Say what you will about Chael Sonnen's penchant for trash talking before a fight, but he has historically been nothing but gracious in defeat.
That was this case yet again late this past Saturday night (Nov. 16, 2013), following a one-sided drubbing at the hands of his UFC 167 opponent Rashad Evans. Sonnen had no answer for Evans' superior strength in the clinch, and eventually ended up getting taken to the ground and beat down with an unrelenting barrage of meat tenderizer-like punches en route to a first round technical knockout loss.
However, if the self-proclaimed "Gangster from West Linn, Oregon" wanted to look for excuses for the ass-whipping he took at the hands of his "UFC Tonight" broadcast partner Evans, he might have a couple valid ones.
First of all, despite his claims to the contrary, it had to be difficult for him to get motivated to fight Evans, what with his upcoming The Ultimate Fighter Brazil coaching stint and subsequent fight with fellow-coach Wanderlei Silva already on his mind.
Sonnen originally wanted to face Silva at UFC 167, but when a lingering back injury kept the former Pride FC Middleweight champ from being able to compete, the call was instead made to slot the best smack talker in mixed martial arts (MMA) against Evans.
Despite Sonnen's reputation for talking a metric shit ton of mess about his opponents, the buildup for Sonnen versus Evans was as civil as it was awkward. The subject of their friendship was often brought up in interviews, and it was all either man could do to make a case for why this fight had to happen, other than that UFC 167 was the promotion's twentieth anniversary and they were both big names who happened to have nothing else going on that night.
In fact, when I put the question to Sonnen a few weeks ago why fans should care about his bout against Evans, he dodged giving a serious answer and instead went into professional wrestling-style promo mode.
Now throw in knowledge of an impending fight against Silva -- a man who, unlike Evans, he actually was looking forward to punching in the face -- and it's easy to see how Sonnen's heart may have not been 100 percent into his Light Heavyweight-tilt with "Suga."
Which brings us to the other possible excuse Sonnen could fall back on to explain away his loss: The former Middleweight No. 1 title contender is just not big enough to deal with a skilled wrestler like Evans, who happens to be a legit 205-pound fighter ... and former champion.
Sonnen's game is largely dependent on the efficacy of his freight-train of a power double. When the West Linn Express crashes headlong into a brick wall of a fighter who is 10 to 15 pounds heavier on fight night, it severely limits Sonnen's pathways to victory.
Much like former Middleweight champ and fellow two-time Anderson Silva victim Rich Franklin, Sonnen is undersized for 205 pounds, but has to go through a hard weight cut to meet the 185 pound Middleweight limit. In a perfect world he'd would be able to compete with Franklin in a 195 pound weight class, but unfortunately for both men, that's not the world we live in.
Given the current landscape in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Middleweight would appear to be a much better home for Sonnen than Light Heavyweight. Not only is the Wanderlei fight a very winnable one for him, which would give Sonnen a modicum of momentum given the right buildup, but he also has a much better shot of eventually working his way to a title against smaller opponents who will be more susceptible to his wrestling-centered game.
At 36 years old, it's uncertain how much Sonnen has left in the tank. Considering how Evans manhandled him, it's hard to see Sonnen having much to offer against current Middleweight champ Chris Weidman.
However, if Weidman retains the belt in his rematch with former champ Anderson Silva next month at UFC 168, then a third act in the Sonnen/Silva trilogy might not be the worst idea in the world, provided Sonnen beats "The Axe Murderer."
Whatever UFC decides to do with Sonnen after his post-The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "Brazil 3" showdown with Wanderlei, it would be a good idea to utilize his star power in the biggest matches possible from a drawing perspective rather than booking him in relatively meaningless matches like the company did in his UFC 167 bout with Evans.
After all, win or lose, Sonnen is the rare fighter who always keeps people talking.