Chael Sonnen Must Defeat Rashad Evans to Remain in Title Contention

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistNovember 15, 2013

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 17: Chael Sonnen reacts after winning the fight with a tap out by guillotine choke against Mauricio Rua in their light heavyweight bout at TD Garden on August 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Although the headline fight for UFC 167 has been touted as Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks, there is little doubt that Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans have an opportunity to steal the show. And if that happens, it's Sonnen's chance to get a big win and avoid fading into oblivion.

Sonnen is a big attraction for UFC partly because he's a solid fighter, but mostly because he doesn't pull any punches outside the octagon. Sonnen is extremely charismatic, and he's as good as they come when it comes to hyping his fights and drumming up interest in them.

With that said, at some point he has to deliver with a signature victory in order to justify UFC president Dana White's confidence in him. Even though Sonnen won't be in the main event on Saturday, White hasn't been shy about promoting his media darling.

The 36-year-old Sonnen is coming off an admittedly solid win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua as he forced him to tap out in August. At the same time, Sonnen has struggled against UFC's elite fighters. Prior to the Rua fight, he had consecutive title bouts against Anderson Silva and Jon Jones respectively, but he ultimately lost via knockout on both occasions.

Because of that, Sonnen is already pretty far down the ladder. Alexander Gustafsson pushed Jones to the limit, so he is in line for another crack at the UFC Light Heavyweight title before Sonnen. Also, Jones is going to fight Glover Teixeira next, although it remains to be seen when that bout will take place, according to Ariel Helwani of FOX Sports.

Even though a win over Evans wouldn't allow Sonnen to leapfrog either Gustafsson or Teixeira, it would at least keep him in the conversation if nothing else. Losing, however, would put Sonnen well behind Evans, who is hoping for a rematch against Jones at some point in his own right.

If Sonnen is ever going to become champion, then this is the type of fight that he needs to win. Evans may not quite be among the elite fighters in the world, but he only has three career losses and owns wins over the likes of Phil Davis, Tito Ortiz, Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell and a host of big-name guys, so he's a quality fighter to say the least.

Evans and Sonnen also happen to be good friends. That is something that Sonnen will have to put aside on Saturday because Evans is already prepared to do so, according to UFC Canada.

Even if Sonnen's skills start to erode as he continues to age, he'll be at least somewhat relevant due to the fact that he knows how to talk the talk. At the same time, White won't be willing to put him in title fights against top fighters if he doesn't show that he can hang in there against them.

He was thoroughly outclassed by Jones and Silva. Evans isn't at the same level as those guys, but he's a second-tier fighter at the very least. A win over Evans would prove that Sonnen is still a legitimate threat, but losing would set him so far behind the eight ball that it's difficult to imagine him ever headlining another pay-per-view again if he fails to come through.

It's certainly possible that Sonnen will always be a fighter who is on the outside looking in when it comes to being a championship-caliber competitor, and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, not everyone can be a champion.

White and the UFC powers that be would clearly love to see Sonnen ascend to that level, though. Sonnen as champion would be a huge draw, but unless he figures out a way to outdo his good friend at UFC 167, it's never going to happen.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter