It wasn't easy, but Sonnen not to be denied

January, 29, 2012
1/29/12
12:57
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- A lot of people drew blanks when trying to come up with ways that Michael Bisping could defeat Chael Sonnen. In the end, a lot of people were drawing blanks as to how Bisping lost. Such is life in fighting.

The penultimate stage to the middleweight title ended up being closer than expected, but Sonnen prevailed on the judge’s scorecards (30-27, 29-28, 29-28), and it looks like he’s headed to Sao Paulo for his long-awaited rematch with Anderson Silva. But it wasn’t the same dominant Sonnen we’ve seen against Yushin Okami, Nate Marquardt, Brian Stann and through nine-tenths of the Silva fight. This time he was challenged against the game British fighter, who came in with near stumblebum odds as a 4-to-1 underdog.

Though the third round was clearly Sonnen’s, through much of the first two stanzas it was Bisping who outstruck Sonnen on the feet and took turns controlling the action against the fence. He thwarted many of Sonnen’s double-leg takedown attempts, and when he did get taken down, he was able to use the cage to get back up. He worked Sonnen well in the clinch and scored with dirty boxing. But Sonnen did enough with the takedowns in the eyes of the judges to nudge things his way. In fact, one judge even gave Sonnen the second round, which played out pretty convincingly in Bisping’s favor.

“The only round I knew I had was the third,” Sonnen said at the postfight news conference. “I thought I might have had one of the first two, but I didn’t know [for sure] I had it. I heard 30-27; I knew that went for me. But I didn’t hear unanimous decision. If I’d heard unanimous I would have breathed deep right then.

"I thought it was a split decision. And that was my goal -- to win a controversial split decision.”

That last part, of course, was a joke on his part. But when asked if he knew the fight was close going into the third and that prompted him to fight with a sense of urgency, Sonnen said he didn’t have his bearings enough to fully know.
[+] EnlargeChael Sonnen
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comMichael Bisping, left, gave Chael Sonnen all he could handle in Rounds 1 and 2.

“Yeah, I knew we were in the middle of a close fight,” he said. “I went in there to win the third round -- I had a sense of urgency for sure. I think we both did. I think we both knew we were in the middle of a hard fight. But you’ve got to understand, [Bisping] hit me so hard in the first round, I wasn’t positive when we were in the third. I was just glad when it was over.”

In the toil, Sonnen may have lost a little steam for a rematch that has been could go down as one of the biggest in UFC history. Had he walked through Bisping as he did Stann at UFC 136, the collision course with Silva would look like just that -- a collision course. But doubt will inevitably creep back into the equation with him looking more vulnerable than he has in a couple of years.

But the rematch with Silva seems destined to happen nearly two full years after the first went down at UFC 117 in Oakland. Instead of 17,425 people cheering him on, there will be 100,000 people expecting his comeuppance in Brazil. When asked about the fight in Sao Paulo, Sonnen made it clear he won’t balk at the opportunity.

“It sounds like you’re concerned for my safety,” he said. “But in fairness, ladies and gentleman, you might want to pick up your local newspaper. Chicago isn’t exactly a haven for civility at all times -- I don’t know if I’m completely safe on the streets around here. And secondly, if those blowhards with their blow darts want to come at me, they can send anybody they want -- but don’t send anybody you want back.”

Might have been harder than people expected, but he got the job done. Now get ready for an inundation of Sonnen in both hemispheres.

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