But a little less than five minutes into the actual fight, it was Emelianenko being peeled off Sonnen after dribbling the American’s head off the canvas with a barrage of punches.
“I would call him explosive,” Sonnen told the media when asked to assess Emelianenko’s skills inside the cage. “With his punches, there wasn’t a ton of set-ups, they just came and they came hard. Even on the ground, I had some good positions on him and he would just explode. It weren’t exactly technique-based. It was impressive. He’s an impressive athlete.”
Emelianenko dropped Sonnen in the bout’s opening seconds with a haymaker, setting the stage for what was to come.
Sonnen, who managed to recover as best he could, found little success in implementing his wrestling as the larger Emelianenko negated his takedowns with ease. At one point, Sonnen managed to secure back control, but followed with an ill-timed roll as he looked to secure a more dominant position.
Looking back, Sonnen broke down what was going through his mind during the unorthodox transition.
“The dive roll, I was going to lose that position anyway,” said Sonnen. “I was falling over the top so I tried to tuck his chin and go. I used to do that move all of the time in college and I always got it. But I missed it tonight. I rolled right over.”
Taking advantage of Sonnen’s mishap, Emelianenko uncorked a vicious right hand onto Sonnen’s jaw. What came next looked like shades of Emelianenko’s days in Pride FC, as the Russian rattled off a series of punches onto his downed opponent, forcing the referee to stop the fight.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been ground-and-pounded like that,” said Sonnen. “I thought there was opportunity there. I was covering up and I thought that he was slowing down. The referee warned me — he said, ‘If you don’t move I am going to stop this.’ But I didn’t think he would because they were going into my hands. I thought I was blocking them. I thought I was having a rope-a-dope moment. I thought I was luring him in. That was a bad strategy it turns out. That was a bad plan.”
As for Sonnen, he is unsure of what will come next but hopes to compete in his more natural weight class of light heavyweight for his next outing.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Sonnen. “If they want to do a losers ball and play this thing all the way out to third [place] then maybe we do that. But I don’t know. That’s up to (Bellator president) Scott Coker. If you ask me what weight class I’d rather be in, I’d say 205 is more appropriate.”