Chael Sonnen exudes confidence before each and every fight he competes in, but that may have turned into overconfidence at UFC 167. Rashad "Suga" Evans came away victorious in a highly anticipated light heavyweight contest with a first-round TKO.
The fight didn't last long as Evans asserted himself, once again, as a force at 205 pounds. After scoring a takedown in the first round, he utilized ground-and-pound to score some heavy blows. Despite Sonnen's attempts to cover up, Evans' aggressive tactics paid off, and the referee called the fight in Evans' favor.
Sonnen is one of the most recognizable and popular fighters in the sport, but that has more to do with what he does outside the Octagon than in it. He hasn't had any problem talking the talk during his UFC career, but he now has lost three of his past four bouts after falling to Evans on Saturday.
"The American Gangster" now owns a record of 29-14-1 and returns to the loss column after beating Mauricio Rua in August. Before that bout, his previous two fights came against arguably the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the UFC in Jon Jones and Anderson Silva.
Sonnen couldn't beat either of them, and he couldn't triumph against a seemingly lesser opponent in Evans either.
This was a huge fight for both men, since it was clear that the loser would drop down the pecking order in the light heavyweight division. Sonnen and Evans had each lost to Jones in title matches prior to their meeting on Saturday, so they knew they were going to have a tough time climbing back up the ladder regardless.
Jones still has to go through the likes of Glover Teixeira, Phil Davis, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Alexander Gustafsson again before he meets Evans again, but at least this win allows Suga to get his name back in the conversation.
The main event of the night pits Georges St-Pierre against Johny Hendricks, but many UFC fans were just as excited for Sonnen vs. Evans. Not only is that a testament to Sonnen's ability to drum up interest, but it also says a lot about the fighting styles of Sonnen and Evans, who often take part in exciting bouts.
This was an unofficial eliminator fight in a lot of ways, since it was clear ahead of Saturday that the loser would be put in a difficult spot. Evans entered the fight ahead of Sonnen in the UFC light heavyweight rankings, and there is no question that he solidified his positioning on Saturday. Evans is in a good spot, but Sonnen needs to go on an extended winning streak to get back into title conversation.
There was plenty of talk about Sonnen's UFC future prior to Saturday's fight, as he came in having lost two of his past three contests. In addition to that, he is 36 years of age, so conventional wisdom suggests that he is on the downside of his career. Based on the way he performed against Evans, it's possible that Sonnen's detractors have a point.
As for Evans, the win answered some pressing questions. Prior to defeating Dan Henderson via a controversial split decision in June, he had lost consecutive bouts to Nogueira and Jones. Those were only the second and third losses of his career, but they dropped his stock considerably. A high-profile win over Sonnen should send him in an upward trend, however.
He is only 34, so he has at least a couple of good years left, which means the win over Sonnen was paramount. He can't afford another loss if he wants another crack at Jones or whoever may be the UFC light heavyweight champion moving forward, and he rose to the occasion when he needed to.
Both men needed a victory to avoid falling outside the title picture, and while Evans is back in business, Sonnen now finds himself at a crossroads.
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