The UFC will decide the next man to challenge for Anderson Silva's middleweight title this Saturday night (October 8, 2011) as former number one contender Chael Sonnen takes on ex-WEC light heavyweight champion Brian Stann on the UFC 136 main card.
Sonnen is finally returning to the Octagon after a 14 month layoff due to a bonanza of issues. He's been campaigning for another crack at Anderson Silva ever since the post-fight press conference at UFC 117 and he's now one fight away from getting that opportunity.
Brian Stann is an American hero, an Iraq war veteran and he's brought some fresh blood into the UFC middleweight title picture with back-to-back knockouts of both Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago. He'll definitely turn some heads if he can put a halt to Sonnen, who's widely considered the number two middleweight on the planet.
Will Sonnen do what he does best and pound Stann with a plethora of takedowns? Can "The All-American" smack down the politician on the national stage? Who will win their primary this Saturday night and force their opponent to concede?
Record: 25-11-1 overall, 4-4 in the UFC
Key Losses: Anderson Silva (UFC 117), Demian Maia (UFC 95)
How he got here: Oh boy, Chael Sonnen has had a long and storied history in mixed martial arts. He was an All-American at Oregon, was a national champion in Greco Roman wrestling and was an Olympic alternate. His first real fight was against "Mayhem" Miller, in which he ground out a decision with his wrestling.
The story of Sonnen's entire career has been his ability to use his wrestling to defeat opponents while coming up short occasionally to tough submission fighters. Jeremy Horn famously beat him on three separate occasions, twice by submission and once from a cut. Sonnen also fell short to the likes of Forrest Griffin and Renato Sobral in his pre-UFC days.
After dropping a tough loss to Paulo Filho for the WEC middleweight title, Sonnen rebounded to hand Bryan Baker his first career loss and then beat Filho in a rematch, although the champion had failed to make weight (and also saw invisible people).
Sonnen lost his first fight in the UFC to Demian Maia via, you guessed it, submission in the first round but he bounced back strongly with solid victories over top contenders Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt to earn a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. In his title fight against "The Spider," Sonnen refused to back down and was minutes away from a dominant decision victory before Silva wrapped him up in a triangle choke and forced the tap.
The Oregonian tested positive for testosterone after the fight and has been dealing with suspension and other issues this past year before finally getting a crack at Brian Stann where the winner will earn a title shot.
How he gets it done: Chael Sonnen has a terrific ability of being aggressive with his striking because he knows his opponents are very concerned about the takedown. He's been able to outstrike just about everyone he's fought because of this. If his opponents get flustered and try to open up, he puts the fear into the back of their minds by diving in with his wrestling.
Sonnen has a terrific double leg, single leg and high crotch takedowns. He clearly possesses some of the best MMA wrestling on the planet and he throws a ton of strikes once he has his opponent on the ground. They may not be heavily damaging blows, but they accumulate and Sonnen never gets tired.
He will push the pace of this fight, pressing Brian Stann in the striking, clinch and especially on the ground. If Stann gets a little too antsy in the stand-up and starts tagging him, Sonnen always has that terrific shot in his back pocket. Being able to control where the fight takes place is incredibly vital.
Sonnen knows exactly how hard Brian Stann hits so don't expect him to stand with "The All-American" for long. He wants to get in deep, bury his head in Stann's chest and blast him into the canvas. That's the best way to neutralize someone's powerful punches and he knows it.
Record: 11-3 overall, 5-2 in the UFC
How he got here: If you really want the long (and highly entertaining version) check out Stann's book, Heart for the Fight, but for the condensed version, "The All-American" was a linebacker for the Navy, got interested in fighting while in the marines and would fight whenever he'd come home from Iraq, where he was a highly decorated officer.
Stann fought admirably in the WEC light heavyweight division, winning the title in just his sixth professional fight before Zuffa consolidated the division but he had trouble with the bigger, stronger light heavyweights in the UFC. After a 2-2 stint in the division, Stann made the decision to drop to the middleweight division.
As a 185-pounder, he now had a size and strength advantage over his opponents that he didn't have at 205. The ex-marine was able to showcase his new well-rounded skills with a triangle victory over Mike Massenzio and then followed it up by cracking Chris Leben's granite chin at UFC 125 with a first round technical knockout victory. Stann called out Wanderlei Silva but happily settled for Sengoku middleweight champion Jorge Santiago at UFC 132, defeating "The Sandman" by technical knockout in the second round.
The victory over Santiago put him in title contention and he has been matched up against Chael Sonnen in a number one contender's fight this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: First thing's first, Stann absolutely needs to keep this fight standing. Chael Sonnen is going to try to take him down early and often. Stann has been working tirelessly with top wrestling coaches like John Bardis and Israel Martinez in the last year to get him up to speed in the grappling arts. He needs to make sure to throw his strikes with enough power to do damage without leaving a huge opening for the takedown.
"The All-American" has also been working specifically on doing big damage with short punches either as Sonnen enters a clinch with him or on the exit of a clinch. He needs to keep pounding Sonnen with every opportunity because he can't afford to lose a round by spending it on his back.
Sonnen can be a bleeder as well if he's hit hard enough so Stann should also not be afraid to utilize knees and elbows if the fight gets up close.
If and when Sonnen takes Stann down, he needs to either A) work for a submission off his back like he did to Mike Massenzio or B) do everything in his power to get back to his feet.
Brian Stann is a very powerful middleweight so he might have the explosion and core strength to get Sonnen off of him on the ground and if he does, he needs to make Sonnen pay before he shoots in again. This fight is all about doing as much damage in the stand-up as possible before the mouthy ex-realtor takes him down.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight absolutely has to be the war between Brian Stann's takedown defense and Chael Sonnen's elite wrestling. Stann has put in a ton of time with some world-class coaches in preparation for this fight but he's definitely had issues with tough grapplers in the past. While he's a completely different fighter than the man who got toyed with on the canvas by Phil Davis and Krzysztof Soszynski, it may not be enough to handle Sonnen's shot.
The other factor is the time that Chael Sonnen has spent away from the cage. Due to the suspension, the real estate issues and licensing problems, he's been MIA from the Octagon for 14 months. Sure, he's been training in his downtime, but if he shows up rusty for the first round of this fight with Brian Stann, that could be more than enough time for "The All-American" to relieve him of his consciousness.
Bottom Line: This is a classic grappler versus striker match-up. One man wants this bout to take place on the ground while the other wants it to remain standing. Both men are extremely high level practitioners of their craft and will be working to impose their will. This is about as good as it gets for a non-title middleweight fight in the UFC right now and with so much on the line, you will not want to miss this one. Even though Chael Sonnen's fights tend to go to a decision, there is always a ton of drama and he's won "Fight of the Night" his last two times out. Take your bathroom breaks beforehand because you won't want to miss a second.
Who will come out on top at UFC 136? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!