BOSTON -- Once again, Chael Sonnen is a man of many options.
Vitor Belfort wants a piece of him. Wanderlei Silva might or might not, depending on whose story you wish to believe. Lyoto Machida wants in. Really, every Brazilian fighter save Jose Aldo has piped up, looking for a piece of the payday that would come with a main event against their country's least favorite fighter.
Saturday against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the UFC's master manipulator reminded fans that while his mouth gets him attention, it's his work inside the Octagon which keeps the pride of West Linn, Ore. atop fight cards.
That might have been easy to forget in the wake of his back-to-back losses to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones, the latter of which was universally considered an undeserved light heavyweight title shot. But Sonnen's victory at TD Garden marked his sixth straight in non-title fights, and the eighth in his past nine.
"I fought the No. 1 ranked guy in the world seven times," Sonnen said. "I fought the No. 2 ranked guy in the world four times. I won all of those fights. I fought 13 guys ranked in the top 10 and I won 10 of those fights. I hear that about myself too. I hear that ‘Chael's all talk.' But I fight some very, very tough guys."
Rua is a very tough guy. But Sonnen almost made it look easy against the former UFC light heavyweight champion, dominating the main event from start to finish before taking what had been a standing guillotine to the ground to clinching the biggest victory of his UFC career.
Then came the stampede to get in line for a Sonnen fight. Sonnen called out Wanderlei Silva in his postfight interview, but by the time he hit the podium for the press conference, Belfort, Machida, and even Phil Davis piped up on Twitter looking for a crack at him.
"I would beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei's ass," said Sonnen. "And I'll take care of the third guy whose name I've already forgotten on the way to the parking lot on the way to my after party."
Still, Sonnen had particular venom for Wanderlei Silva.
"Wanderlei drives me insane," he said. "Wanderlei Silva tells the media he wants to fight me. I would love to fight Wanderlei. Wanderlei insists that fight has never been offered. That's been a big marquee fight for years - to believe he hasn't been offered that fight is ridiculous, and it pisses me off. All I need for him is to say he doesn't want to do it, then I'm out. I'm not a bully, and I'm not going to pick on him - but if he continues to say it, he's going to continue to get me to respond."
UFC president Dana White, meanwhile, isn't ready to commit to a next opponent.
"That's obviously a fight that Chael wants, but there's a lot of options right now," White said. "At 205 he can fight there and he can fight at 185. The media has him ranked 8 or 9 at 185 underneath guys he actually beat. So obviously a win over Shogun puts him at a great place at 205 and a great place at 185."
Of course, Sonnen was ranked low at 185 due to the minor little fact that he left the division a year ago. That a fighter can continue to be ranked at a division they've publicly claimed to have moved on from is a gigantic, gaping flaw in the company's own rankings policy.
But nevermind that for the moment. All that matters now is that Chael Sonnen did what he had to do on Saturday night: Back up his talk. And he did so in a manner which ensured he'll remain a vital part of the mix for some time to come.
"I'm not afraid to call out a guy," Sonnen said. "This is America. You won't get anything that you don't ask for and there certain guys that I want to fight. If I can have the smallest hand in my career, I see that it's a wise thing to do. That's where the talk comes from."
God bless America.
UFC Fight Night Quotes
"We came up with a game plan. I didn't really execute it when I was lying on the ground crying like a little girl, but when I stood up, all it did was make me angry. I knew I wasn't going to go back down. I just moved forward and started executing our game plan." -- Travis Browne, on weathering Alistair Overeem's early storm before rallying for a win.
"I'll fight whoever they want me to, but I'm in this sport for one reason only and that's to beat GSP's ass." -- Matt Brown, a very impressive fighter who's not exactly Sonnen as a trash talker.
"If I could take Brad Pickett's brain and heart and put it inside Uriah Hall's body, holy s--- there would be some damage done. Because Uriah Hall has all the physical attributes to be amazing. He's got speed, he's got power, he's unbelievable. He doesn't have what it mentally takes to fight here." -- White, not a huge Hall fan at the moment.
