Chael Sonnen does not deserve a title shot against Jon Jones at all. Coming off a loss a weight class below, Sonnen doesn’t deserve to step into the cage with Jones without paying his dues. In any normal weight division Sonnen would have to win at least one fight before even sniffing an opportunity to coach “The Ultimate Fighter” and get a title shot. The fact that both fighters are being tapped for the show, with an April title fight on the line, shows us a lot about Jon Jones.
In the span of two years Jon Jones has wrecked the light heavyweight division to the point where rematches are becoming the only fights he has left that would be high profile enough. When you stop Shogun Rua, Ryan Bader, Lyoto Machida and Rampage Jackson in a calendar year it takes a while to develop an armful of new ones. It’s why Vitor Belfort wasn’t as big a deal as a challenger; we’ve seen him run roughshod over the division already.
Bringing in someone new from another division wasn’t quite a big deal. It’s why a superfight with Anderson Silva or a move to heavyweight is being discussed sooner than later for him; eventually he’s going to weep for there will be no more worlds to conquer. Sonnen moving up was a matter of sooner than later merely because Jones’s dominance has made the rest of the contenders look patently inferior. So someone with elite level credentials from another division at least presents a new challenge.
Sonnen isn’t a fringe fighter taking on the champion, like Stephan Bonnar against Anderson Silva. Sonnen is the only man to win more than one round against the best fighter alive and the only one to take him into deep waters as well. He’s the second best middleweight in the world and is bigger than most light heavyweights. He can lay claim to being an elite fighter, even if it’s not at light heavyweight right now.
It’s one part of the equation of why this was designed. The other was that this is a big business fight that’ll help to further elevate Jon Jones’s star with what’ll be his largest PPV buyrate. It’s a fight that makes sense for business, first and foremost, and elevating TUF in the process isn’t the worst thing in the world. Getting more eyeballs on the organization’s signature show and 13 episodes of Sonnen and Jones with their guard down will hopefully bring back the energy that the show once had. There’s a historical parallel to the matchup as well.
Sonnen makes sense as a challenger in the same way that Oscar de la Hoya made sense for Floyd Mayweather in 2007.
In 2007 de la Hoya didn’t deserve to be in the same ring as “Money.” He was 3-3 in his last three fights and on the downside of his career. This wasn’t the “Golden Boy” at his peak but it was an engaging, intriguing fight that remains Floyd’s highest grossing fight with over 2.4 million buys. It effectively made Mayweather the biggest star in boxing and Jones needs that final moment to make him a star.
He’s sponsored by Nike and looked to be the transcendent star the sport hasn’t had yet. But he hasn’t had that one key fight that sells more than a million PPV’s and makes the casual fan stand up and notice en masse. His fight with Rashad Evans made a considerable amount of money and was a big moment for him, as it was his first big card, but Rashad never had the drawing power or interest levels that someone like Sonnen does. Sonnen, better or worse, brings out an audience and buzz for the rather amusing things he says.
This is his “Money moment,” the one that can make him a bigger star than any mixed martial artist ever has been.