Just when you think you’ve got him figured out, Chael Sonnen pulls out a new wrinkle and leaves you absolutely baffled.
Don’t think so?
Go ask Shogun Rua.
The Brazilian star, a jiu-jitsu black belt who hadn’t been submitted in six years, was left kneeling in the middle of the Octagon on Saturday night—kneeling in the middle of the Octagon wondering how he just got choked senseless by a part-time television analyst.
And so it goes for Sonnen, who won his first fight since early 2012 and finished his first since late 2011. Not that long ago people were suggesting he should retire to the comfort of the UFC Tonight desk; now they’re listing guys from two different weight classes who might be his next fight.
That’s how it works after the best win of your career—and make no mistake, beating Rua was the best of Sonnen’s career.
Going into the cage with a champion or former champion and coming out the victor is something Sonnen had never done in the UFC. Earning the finish was something that Sonnen had only ever done once in the UFC, and never in the first round.
It was also his first UFC win at light heavyweight since 2006 and was a win in a weight class that he’s probably too small to compete in these days.
To put it mildly, Sonnen impressed on Saturday night. He pressured Rua from the outset, avoiding danger coming at him from the bottom and maintaining positions of dominance for much of the round.
When a chance to finish presented itself, he trusted his game enough to jump guard—Chael Sonnen jumped guard on Saturday night—and clamp down with a choke. For years, Sonnen was content to ride out decisions with tireless wrestling and volume ground strikes, but not any more.
Now he’s going for the kill.
The fact is that Sonnen is getting better with age, defying all logic and overcoming some of the most mentally and physically debilitating defeats seen in the Octagon in the past couple of years.
He’s become a favorite of Fox Sports outside the cage and has somehow rejuvenated his career in two weight classes inside of it.
He’s a game competitor with a gift for promotion and a guy who can beat almost anyone on any given day thanks to good wrestling, a deep gas tank and an evolving submission game.
At 36 years old, it seems that Sonnen is better than ever, and that was proven on Saturday night with the best victory of his career. The guy is a legitimate threat to anyone not named Jon Jones or Anderson Silva, and we all may have been too quick to hold that against him in the past.