Chael Sonnen has lost two in a row. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Chael Sonnen has perfected the art of self-promotion.
Despite a middling 6-6 mark inside the Octagon, Sonnen will headline his fourth Ultimate Fighting Championship event in six appearances when he confronts former light heavyweight titleholder Mauricio Rua in the UFC Fight Night 26 main event on Saturday at the TD Garden in Boston.
Sonnen will carry a two-fight losing streak into the match. The 36-year-old Milwaukie, Ore., native last appeared at UFC 159 in April, when he failed in his bid to unseat current 205-pound champion Jon Jones and succumbed to first-round blows at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Sonnen was an NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Oregon, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
The 31-year-old Rua has not won back-to-back bouts since 2009. “Shogun” last competed at UFC on Fox 5 in December, when he wound up on the wrong side of a lopsided unanimous decision to surging Swede Alexander Gustafsson. The 2005 Pride Fighting Championships middleweight grand prix winner has compiled a 5-5 record since arriving in the UFC six years ago. Still, Rua owns one of the sport’s strongest resumes, with wins over Alistair Overeem (twice), Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Chuck Liddell and Lyoto Machida.
The UFC Fight Night 26 “Shogun vs. Sonnen” lineup provides plenty of water cooler fodder. We discuss some of it here:
Whitman: Sonnen plans to head back to the middleweight division after his main event against “Shogun.” Does that devalue this bout as much as I feel like it does?
Knapp: I hate to sound negative, but I’m not sure the bout had much big-picture value in the first place. We’ve already seen what Sonnen has to offer against the top dogs at 185 and 205 pounds, and Rua looks like a shell of his former self. He may still be in his early 30s, but all that mileage he put on his body during his Pride heyday seems to have taken its toll.
Whitman: Will either one of these headliners ever find himself in a title fight again?
Knapp: You can never say never in this sport, but it would be difficult to envision a scenario in which either Sonnen or Rua goes on the kind of tear necessary to net a shot at gold. Of the two, I think “Shogun” is in the better position.
Whitman: Given Alistair Overeem’s last performance and his previous testosterone … let’s call them issues … do you think we will ever see “The Ubereem” back in the Octagon or is it more likely that the man who fought Antonio Silva will make another appearance in Boston?
Knapp: Let us all hope Overeem buried that version of himself somewhere behind the Mandalay Bay Events Center. It was an embarrassing moment for the hulking Dutchman, as he would have found himself in a big-money pay-per-view headliner with heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez had he taken care of business against “Bigfoot.” I certainly favor Overeem against Travis Browne, but his suspect chin has abandoned him before and can do so again.
Knapp: I have a feeling Faber knows where he stands, so I don’t think we can call this a no-win situation. A victory over Alcantara, particularly an impressive one, keeps “The California Kid” in the conversation at 135 pounds. Let’s face it: there are not a lot of marketable or deserving challengers for Renan Barao’s interim crown in the bantamweight division. Hurry back, Dominick Cruz.
Whitman: If Matt Brown beats Mike Pyle, he will have won six straight fights. Could we really see “The Immortal” in a title eliminator before too long?
Knapp: Stranger things have happened, and if Brown keeps winning in decisive fashion, the UFC will have to take notice at some point. I think Pyle poses some real problems for him, though, especially if he can find a way to turn this into a ground battle.
Whitman: Uriah Hall appears to have all the physical tools to succeed at the highest level, but his mental game has been brought into question. What kind of a performance do you foresee from him against veteran John Howard?
Knapp: This could be a crossroads bout for Hall, who wasted much of his momentum from Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in his loss to Kevin Gastelum in April. At some point, he has to bury whatever demons he harbors inside him. This is a fight Hall should win, but Howard sounds confident, carries knockout power into the cage and draws upon nearly three times as much MMA experience.
Whitman: Let us discuss Conor McGregor and Max Holloway. Is either featherweight a future title contender or do you think they end up as fan-favorite finisher types who cannot get over the hump?
Knapp: I think it’s too early to tell with either of them. McGregor has spent all of 67 seconds in the Octagon, and Holloway was not old enough to legally drink at this time last year. You have to like what you see from these two, but they still have a lot left to prove.
Whitman: Is Brad Pickett fast enough to deal with Michael McDonald? My gut says no.
Knapp: It goes without saying that this is a critical bout for Pickett, who has scratched and clawed his way into title contention before, only to see losses to Renan Barao and Eddie Wineland halt his progress. McDonald is the more talented of the two and has already challenged for UFC gold. My guess is he follows a game plan similar to the one Wineland utilized, uses his hand speed and wins on points.
Whitman: Should Joe Lauzon just be the default favorite for “Fight of the Night” every time he competes?
Knapp: I think the fact that he has won a record 12 post-fight bonuses -- five of them are for “Fight of the Night” -- in 14 UFC appearances gives us our answer.
Whitman: What do you think of 37-year-old Mike Thomas Brown continuing to compete after taking more than a year off?
Knapp: A little more than a year ago, Brown was considering retirement, so I think it’s perfectly understandable to be skeptical about his chances of a successful return. He turns 38 next month and has not fought in almost 15 months, which raises more red flags. Siler is a tough assignment. This deep into his career, Brown certainly has a few tricks up his sleeve. Whether those are enough to bring him a victory in Boston remains to be seen.