The Forward Roll: UFC 159 Edition

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Most athletic careers are not wrapped up neatly with a bow atop the package. Retirements are generally messy and lingering, not so much a choice as a dead end. That makes Chael Sonnen's immediate future worth watching. Sonnen seemed to indicate after UFC 159 that he was done.

"I'm going to think it through," he said. "I'm not going to be one of the guys who hangs around if he doesn't have a road to the title. I believe that was my last opportunity."

Though Sonnen wasn't ready to officially announce anything, he's probably right about that being his last chance at UFC gold. After two attempts to wrest a belt from Anderson Silva and bizarre circumstances paving the way for an unforeseen matchup with Jon Jones, the 36-year-old would have a long road back.

Don't mistake that for a suggestion that Sonnen should retire. The Oregonian can still win fights against top 10-level talents -- at least in his natural, middleweight division -- but will he want to put in the time to build a case as top contender with a roadblock up ahead? As long as Silva remains middleweight champ, he's unlikely to gain consideration for a third matchup against him.

Many athletes leave kicking and screaming because they have no plans past their chosen sport, which for most, is part of their identity. Sonnen though, won't have to stray far from the cage. He already has his deal with FOX and FUEL, and he's also spoken about the possibility of working with the UFC in its various business ventures, including the promotion's magazine.

When he weighs the paydays of fighting against turning the page to the rest of his life, he'll have no easy decision. But no matter which direction he goes, he'll continue to have the spotlight and a microphone, and that's more than most fighters can say.

Jon Jones
A broken toe usually heals within about six weeks, but that's a general guideline, and it varies from person to person. We'll have to play the waiting game with Jones, but that may not be a problem. Why? We do know that Jones wants to fight in New York if the legislature passes a bill that would sanction the sport. Now, here's where timing plays into it. The 2013 legislative session ends on June 20. That's about seven weeks from today, so if the UFC waits for Jones to heal, there is a very good chance they'll have their answer on New York -- and a possible November anniversary show -- before he's ready to get back into serious training.
Prediction: Alexander Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida are paired off in early August, and Jones draws the winner

Michael Bisping
Bisping did what he was supposed to do against Alan Belcher, controlling the fight for the distance en route to the win. Beforehand, Bisping said the difference would be speed, and that Belcher was slow. Then in the bout, he proved it, allowing Belcher to land only 29 of 150 strikes (19 percent). Bisping has gone 3-2 in his last five, and if he wants to make a title run before he's done, the 34-year-old needs to put together a streak, and quick.
Prediction: He faces the winner of UFC on FX 8's Costa Philippou vs. Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza match

Roy Nelson
Nelson is in much the similar straits as Bisping. In other words, he beats up the people he's supposed to, but he can't get past the big names. After three straight first-round knockouts, it looks like he gets another major opportunity next time out. UFC president Dana White already said he'd either draw Daniel Cormier or Mark Hunt (if Hunt beats Junior dos Santos). I see the first outcome as much more likely, mostly because if Hunt beats dos Santos, why would he be denied a title shot?
Prediction: Nelson vs. Cormier

Phil Davis
The fight with Vinny Magalhaes never made much sense, and Davis showed he's at this point a class above Magalhaes with a good win that showed off some strides in his standup game. Davis is still putting together his raw tools, but the signs are there that it's all starting to gel.
Prediction: Ryan Bader recently said he should be back around August. Time to put the two together.

Pat Healy
Healy had the under-the-radar feel-good moment of UFC 159, coming from behind to beat Jim Miller. Healy lost the first round, but made the fight to his liking with his typical gritty, grinding style. Over the last two rounds alone, he had two takedowns, connected on 104 strikes and finished with a rear naked choke. For someone who'd been given the boot from the UFC seven years ago after a single performance, and who'd lost out on two separate Strikeforce title fights due to opponent injury, it was a well deserved moment in the spotlight.
Prediction: I'd love to see Healy get the Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant winner for the right to fight for the belt, but since that victor is already promised a title shot, Healy gets his long-awaited matchup with Gilbert Melendez

Sara McMann
With a riveting personal history, an Olympic medal-winning pedigree and an engaging personality, McMann is a marketable commodity as a potential future title challenger. In her first time out, she made quick work of Sheila Gaff, finishing in less than a round. Still less than two years into her pro career, McMann deserves a bit more seasoning before going for the belt, but as long as she wins, it's likely to come in two fights.
Prediction: She faces the winner of the UFC 161 matchup between Alexis Davis and Rosi Sexton

Rustam Khabilov
We just may have something here in the Greg Jackson-trained Dagestani, who for the second straight time finished a fight with a suplex, and then threw this baller quote at us: "Like I've said, my business is to throw him down and it’s his business how he lands." We dig it.
Prediction: He fights Mike Ricci

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