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Chael Sonnen: The Smartest Man In The Room

(Photo via Getty.)

By Adam Martin

There is only one fighter in the UFC who currently has his next two fights booked, and his name is Chael Sonnen.

The former middleweight journeyman turned middleweight title contender turned light heavyweight title contender will fight Rashad Evans this weekend in the co-main event of UFC 167, Zuffa’s 20th anniversary blowout card. It’s a fight that should theoretically hold importance as far as the rankings and title picture in the UFC light heavyweight division, but for some reason, it just doesn’t seem to.

But, oh wait, I think I know why. I think It’s because Sonnen already has his next fight lined up, as he’s set to square off against arch rival Wanderlei Silva following the taping of TUF Brazil 3 early next year.

No wonder this fight between Sonnen and Evans doesn’t seem important. For the co-main event bout of the UFC’s biggest PPV event of the year, this matchup sure is being looked over, and both fighters even commented in interviews leading up to the fight that they felt they were riding second fiddle to UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks, who headline the card — this despite the fact Evans and Sonnen are two of the UFC’s top-five draws (St. Pierre, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva are the others, according to Dana White following the UFC 152 post-fight presser).

Hmm, well gee, maybe it’s because the fight really doesn’t hold any sort of meaningful significance for Sonnen, seeing as how win-or-lose he’ll still have a job Sunday morning and another big-money fight in his near future. With fights like Tyron Woodley vs. Josh Koscheck, which is also set for the main card of UFC 167, fans want to see who wins because, like most matchups, the winner moves up in the division and the loser moves down (and maybe out) from the roster. With Evans and Sonnen, though, it feels different. And I believe it’s because Sonnen already has his path set after the fight that the fans just aren’t that interested in it. At least, that’s why I’m not that interested in the fight.

The situation Sonnen is in is a rarity in the UFC, and from my knowledge only the second time that a fighter has had his next two fights lined up in Octagon history. From what I’ve gathered, it’s the first time a fighter in the UFC has had two fights booked at once since Vitor Belfort did a few years ago. In December 2011, the UFC announced that Belfort would square off against – ironically – Wanderlei Silva following the taping of TUF Brazil 1, even though he already had a fight booked against Anthony Johnson at UFC 142 in January 2012. It made the fight with Johnson feel like it was even more insignificant — something that worsened when Johnson missed weight — and all for the sake of TUF Brazil.

But what happened in Belfort’s situation is beside the point. What I’m concerned about here is the co-main event of the biggest pay-per-view not meaning anything at all for half the players involved (for Evans, it’s obviously a must-win fight if he ever wants to fight for the title again).

Because guess what? It doesn’t matter if Sonnen wins or loses. Why? Because he’s the smartest man in the room, and his smarts have allowed him to get a free pass in a fight, something which absolutely no other fighter in the UFC has the luxury of. But having two fights booked isn’t the only reason Sonnen is smart, it’s also because having two fights guaranteed means he’s set to make a bag of money, especially if UFC 167 does well.

In a scrum interview with the media a couple days ago, Sonnen revealed that it was he who requested to fight at UFC 167. According to Sonnen, he originally asked for Wanderlei Silva but due to Silva being injured he was instead booked against Evans, who, by the way, is his co-worker at FOX Sports.

It was smart for Sonnen to ask to fight in the co-main event of UFC 167, as the event is likely to do the typical major pay-per-view numbers that any and every St-Pierre PPV does. Because Sonnen is in the co-main event of the evening, he is likely to be in line for PPV points. And since the event is likely to top 800k and possibly even higher buys, Sonnen is in line to make a lot of money.

And, the crazy thing is, he doesn’t even have to win the fight against Evans because his future is already secured with a fight against Silva and a job as a TUF coach on tap. And that’s not even talking about the fact he already has a sweet gig for life with FOX after his fighting career is over. All this for a 36-year-old fighter with a 29-13-1 record. Genius? It’s not that far fetched to call Sonnen that.

Sonnen is just so smart, and I don’t think many people realize it. In my opinion, he’s the smartest fighter currently in the UFC, and maybe in the world of MMA. And I say that even though I’m not even that much of a fan of his brash personality or his top-heavy fighting style.

Admittedly, he’s won me over somewhat in the last 15 months or so, with his offer to save the UFC 151 PPV last year and his submission win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua this past summer, but overall I don’t think he’s an elite light heavyweight. Yet somehow, he managed to get himself a title fight against Jon Jones despite coming off a TKO loss to Anderson Silva, then went and secured a main event matchup on the UFC’s FS1 debut. Now he has a fight booked against a popular legend in Wanderlei Silva coming up. And he’s done all of this despite the fact he doesn’t talk much trash anymore, which was his strongest selling point during his feud with Anderson Silva. Genius? I would say so.

I’m not expecting much from Sonnen this weekend, because he really has nothing to gain from beating Evans. Sure, it gives him a win over a former UFC light heavyweight champion on his resume and a win bonus, but guess what? Sonnen is still going to get paid the big bucks either way on Saturday night, and next spring against Silva he’s going to get paid the big bucks again. And, in both fights, it doesn’t even matter if he wins or loses.

Most fighters in the world of mixed martial arts would kill to be in the position Sonnen is in, where the outcome of his fight doesn’t matter as his employment is ensured either way. In a cut-throat sport like MMA, where every fight is supposed to matter and fighters are – rightly or wrongly — supposed to fear being cut, Sonnen has somehow figured out how to get past all of that that. Suffice it to say, many other fighters should take a look at Sonnen’s career and start taking notes, because it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the smartest fighter in the room right now. And, evidently, the UFC wouldn’t have it any other way.

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