After 14 months away from the Octagon due to a variety of issues, Chael Sonnen, 25-11-1 (4-4 in the UFC) returns to action next Saturday at UFC 136.
Sonnen, who last fought at UFC 117 where he was moments away from dethroning middleweight champion Anderson Silva before falling to a fifth-round submission, now faces the ultra tough Brian Stann (11-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC).
In addition to Stann’s top five ranking in the middleweight division, he’s a decorated war hero who was awarded a Silver Star (the nation’s third-highest award for valor in combat) in 2006 for successfully leading 42 Marines in, and out, of battle. Needless to say, Sonnen holds a high amount of respect for his opponent.
"Nobody wants to fight Brian, but somebody's got to," Sonnen today said during an UFC media call.
"Our paths have to cross. We're just in the same weight class, it's not that big of a pool and he keeps whipping everybody. If he quit beating everybody, I wouldn't have to fight him. But he decided to go out and become one of the top guys. I've done my part and put my time in and I'm up there too, so our paths have to cross."
Sonnen’s time away from competition certainly isn’t ideal for a fighter who’s widely regarded as the No. 2 middleweight in the world. But the upside off the layoff for Sonnen is that he has a newfound appreciation for the opportunity to compete.
He continued, "The happy part is, this is what I want to do and I got held out of it for a while. I've always been grateful for these opportunities, but I think I'm a little more grateful now. Appreciative would be a much stronger feeling that I'm having, to make up for the excitement."
After all, who really wants to fight an American hero? Add in the fact that Stann has won back-to-back fights over Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago and it’s easy to see why Sonnen holds a large amount of respect for his opponent.
It’s believed that the winner of the bout will be the next challenge for Silva. While Sonnen and Silva certainly do not see eye-to-eye, the champion’s second-round knockout of Sonnen’s teammate Yushin Okami this past August in Rio has earned him a bit of recognition.
"It's getting harder and harder to deny he should be shown that appreciation," Sonnen said. "He ducked Okami for years, but he did finally get in there and he made it look easy. So, I think you've got to look at that. If you're asking if I'd ever concede that Anderson's better than me, no. I would refer you to the tape (of their fight at UFC 117). I think he and I are vastly different and that I could come down a lot and still be ahead of him.
"I also think he ducks and dodges opponents constantly, but his wins and losses speak for themselves. The fact of the matter, whether I like to admit this or not, is he's done a better job than anybody, done a better job than me, and he is the champion. It doesn't mean I'm going to quit poking my finger in his chest, but at some point I think fairness needs to kick in, too, and you need to look at what he's done and tip your hat to him a little bit."