community College Athletic Association state champion wrestler, sports an impressive takedown defense percentage of 89, allowing just one flooring in 11 fights.
With a Chuck Liddell-like sprawl and explosive KO power, Le could realistically fend off Sonnen's takedown attempts and force the The American Gangster into a standup war.
Le has some nice feathers in his cap already, but handing Sonnen his fifth career knockout loss would arguably signify the 41-year-old's most significant accomplishment.
Winner of Costa Philippou vs. Francis Carmont
Their names may not carry the same weight as the other men in line to fight Sonnen, but few middleweights in the UFC can say they're surging faster than Costa Philippou or Francis Carmont.
Because both men are riding five-fight UFC winning streaks, their bout at UFC 165 will mark the most significant fight in each of their careers.
A win for the seventh-ranked Philippou could mean a future fight with one of the division's top five contenders. Carmont, on the contrary, will attempt to break into the top 10 with a victory over his first ranked opponent.
While Philippou (83 percent) and Carmont (86 pecent) carry respectable takedown defense percentages, neither fighter has faced an NCAA Division I All-American wrestler.
Sonnen would need to implement a flawless scheme in order to avoid the lethal striking of Philippou and the venomous ground game of Carmont. If he fails to do what he does best, The American Gangster would surely become just another victim for either of these up-and-coming 185-pounders.