Chael Sonnen, the mouthpiece of the middleweight division, returns to the Octagon on Saturday night after a 14-month suspension to take on Brian Stann in a contest that will determine the next contender to Anderson Silva’s championship reign. For Stann, it’s a fight to show the world that he belongs among the middleweight elite.
For Sonnen, this is the first step towards silencing the critics that the fruits of his labor against Silva were the result of hard work and not the product of ill-gotten gains. The sub-par administration and lack of drug testing from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation will cast a shadow of doubt over a Sonnen victory. Chael’s flair for dramatic storytelling sells the bout while Brian Stann’s personal story of heroic combat and decorated military service sells itself to popular opinion.
The UFC stayed away from commission shopping for fighters, but they made a first-time exception for Sonnen since Texas is the only state in the country he can get licensed in. The Oregonian’s placement on this card suggests the promotion is banking on him to win. The reality is Zuffa wins no matter the outcome. A win for Sonnen sets up a huge money-making rematch and a win for Stann creates a new star in the division. Whether it is legal or in poor taste, you can’t blame the UFC for making a business decision, they would have done it sooner or later.
The promotion for this fight has been a little different since Sonnen has uncharacteristically shied away from insulting his opponent. Customary diatribe such as “I will mow you down like autumn wheat, AGAIN” in reference to Silva has been replaced by “I’m the best Middleweight fighter in the world and I’m going to prove it again on Saturday”. It’s easier to insult a world champion who some perceive to be cocky than a Marine Corps veteran with hero status.
The fight itself will prove to be a battle of wills inside the cage. Stann will try to engage with his stand up while Sonnen will look to control the action with his wrestling. Chael’s weakness is unquestionably his submission defense. Stann does not have the pedigree on the ground to catch him in a submission. He will have to avoid Sonnen’s mixture of punches and elbows from the top position and scramble back to his feet in quick fashion in order to improve his chances. In the end, wrestling will be the key factor, as I don’t see Sonnen having problems taking Stann down since he has no problem taking down higher caliber opposition.
Prediction: Chael Sonnen by judges decision.