As a fighter in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou didn’t amount to much. That was in 2008, when he was fresh off an upset of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in Pride. The momentum didn’t carry over to the UFC.
As a peripheral figure, though, he’s dangerous. In fact, he shook up the 205-pound division in ways that -- even as these things are happening before our eyes -- look impossible.
It was Sokoudjou who did the damage to Dan Henderson’s knee in a training session at Team Quest just a few weeks before Henderson was to face Jon Jones at UFC 151. His takedown attempt on Hendo wound up taking the whole division with it.
That was the accident that changed everything. Henderson concealed the injury in hopes of fighting anyway. Then he backed out of the fight with something like eight or nine days’ notice. Then Chael Sonnen tried to step in, and Jones cautiously declined. Then UFC 151 went away to the bad place, and Dana White told us Jones sent it there. Bad, Jones. Then Vitor Belfort had his shot at Jones in a fit of white-noise matchmaking, and the head scratching from that event now belongs to lore.
Oh, and Greg Jackson is a sport-killer, or at least was, and now there’s a gag order in place to prevent White from calling Jackson a sport-killer. This was part of some behind-the-scenes negotiations between Jones and White. Negotiations are rampant right now, and none too trivial.
Is that all cuckoo enough? No. Since then, left turns are all that we’ve been taking.
Henderson has been brushed aside without proper explanation (but with easy inferences), and Sonnen is back to doing sound bites with boom mikes hovering over his head. It’s Sonnen who gets the shot at Jones’ light heavyweight title, and the opportunity to coach opposite Jones on the 17th installment of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Hendo? Shrug those 43-year-old shoulders, dude.
The backlash to this “business decision” has been passionate. Those who like the idea are calling those who don’t everything from hypocrites to purists. “Sport, entertainment, business,” they say, “please understand what trumps what in combat sports. Look at history.” It’s important that everyone understands the history to place this decision in context, and understands business and the history of business in combat sports. These things have happened and will continue to happen.
As for those presenting the backlash? Those are the ones who bemoan the meritocracy. Why build contenders if you have no intention of using them? Why make all those past contender fights nothing more than filler hype? Why stick somebody in there, a never-champion coming off an emphatic loss, against a super-athlete 10 years his junior?
And so here we are, apologists, purists and the dreaded casual, aloof fan, contemplating Sonnen against Jones in the sport’s glamor division. We’re also contemplating a reluctant Henderson against Lyoto Machida, in what would be a No. 1 contender’s match should that concept still exist. That makes Shogun Rua against Alexander Gustafsson an “in the mix” fight, if there were a mix. And there’s Rashad Evans against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, which nobody is particularly glowing over.
What a strange couple of months it’s been.
And this all began when Sokoudjou shot for that takedown. It sent the light heavyweight division down a rabbit hole, which now extends to April. That’s the racket we’re in.
But here’s the solution to all the things that might not be sitting right with you in regard to the 205-pound division: Give up. Make it a creative surrender. Hope that Sonnen makes it a competitive fight with Jones. Hope that Henderson/Machida is something like Henderson/Rua. Hope that Rua/Gustafsson either works toward Rua’s motivation to retry Jones, or works as a catapult for Gusty.
Hope that the UFC knows exactly what it’s doing, and is doing the best it can in relation to the big picture and circumstances. And if you can spare it, hope that Sokoudjou comes to realize his own strength.