UFC 159 Preview
April 27, 2013
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How The Hell Did Sonnen Get A Title Fight?
I’m not a fan of Chael Sonnen. I never have been and I never will be. That doesn’t mean I don’t admire his amazing ability as a wrestler, but I just don’t enjoy him as an athlete or performer. Sonnen is going to be a longshot to beat the untouchable Jon Jones this weekend in the Light Heavyweight Championship bout at UFC 159. He doesn’t even deserve this fight in my eyes.
The problem is that the light heavyweight doesn’t have a real contender for Jones. The next guy in line in this division is actually Lyoto Machida, who beat Dan Henderson in an ugly battle at UFC 157. Machida’s already lost to Jones at UFC 140 via standing guillotine choke and seemed way out of his element, so a rematch between the two won’t be that enticing.
The truth is that nobody really has a chance against Jones. There’s a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon but it’s becoming evident nobody can touch the champion in this weight class. Ryan Bader is an interesting, young talent and people seem ready to anoint Alexander Gustafsson as the next great threat. It will take time to see any of these fights anyhow.
Jones possesses surreal athletic and physical gifts for the UFC. Both of his siblings are stand outs in the NFL, so the pedigree he comes from speaks for itself. In the octagon, Jones is a nightmare matchup at 6-foot-4 and a shade under 205 pounds. At just 25 years old, we are seeing a legend enter his physical prime and there isn’t a single fighter in this division that poses a serious threat to him. Most champions finish fights by decision (read: Georges St-Pierre), but Jones has taken just 3-of-12 UFC bouts to the final bell. This guy not only wins – he finishes them in spectacular fashion.
One of the great challenges for the UFC is creating drama around their titles. They do an excellent job of building up story lines, but some of them seem like stretches. They tried to angle James Shields as a viable usurper to St-Pierre and that fight ended up being a one sided joke. You have to create drama in a sport because the draw of the UFC relies so heavily on it. A lot of marquee fights can end up being prolonged bores and hug-a-thons. Real, vested intrigue is hard to find in this sport which is limiting its ability to grow.
The fact that tiles rarely change hands has a lot to do with it. The heavyweight title is routinely exchanged between combatants, but that’s about it. Jones has four title defenses, and a win against Sonnen would tie him with Tito Ortiz for the most light heavyweight title defenses ever. Silva has defended his middleweight championship ten times. St-Pierre has eight welterweight defenses, and bounced back from his brutal ACL tear to wrangle the championship back with relative ease. Bendo looks like a lock to have a lengthy lightweight reign, as does Jose Aldo at the featherweight division.
See what I’m getting at? The real cream of the crop in the UFC are dominant forces, which is great if you’re in to watching legacies being built, but boring if you’re a fight fan who needs to see the best being challenged on a consistent basis. Upsets are an element of sports that we love. Beyond that, we just love a good story. You need legends and upstarts; heroes and villains.
That’s exactly how Sonnen keeps getting title fights. I find him brash and rude in interviews, but there’s also the feeling that he’s portraying a persona. What the UFC loves about him is that he promotes himself unabashedly before fights, and that creates more pay-per-view buys. Sonnen has boosted his value on the UFC roster by being a good fighter and an exceptional draw at the box office.
He’s like a professional wrestler in that regard. Talent in the squared circle can only take you so far. To be a true legend, you have to be fantastic on the microphone, engage fans as a face or heel and be able to creatively rip your opponents with memorable articulation while constantly drawing attention to yourself.
Sonnen has become so unlikeable from a personality standpoint that people will pay to see him get his face bashed in. It’s really that simple. The same is said about the Diaz brothers and Brock Lesnar before his stomach started falling out of his backside. UFC fans love a great fight first and foremost, but they also love seeing guys they hate being beaten in to a pulp. Don’t we all?
There’s no point in betting on Sonnen to upset Jones because the thought is laughable. Jones has nearly 20 pounds on him, is 3 inches taller and has a 10.5 inch reach advantage. On top of that he’s a better overall fighter than Sonnen.
