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Sunday, August 18, 2013
After win, Sonnen explores next move

By Franklin McNeil


BOSTON -- Chael Sonnen is never shy about saying who he wants to fight, when he wants to fight them and what he plans to do to them once the Octagon door closes.

But even Sonnen couldn’t have predicted what would take place Saturday night in the UFC Fight Night 26 main event against former light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

After spending the past few days before the bout favored to succeed, Sonnen walked into the cage at TD Garden as an underdog. It’s not that people were completely counting him out; maybe that two-fight skid made many of them forget what a highly skilled fighter he is -- though no fighter should be considered an also-ran after dropping consecutive fights to former middleweight champion Anderson Silva and light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones.

But there is a lot of fight left in Sonnen in more than one weight class. He not only proved that he remains among the best middleweights in the world with his first-round guillotine submission of Rua; Sonnen also added his name to the light heavyweight contender discussion.

Before meeting Rua in their 205-pound showdown, Sonnen repeatedly said he intends to return to 185 afterward. This was to be his final appearance at light heavyweight.

Not only has Sonnen softened his stance, but he’s now the guy other high-profile fighters are calling out. Immediately after improving his professional record to 28-13-1, Sonnen became one of the most sought-after fighter on UFC’s roster.

High-ranked middleweight contender Vitor Belfort made it known that he wants a piece of Sonnen. But he wasn’t the only Brazilian to toss his hat into the Sonnen sweepstakes -- former 205-pound champion Lyoto Machida also wants in.

It didn’t end there: Fast-rising light heavyweight contender Phil Davis is offering his services to Sonnen if need be. For a guy who has a reputation of talking his way into high-profile fights, Sonnen finds himself on the receiving end for a change.

Sonnen isn’t used to being the center of other fighters’ attention, especially those in two weight divisions, so he’s taking time to bask in the moment. All that talk about his next fight being at middleweight has come to an end -- at least for now.

He’s decided to explore his options a bit. Besides, remaining at 205 pounds a little while longer will allow Sonnen to continue enjoying dining out.

“That was the plan [returning to 185 pounds],” Sonnen said. “But I’m going to stick around Boston for a few days and visit a place called Regina’s Pizza.”

Don’t think for one second, however, that all the newfound attention Sonnen is receiving has lessened his desire to fight the one guy he most wants to get in the cage at this time -- Wanderlei Silva. He remains Sonnen’s top priority, though Belfort and Machida are now on his radar.

“Wanderlei Silva drives me insane,” Sonnen said. “Wanderlei Silva tells the media that he wants to fight me. I would love to fight Wanderlei. Wanderlei insists that the fight has never been offered.

“This company puts on marquee fights. To believe that fight hasn’t been offered is ridiculous, and it pisses me off. All I need from him is to say he doesn’t want the fight and I’m out. I’m not a bully; I’m not going to pick on him.

“I will beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei’s a--. And I will take care of that third guy [Machida] whose name I’ve already forgotten in the parking lot on my way to my after-party. I would take all three.”

And when Sonnen is done with those three, there is one more fighter still on his hit list. All the attention he is receiving hasn’t caused Sonnen to forget about the unfinished business he has with Anderson Silva.

Sonnen will be chasing a third fight with Anderson Silva as long as he is fighting competitively. He knows it’s all about timing.

“I’m not chasing the belt; sometimes I’m chasing guys,” Sonnen said. “I just wanted to fight Jon Jones. He just happened to have the belt.

“The biggest projected UFC event this year is Dec. 28. I’m not trying to interject myself into that. Anderson has his hands full [the rematch with current middleweight champion Chris Weidman]. But the reality is that [losing to Silva] frustrates me, and there are some losses that do.

“I’m a stubborn guy, and I know he has two wins over me, but I think I can get a win over him in a third [fight].”

For a man who recently had a two-fight losing skid hanging over his head, beating Rua in eye-pooping fashion has changed his fortunes for the better. It’s great being Chael Sonnen today.

The guy earned it. He is proof that being able to talk trash and fight at the same time has its benefits.