Sonnen vs. Silva: Moving Up and Moving On

Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva II was undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated fights of all time, but one ill-advised spinning backfist attempt and a questionable knee later, it’s all over.

With UFC 148 in the rear view, and one of the sport’s biggest rivalries settled (for now), the MMA community is left wondering what’s next for the two polarizing figures that made up the historic main event.

[caption id="attachment_243" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The Sonnen and Silva rivalry ended on July 7th. Photo via"][/caption]

Anderson Silva’s next challenge is relatively easy to predict, as top middleweight contenders Hector Lombard, Tim Boetsch, Chris Weidman, and Mark Muñoz all have fights this month. “The Spider’s” next dance partner will likely be decided by which of the quartet wins most decisively, unless the UFC takes up Rashad Evans on his challenge.

Sonnen’s future is a little murkier. As Dana White said after UFC 148, “This one was pretty decisive. [Anderson’s] beat him twice. Chael is in a position that most guys are — when you go on a run at the title, and you lost two times — back at the end of the line.”

Will Chael be content with “back at the end of the line?” Unlikely. He’s made it clear that he’s hunting for a title, and that he won’t settle for second place. The quickest route back to a title may be a few pounds north of his last attempt.

Chael Sonnen is still the number two middleweight in the world after Saturday night’s clash, but having lost to Silva twice now, he may be entering “Rich Franklin territory,” where you are good enough to beat almost everyone in the division except the champion. A venture to the light heavyweight division may be the answer for the self-proclaimed “Gangster from West Linn” for the following reasons:

1.) History

Sonnen has always been one to speak his mind, and the UFC’s 205lb division is one of his favorite targets. He’s called the weight class a “joke” for having a “karate guy” as a champion. He's called its contenders “cowards” for failing to challenge Jon Jones after he won the title at UFC 128. He's referred to winning the belt there as "getting a night off." Fans remember these kinds of things, and a matchup with that particular karate guy, Lyoto Machida, could make for an easy transition to a new weight class.

2.) New matchups

Outside of pre-heated clashes with Wanderlei Silva or Rich Franklin, middleweight is devoid of interesting challenges for Sonnen at this point. Those matchups are intriguing, but even with consecutive victories, his failures against Anderson Silva mean a long path back to the title in his division.  Would Chael just be biding time until Silva, who shows no signs of slowing down, retires?

Sonnen is no spring chicken at 35 years old, and for him, the quicker to the top, the better. Matchups against Machida, Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua or even Forrest Griffin would surely put butts in seats. All Sonnen has to do is figure a way of spinning it so it doesn’t look like he’s running away.

3.) The weight cut

For UFC 148, Sonnen cut 20 pounds in the 24 hours before weigh-ins, and who knows how much more in the weeks before the fight. Chael is a big, big middleweight. Even with the help of nutrition guru Mike Dolce, the weight cut isn’t going to get any easier, especially with his use of TRT. A move to 205 means 20 pounds less to cut, and more time focusing on skills and strategy.

One thing is clear, though: Sonnen and Silva brought the best out of each other. In the cage, Sonnen’s ground game and striking were crisper than ever, and his energy levels were high thanks to Dolce's guidance. Silva’s takedown defense and timing were more fluid than any 37 year old man’s should be, and he was motivated to put on a show. More importantly, they’ve carved out a section in the MMA history books for themselves with an epic five-round battle, a huge buildup for the rematch, and a decisive end to the story. Would either of them have made such improvements, such statements without a true enemy in their sights?

No matter what lies ahead for these two, they will continue to amaze, divide, intrigue, and sell. Anderson will continue to win in spectacular fashion, while drawing ire from critics for bending the rules just enough to get a reaction. Chael will march across the octagon like he always does, driving power doubles into the cage and generally pissing people off. People will love and hate him for it, but they’ll tune in to watch. Silva and Sonnen will both go on to do great things in MMA, but unfortunately, at least for now, they won’t be doing it together.

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