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Chael Sonnen anoints Israel Adesanya as the greatest middleweight of all-time: ‘I believe that he is’

Chael Sonnen knows greatness when he sees it.

With UFC 287 in the rear-view mirror and Israel Adesanya back on top of the UFC middleweight division, Sonnen has seen enough. He’s ready to anoint “The Last Stylebender” as the greatest middleweight to ever lace up a pair of four-ounce gloves.

“I believe that he is,” Sonnen said recently on The MMA Hour.

Adesanya, 33, recaptured his middleweight title in highlight-reel fashion at UFC 287, demolishing Alex Pereira with a second-round knockout to finally get vengeance over the man who’d previously defeated him in three consecutive contests across kickboxing and MMA. Adesanya is now a two-time UFC champion and holds a 13-1 record in the UFC’s 185-pound division. He defended his belt five straight times during his first title reign.

Of course, the main competition for Adesanya in the historical middleweight ranks is longtime UFC champion Anderson Silva. From his UFC debut in June 2006 to the end of his title run in 2013, “The Spider” racked up a perfect 16-0 octagon record with a slew of highlight-reel finishes across two divisions and 10 consecutive title defenses, the latter of which remains the second-greatest run of championship defenses in UFC history, behind only Demetrious Johnson’s 11 successful defenses of his UFC flyweight belt from 2012-17.

Two of Silva’s most memorable title defenses came against Sonnen, as the two were fierce rivals and together created one of the most iconic rivalries in the history of the sport.

Nonetheless, Sonnen still ranks Adesanya ahead of Silva from a historical perspective, if only because of the 2019 matchup between the two middleweights, which saw a 29-year-old Adesanya defeat a 43-year-old Silva via unanimous decision at UFC 234.

“Those guys fought, so that’s where it’s a hard time for me,” Sonnen explained. “When two guys fight, and then you argue that the guy that lost is better, and then you try to get smart with it and go, ‘Well, but it wasn’t in their prime,’ it’s just weird.

“There’s a respect that you have to pay the opponent, or what’s the point of doing it? What’s the point of coming out and saying who’s better? What are people going to do when it’s Adesanya vs. Pereira? They’re going to say it’s Adesanya? Well, the other guy did what he did, but he did it three times to him. It’s one of those spots where the head-to-head matchup has to matter, or why are we doing it? And Adesanya won [against Silva].”

Sonnen further defended his position by noting what Adesanya was up against when he faced Silva — a fighter whom Adesanya idolized during his early days in combat sports.

“It’s a really hard spot to be in Adesanya’s position,” Sonnen said. “It’s really hard when you’re fighting your idol. Right? And Adesanya was 16 years old when I had my business with Anderson. He was a 16-year-old skinny kid from New Zealand, and he kept tweeting.

“I kept seeing his tweets and he was taking Anderson’s side. He didn’t like me and he didn’t like the mouth. It was one of these things — 16 [years old] — and all these years later, you’re standing across from the guy that you looked up to, that got you into the sport, his poster is on your wall. There’s a lot against Izzy in that fight too, not just Father Time that was against Anderson. It goes both ways. They fought, it was head-to-head, and he won.

“I don’t know, I think you have to live with that,” Sonnen continued. “And you know who’d back me up is Anderson. Anderson Silva wouldn’t tell you, ‘Make an excuse for me.’ [He’d tell you,] ‘I fought him, fair and square. He won.’”

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