All you have to do is look at the two Silva-Sonnen fights. In the first one, where he was reportedly juiced up on steroids, Sonnen looked like he was going to put the champ away. At least that’s how it seemed to the naked eye. Silva was lagging in that fight for sure, but he was also looking for the triangle armbar all the way through the third and fourth rounds. Go back and look at the fight and see for yourself. In the rematch at UFC 148, Silva ended the fight by TKO and Sonnen couldn’t mount any real offence.
Jones isn’t the fighter that Silva is, but he’s a better athlete. It’s really a toss-up between those two. And yes, it’s obvious that the marquee fight that everyone is pining to see is Silva-Jones. It’s a dream matchup because they’re so fairly balanced from a physical standpoint.
The issue I have with this fight is that Sonnen isn’t a legitimate challenger to Jones, and that’s the inherent dilemma with having Jones as champion. He’s setting a benchmark that competitors aren’t talented enough to reach. Obviously Jones deserves to be champion but there’s a difference between him and a sports league like the NBA. The Miami Heat are favored to win the championship every year, but there’s a chance that they might not. There are always contenders standing in the way and the possibility of an upset.
The UFC is a much different animal. Jones is a young, incredible talent that could overwhelm this division for five more amazing years. Guys like Sonnen don’t even deserve to be in the octagon with him. I don’t blame Jones for being incredible. It’s just that it’s hard to get excited for a fight when you realize that half the reason Sonnen’s even billed here is because of his loud mouth.
It’s great for Sonnen from an earning potential standpoint, but this is the type of fight that will leave fans wanting more. Frankly, I’m not sure the UFC can give their fans what they want in the light heavyweight division.
BONUS MAIN CARD PICKS
Roy Nelson (-260) over Cheick Kongo (+200)
If you got somebody to randomly pick the winner based on first impressions, everyone would pick Kongo. UFC betting enthusiasts, however, know that he’s not as sturdy of a bet as he looks. At 3-1-1 SU in his last 5 fights, Kongo hasn’t really beaten anyone of note and is entering the twilight of his long and respected career. This is going to be a harder fight for Kongo than most would expect.
The main misnomer in this fight is that people think Nelson is younger than Kongo. He was born ten months after the French born freak. Nelson is a recent addition to the UFC ranks, and Kongo has been a staple in the heavyweight division since 2006. So you can’t bet on this fight just because you think Nelson is younger and hungrier (no pun intended).
However, you can most certainly bet on Nelson because he’s a stronger take. The “on paper” tales of the tape vastly underappreciate how good Nelson actually is. Make no mistake: this is as much of a contrast in styles as there is in the UFC. Kongo has the look of a brutal, dominant force of nature and Nelson looks like a guy they dragged from a bar when he was half way through his seventh order of chicken fingers.
Where Kongo will lose this fight is in aggressiveness. Nelson is a fearless haymaker thrower. He’s 5-3 SU in his UFC career and all five of his victories have come by knockout. His three losses were against next level talents like Werdum, Mir and dos Santos. It’s impossible to expect Nelson to compete with guys like that, but against Kongo he has a great chance.
Kongo shrivels when his challengers press him hard, and he gets knocked out of his game plan early when that happens. Nelson hasn’t had problems overcoming height disadvantages, as is evident from his TKO of Stefan Struve. I’ve enjoyed Kongo’s career, but I just don’t have faith when he fights opponents of note. Nelson isn’t a championship contender by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s a stronger play here as the favorite.
Alan Belcher (+140) over Michael Bisping (-170)
Both are coming off losses, but the 28-year old Belcher is a great bet here as the shallow underdog. His unanimous decision defeat to Yushin Okami derailed a four-fight win streak for Belcher but his run through the UFC has been impressive. He’s literally on the verge of breaking through as one of the best fighters in this division.
Bisping has been a mainstay in the middleweight division but has grown more and more suspect to getting knocked out as time goes on. As a talented and cerebral boxer, he has a knack for keeping distance and pushing fights to the limit. But he also lacks serious knockout power and is useless when he gets taken to the ground.
Belcher has a deep arsenal of weapons and should put himself back in winning form by using Bisping as a stepping stone. Take the underdog here as he gives Bisping the first back-to-back losing streak ever.