Chael Sonnen has been making waves in the media with self-infatuated comments and a belittling attitude towards his opponent, undisputed middleweight champion Anderson Silva. They are polar opposites both in their fighting style and in their attitude towards the sport in general. Chael Sonnen has a lot to back up on August 7.
Anything short of a win will really hurt what appears to be an overinflated ego.
Trash talking aside, let us have a look at where Chael Sonnen actually comes from and what he has to offer (if anything) come fight night.
Prior to getting into the sport of MMA, like many others, Sonnen enjoyed a successful amateur wrestling career while wrestling for the University of Oregon. Sonnen was a Division I All-American and two-time national champion in Greco-Roman wrestling. He later went on to be an Olympic team Greco-Roman alternate for the United States. Finally his mixed martial arts career began in 2002.
Anybody who has been following mixed martial arts over the last few years has noticed that a wrestling base is probably one of the best bases to start off a successful mixed martial arts career.
Three of the five UFC champions use wrestling as their base: Frankie Edgar, Georges St. Pierre, and Brock Lesnar. Four of the five title contenders are wrestlers; Josh Koschek, Chael Sonnen, Rashad Evans, and Cain Velasquez.
Chael Sonnen is definitely cut from the right cloth when it comes to his background prior to getting involved in mixed martial arts; however, just because someone was a great wrestler in college doesn’t always mean they are going to be the next big thing in mixed martial arts. That seems to apply in some respect to Sonnen.
Sonnen has a respectable record at 24-10-1, but most of his victories are by way of decision and seven of his 10 losses are by way of submission. Contrary to some of his fellow wrestlers in mixed martial arts, Sonnen hasn’t exactly had an easy time with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—a common denomiator to many MMA fighters' success.
Although Sonnen has had to tap out more often than some of the other top wrestlers in the sport, let’s have a look into the opponents he has tapped out to and when in his career it has happened.
Sonnen is a veteran of the sport, having fought professionally for eight years and competing on 35 occasions, one could say that he is well seasoned.
Upon a closer look into Sonnen’s fight record, one will notice that five out of the seven submission losses he has suffered were prior to the halfway mark in his career. Since 2006, Sonnen has gone 10-2, the two losses came by way of submission. On top of his improved record since 2006, fans should have a look at who he lost to when he was submitted.
Demian Maia has top of the food chain Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is arguably the best submission grappler in the sport today. Sonnen tapped to Maia at 2:37 of the first round when they fought. Awful, right? Well not when you consider the fact that Maia is 12-2 in professional mixed martial arts with eight submission victories.
Prior to Maia, Sonnen lost by submission to Paulo Filho, another excellent submission grappler who has compiled a 20-1-1 mixed martial arts fighting record with eight victories by way of submission. That blemish on Filho’s record is actually a decision loss to Chael Sonnen in the rematch.
In fact, if Filho would have made weight, Sonnen would have been the WEC middleweight champion after the fight. Filho apparently mailed Sonnen the belt after losing.
If you add up the wins-to-submission-wins ratio of all the opponents to which Sonnen has lost via submission, they have 190 wins with 103 of those coming by way of submission. Although Sonnen has been submitted more often than others, it has been against guys who make their livings off making their opponents tap or pass out.
What have Sonnen’s victories looked like? Bluntly, rather boring. Sonnen has used the grinding attitude of a wrestler to work himself towards 24 wins, of which 14 have gone to the judges’ score cards. Sonnen isn’t a flashy knockout or submission artist by any means, and more often than not, he looks more damaged in victory than his opponents do in their losses.
Sonnen knows how to win a decision with his wrestling. Unfortunately for top middleweight contender Nate Marquardt, he became victim to the grinding tactics employed by Sonnen as well. Sonnen took Marquardt down at will while eating a few knees on the way in and a couple of strikes from the bottom. Despite his cut up face, Sonnen controlled most of the action and beat Marquardt unanimously on the judges’ score cards.
Many fans have tried to claim that Nate Marquardt actually fought the wrong fight against Sonnen. Fans feel that had Marquardt worked on his takedown defense and tried to keep the fight standing that he probably would have been able to pick Sonnen apart. Try to think of the fight from Marquardt’s perspective for a second though.
Marquardt happens to have a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and contrary to his recent victories, Nate’s bread and butter has been his Jiu-Jitsu. Of Nate’s 30 professional victories in mixed martial arts, 14 have come by way of submission. Marquardt sees a guy in Chael Sonnen who is known to take a beating and keep going but has also been submitted seven times in his 10 losses.
Does it really surprise anybody that Marquardt thought he could fight Sonnen off his back while looking for a submission?
Sonnen also beat Dan Miller on his way to the title shot. Miller himself also has his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt and prior to the loss to Sonnen was 11-1-1 with seven submission victories.
Although Sonnen has shown a certain susceptibility towards submissions, he has also shown that he can beat top ranked fighters that are known to be good off their backs as well. Anderson Silva has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but nothing on his resume would suggest that his Jui-Jitsu is any better than the opponents Sonnen has faced. Silva is 26-4 with only four wins coming by way of submission and two of his four losses were by way of submission as well.
Chael Sonnen is a heavy underdog. Of course, he has been talking way too big of a game in the work up to his title shot, but he definitely has the fighting spirit and mentality to drag Anderson Silva into a war of attrition. Whether or not Sonnen gets caught in a triangle or guillotine come fight night, well we’ll just have to wait and see.