When Saturday gets here, the UFC’s biggest current feud will be settled in the main event of UFC 159. The confusing coaching dynamic of the last Ultimate Fighter season will come to an end. And one of the biggest mismatches in mixed martial arts to date will sell a baffling amount of pay per views.
While it may become clear later how lopsided this fight actually is, it will be a successful event for the Zuffa promotion despite the lack of competitive natured hype leading up to it. Which is odd, because right now it feels like everyone knows exactly what they are signing up for with that $60 purchase.
Now, there are many reasons why people are going to watch Chael Sonnen fight Jon Jones.
Firstly, people want to watch Jon Jones.
Ever since becoming the title holder, and dethroning Mauricio “Shogun” Rua so vehemently, Jones (17-1, 11-1 UFC) has put on exponentially more impressive performances each time back in the cage. The 25 year old has a wildly powerful control of his long and sharp limbs, and he is capable of hurting his opponents in expedited fashion. He is more dominant than possibly any fighter in the UFC’s history has ever been, and unbelievably, he’s yet to reach his full potential. Even his sometimes childish behavior that easily turns off so many MMA fans isn’t enough to stop people from buying his fights. He is a specimen of a fighter and there is nobody out there like him.
That will always sell. Always.
Taking a look at the other side of this matchup provides a vastly different set of reasons that this event will succeed. Chael Sonnen (27-12, 5-3 UFC) is a man who can market himself (and his fights) to a point where even if the fight isn’t competitive, he can trick you into thinking it is. He can blatantly miscount the past, and claim falsities to be true by hiding rationality underneath the firm and smooth tone of his voice. Sonnen connects with those who have bitterness for his opponents, and he makes them rally behind him. Team Dark Side. The bad guy. The gangster from Oregon. All these labels he manufactures naturally associate with those who can’t stand figures like Jones, or previously; Silva.
But there seems to be a lack of genuine excitement for Saturday. And that deafening absence of build up should be attributed to the fact that people are starting to look past Sonnen’s schtick. Along with his elite fighting skills, Sonnen’s commanding challenges, post fight speeches, and radio interviews that he calls all the shots on have gotten the West Linn native to where he is now. That persona has gotten him not one, but two fights with middleweight champion Anderson Silva, a coaching spot on the Ultimate Fighter and a title shot in a different division after going 0-2 in his last two title fights. But it’s losing it’s power. People are seeing through his game, and more importantly, this transparency is giving many fans insight to how easily Jones really can win Saturday’s fight.
I think that despite Sonnen’s current Sonnen-like antics continuing on fight week, even the man himself knew it was played out. During the Ultimate Fighter 17, he showed a different side. He was a calm, coherent, courteous and overall a pleasant person. Even in interactions with his “rival” Jones. He seemed to feel like the athletes on the show deserved honest leadership, and that his fight promoting character would have been out-of-place. Then the season ended, and Mr. Sonnen returned to fight hype mode picking up where he had left off before making nice with Bones on FX.
His nonchalant switch between Chael Sonnens has given less substance to both characters and now it’s hard for us to just go back to believing the pre fight rendition of Chael.
Come Saturday, even if the challenger can put the champion on his back, and contest the fight longer than expected, easily the most likely outcome is Jones crumpling Sonnen with strikes or a submission. The champion has an arsenal of fight finishing attacks that are as lethal as anyone’s in the game, Silva included. And no matter what Sonnen does, people already have a sense that he can’t do anything to stop what’s to happen on Saturday.