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UFC 159 Aftermath: Will Chael Sonnen really retire?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

I can't quite shake the feeling the next time Chael Sonnen appears behind the desk on Fuel TV's UFC Tonight, he'll already be working his next angle.

Maybe between now and whenever he returns to television, he'll decide that he could have fought through the final flurry against Jon Jones at the end of the first round on Saturday night, and should have been awarded the title on a default when Jones would have been ruled unable to continue due to his toe injury.

Maybe he'll put a marquee light heavyweight or middleweight on blast and start firing verbal volleys.

Maybe the pride of West Linn, Ore. really has it in his head he's going to give this retirement thing a whirl. But when presented with an opportunity down the road -- maybe a shot as a high-profile substitute -- he simply won't be able to refuse.

With Chael P. Sonnen, you never know.

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The complex Sonnen has always been at his most gracious and introspective when he's been on the wrong end of his fights. That was no different Saturday night, after Jones picked him apart at his own game at Newark's Prudential Center. I'm going to think it through," Sonnen said in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. "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."

Usually, when a fighter makes noises about retirement, you give him the benefit of the doubt. It's their career, their call, and only they know what's going through their head.

With Sonnen, though, there's always an ulterior motive, always the next score. He's equal parts competitor and con artist. If that causes people to read between the lines when he speaks, well, that's the bed he's made for himself.

"What am I going to do?" Sonnen said at the post-fight press conference. "I'm terrible. I lost to (Jones and Anderson Silva). What are they going to do? Put me in with Wanderlei Silva? Who else am I supposed to beat around here? I've had a lot of fights and they haven't all gone my way. But I've only been beat up twice, and that was No. 2. And he beat me at my own game. It's frustrating. It's tough, and that's it."

I don't doubt the sincerity of Sonnen's frustration. I don't doubt that as he heads back to Oregon, he's seriously entertaining the notion of calling it quits.

Seeing is believing with Chael P. Sonnen. It might be next week, it might be three months down the road, it might be a year. But based on his track record, you have to believe that somewhere along the way, his competitive fire will once again flare and his unique ability to seize an opportunity will come to the fore. It's hard to believe Sonnen won't scheme his way into one more big-time payday before all's said and done.

UFC 159 quotes

"I fought Lyoto Machida before. I fight for the love of the sport, and I also fight to prove critics wrong. A lot of people think I've been successful because I appear to be larger than my opponents, and with Alexander, that would be no more. That's who I would like to fight next." -- Jon Jones, stating his preference for his next title defense.

"Fighting Daniel, he's an Olympian. I'm more than happy to welcome him to the UFC. As for Mark Hunt, if he can get past JDS, that'd be great. And even if he doesn't, I'd still fight Mark Hunt because I know the fans want to see that one. So, I'm all about making everybody happy." -- Roy "Big Country" Nelson, told that his next opponent will likely be either Daniel Cormier or Mark Hunt

"What needs to happen is the [commissions] need to get together, and we need to come up with a few things," White said. "We really do need to revamp some rules and regs. I think obviously the eye poke thing is a big deal. We need to talk about that. And the other thing is this three-point. I don't like this three-point thing where you can't get kneed if you have your finger on the ground. That's not what the rule was meant for, so I think we're due." -- Dana White, calling for rules revisions in the wake of the Gian Villante-Ovince St. Preux situation

Stock up: Pat Healy

OK, I suppose I'm skipping over an obvious one here: Jones just beat Sonnen silly while he had a compound fracture in his big toe. But, I have to give the nod here to the guy who grinded away for years and years and stuck to his dream while never knowing if he'd get another chance in the big show.

Healy, who had exactly one of his previous 45 career fights in the UFC, was given no favors in his Zuffa return, getting the always-tough Jim Miller in front of Miller's home crowd. But the Team Quest fighter fought like a guy who had every intention of making a statement. Healy shook off a tough first round and took over the fight from there, relentlessly outgrappling and outstriking Miller and always looking for the finish.

We never got that Healy fight against Gilbert Melendez that was scheduled for Strikeforce last September. I don't know about you, but after the past two weeks, I wouldn't mind seeing that fight after all.

Stock down: Vinny Magalhaes

If you're going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. Magalhaes, a Sonnen protege, talked a boatload of trash over the past several months: First simply in goading Davis into accepting the fight, then in keeping up the heat all the way through fight week.

Once the cage door locked, though, the fight was a complete mismatch. Magalhaes appeared to have no Plan B beyond submitting Davis on the ground. Davis wasn't playing that. Instead, Davis demonstrated that he's taken his striking game to the next level, peppering Magalhaes with crisp and accurate jabs throughout the fight. Magalhaes often provided a stationary target, covering up but using zero head movement.

Magalhaes is an interesting character and his jiu-jitsu is world class. He's not without value; I suspect we'll see him on Fuel undercards for some time to come. But last night, he looked not ready for prime time against the big boys.

Good call: Sara McMann changes plans

If you haven't noticed, we in the MMA media are a bit obsessed with noting firsts in UFC women's history. Well, last night's fight between Sara McMann and Sheila Gaff was the first UFC women's bout to get a few boos from the crowd. Gaff inexplicably charged straight at an Olympic wrestling medal winner, then McMann spent the next several minutes basically smothering her.

As soon as the crowd got restless, though, McMann changed gears. As anyone who saw her Invicta fight with Shayna Baszler last summer can attest, McMann is a dynamic fighter. So she made like Matt Hughes on B.J. Penn on their second fight and brutalized Gaff in a crucifix position. It was a solid transition, an exciting finish, and it places the unbeaten McMann squarely in the bantamweight title picture.

Bad call: Villante-Ovince St. Preux ending

I'm not going to crucify Kevin Mulhall for what happened at the end of the light heavyweight undercard bout between Gian Villante and Ovince St. Preux. He's generally one of the more solid referees on the scene and everyone makes mistakes. In the big scheme of things, the mistakes which err too far on the side of caution are more acceptable than the ones in which people get hurt.

Villante isn't blameless in the situation: For one, he stopped fighting on his own and basically called timeout. You're supposed to go until the referee stops the action. Then he compounded matters by telling Mulhall he couldn't see. If a fighter tells an official he can't see or he can't breathe, that's an automatic fight stopper, no questions asked.

Still, the situation ultimately falls on the referee. Mulhall should have worded his line of questioning better, and he should have given Villante his allotted recovery time. No getting around it.

While the reaction on Twitter generally held that Mulhall is the demon spawn of Steve Mazzagatti and Kim Winslow, fact is, Mulhall is a good referee who slipped up and made a communication error. Hopefully, this leads to improvements in how injury timeouts are handled by officials going forward.

Fight I'd like to see next: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson

First off, let's note that this is "fight I'd like to see," not "fight we will see." There are too many variables in place to definitively say this fight will happen. For one, we don't yet know how long Jones will be sidelined. For another, White didn't seem as thrilled with the notion of Jones vs. Gustafsson as Jones himself was. Given timing issues and Jones' injury, a bout between Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida seems to make sense. But when the dust settles, Jones vs. Gusty is the fight I want to see. Jones has said he wants to set the record for most successful light heavyweight title defenses before moves on to either superfights or heavyweight bouts. He's already defeated Machida. Gustafsson offers Jones the closest he's ever likely to have against a stylistic mirror image. If Jones wants something fresh and new, he's earned the right to call this shot.

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