"It feels like a loss to me, to be honest. I wanted the finish. I felt the finish was there for me. I injured my knee midway through the second, and I just couldn't get it out of my head, but looking back I should have just pulled my knee from my leg and hit him with it." -- Conor McGregor on his win over Max Holloway
"I love that he's that kind of a kid. I love that he's that kind of a fighter. I love that attitude. He's pissed off he didn't finish. He's pissed he didn't finish. I love that f--- attitude. Why am I supporting this kid? Why am I getting behind him? Because I love what he's about." -- White, asked to comment on McGregor's comments.
Can you really pick just one fighter after a night like last night? Saturday's honor roll was lengthy. Michael Johnson's work with boxing coach Pedro Diaz shined through in his dominant victory over Joe Lauzon on Lauzon's home turf. Browne took a hellacious beating from Overeem, got back to his feet, and channeled his inner Anderson Silva in delivering a super-sized version of a Silva KO kick. Michael McDonald responded to his loss to Renan Barao in exactly the manner you'd want to see a young, future champion shake off his first big loss. McDonald showed poise beyond his 22 years in baiting veteran Brad Pickett for the submission finish. Urijah Faber added his name to the list of fighters who should be considered for Fighter of the Year in scoring his third victory in the past six months. Matt Brown looked like a guy ready for a top-five opponent after a vicious finish of Mike Pyle. And, oh yeah, the guy in the main event delivered, too. night, From top to bottom, Saturday was a victory for the sport of mixed martial arts.
Of course, there's the flip side to these performances, as well. It kills me to criticize Lauzon after everything he's given to the fans over the years, but Saturday left me wondering if we just experienced that sudden moment in which you realize the fighter who has gone to battle so many times has been in one war too many. The same goes for "Shogun." Heart of a lion and an all-time great champion. But he's been through so many punishing wars. And sure, you can say he got caught by Sonnen like any fighter could, but he also showed very little up until that point.
Hall is basically a flop. And as for Overeem, well, since his return from his suspension, not only has he had a softer physique than in the past, but we've now twice seen him look absolutely fantastic .... right up until the moment he looked absolutely horrible and found himself on the wrong end of a brutal knockout. Draw your own conclusions there.
Let me state my bias at the top: Kevin MacDonald, the local referee who oversaw several matches last night, was a classmate of mine in high school. But I think even an unbiased observer would credit the job MacDonald did last night during the Michael McDonald-Brad Pickett fight. Several times during McDonald's opening onslaught, Pickett appeared a punch or two away from going out. But that finish never came (McDonald later said he never hit anyone harder in his life, but Pickett wouldn't stay down), and Pickett regained his bearings. Not only that, but Pickett was winning the second round right up until the moment McDonald caught him in his winning submission.
White was among those impressed by MacDonald's officiating work. "That one ref no one's ever seen or heard of before in the Pickett-McDonald fight did a great job," White said. "He let the fight go on, he did a fantastic job."
Not only was it a great night of action, but there also was nothing egregious over the course of the evening on the officiating and judging side of things. Sure, we could nitpick things here and there. 30-25 in Johnson vs. Lauzon? That was a little weird.
I do think there was one non-call that should have been called, however. Johnson shoved referee Yves Lavigne's hands away when the referee was keeping Johnson apart so Lauzon could stand up during the first round. In most other sports, even incidental contact with an official gets you tossed from the game. I won't go so far as to call for a disqualification in a fight Johnson utterly dominated, but Lavigne had the power to dock Johnson a point for flagrant disregard of the referee's instruction and he should have done so. As is, fighters are allowed to get away with too much without putting the idea they can get away with physical contact on the ref into their heads.
Fight I'd like to see next
Again, I must ask: How do I limit this to just one? Sonnen was angling to get on the Dec. 28 UFC 168 card, which would just so happen to be the perfect opportunity to challenge the Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva winner should Sonnen beat Wanderlei Silva or Vitor Belfort. You pretty much can't go wrong with any Sonnen book right now. As for Travis Browne, give him his mulligan from the "Bigfoot" Silva loss last year, which came after he tore his hamstring during the fight, and give him a chance to avenge his only career loss. And how about Faber vs. McDonald? With the title situation in limbo and both guys already losing to Renan Barao, a winner between those two would be back in position for one more crack at some version of the gold.