There will be a lot on the line on Saturday when Chael Sonnen faces off against Michael Bisping at the UFC’s second live broadcast on the Fox Network. Exactly what that is, depends on who you believe.
If you believe the UFC’s adamant claims that the winner of this middleweight bout will go on to face Anderson Silva for the 185-pound title this summer, then what’s at stake is an opportunity Bisping has wanted his entire career. Unfortunately, it's also one Chael Sonnen firmly believes he’ll never be granted again.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Sonnen has been extremely vocal this week, talking about what he thinks will happen following Saturday’s alleged middleweight title eliminator. Even if he wins, Sonnen apparently doesn’t believe that Silva will agree to meet him for a June rematch, in a bout the UFC would very much like to promote inside a 100,000-seat soccer stadium in Silva’s native Brazil.
Sonnen’s implication, of course, is that the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter is scared to get in the cage with him again, after coming within a hair of losing his championship at UFC 117 in August, 2010. To underscore his point, Sonnen has recently taken to doing interviews with a replica UFC championship belt slung over his shoulder and claims that if he beats Bisping in Chicago, he’ll set his sights on a match with another of the organization’s titlists – either Jon Jones or Georges St. Pierre.
At this point, all UFC President Dana White has been able to do is wearily say that he “100 percent guarantees” that Sonnen-Silva II will happen if the near 4-to-1 favorite wins his bout this weekend.
Who to believe? Well, certainly not Sonnen. The former Oregon wrestler has made a career for himself in recent years by stretching, bending and inflicting all manner of punishment on the truth. His assertion that he’d try to fight Jones at 205-pounds is farfetched and the notion that he could get anywhere near the 170-pound limit to take on St. Pierre (who’s already out the better part of this year with a knee injury, anyway) is downright comical.
Without hearing from the middleweight champion himself however, it’s hard to say for sure what happens next.
Since he defeated Yushin Okami at UFC 133 last summer, we haven’t seen much at all of Silva. We know he’s been recovering from his own physical setbacks -- first a shoulder injury, then a lower back ailment – but for the most part he’s been mum on the idea of fighting Sonnen again.
As world’s top pound-for-pound, undefeated in the Octagon and a candidate as greatest MMA fighter of all time, it’s unthinkable that Silva wouldn’t want another shot a guy whose spent the better part of the last two years disrespecting him. As the UFC middleweight champion, it’s impossible to imagine the fight company couldn’t force his hand, no matter what his deepest desire may be.
Granted, Sonnen first has to get past Bisping, but few analysts expect him to have any trouble at all holding serve.
If he does, the future of the division should become clear soon enough.