Sonnen had just treated Brian Stann, the middleweight division’s most up-and-coming name, as nothing more than a turnstile. He walked right through him. And as he walked away from the scene without any outward celebration, the first words off his lips were, “Anderson Silva, you suck.”
The big reveal was something most people already suspected -- that Stann was incidental to Sonnen’s mission. Forget concepts of ring rust after 14 months of turmoil and all the asterisks he brought in. He wasn’t going to be stopped tonight. And beating Stann was never his goal.
Getting back to Silva was.
You could see the change on Silva’s face during the postfight call-out, which changed from happy to “here we go again.” It also included a loaded ultimatum -- should Silva lose, Sonnen proposed, he should leave the division. Yet should Silva beat him, he would leave the UFC.
This part of things is only the Chael dressing, the other part of the job he’s good at -- selling the fight. In fact, Sonnen is unparalleled at this, and when he drops the words “Super Bowl Weekend,” it takes on the "event" feel. He’s the master of planting seeds. And Sonnen’s words resonate as comical, audacious -- but what he’s saying makes people want it.
Sonnen is selling Silva’s comeuppance.
And that’s where it gets good. There’s a very real belief that vengeance is on the horizon, and that Sonnen will back up everything he says. He came within a couple of minutes of finishing a one-sided beatdown of Silva at UFC 117, and after that fight he said he felt his guts had been torn out. He’s carried that hollow feeling this far, and he’ll carry it back to Silva for that rematch. The sense of unfinished business is strong; the play at closure carries the drama. The fact that he is the only fighter to make Silva look pedestrian also speaks volumes.
But the chip on Sonnen’s shoulder has become an over-burdensome weight, and he’s articulate enough to tell you about it. Love him or hate him, doesn’t matter -- the thing is, we can’t take our eyes off him.