There was time in the not-too-distant past, when no one paid much attention to Chael Sonnen.
"The American Ganster" made some noise under the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) banner thanks to a pair of high-profile title fights against Paulo Filho. When ZUFFA eliminated the higher weight classes in late 2008, Sonnen returned to the Octagon for the second time.
Where was soundly defeated by Demian Maia at UFC 95.
The loss left him at 1-3 inside the world's largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, adding to his brief run back in 2005-06. It was not outrageous to think another loss could put him back on the regional circuit, where he racked up wins over local talent like Homer Moore and Justin Bailey.
Then came his rebirth.
Sonnen rebounded with a unanimous decision win over Dan Miller at UFC 98, then upset the heavily-favored Yushin Okami just three months later at UFC 104. "Thunder" was a big enough name to help the decorated Greco-Roman wrestler leapfrog the rest of the division.
Another upset win, this time over Nate Marquardt, earned him a shot against reigning middleweight champion, Anderson Silva, who was running through the 185-pound weight class with relative ease. Sonnen was widely-considered a commercial airing between better contenders.
Though he was riding a three-fight winning streak, Sonnen had failed to secure a finish in 11 fights under the ZUFFA banner (seven in UFC, four in WEC). His biggest weapon was his wrestling game, which came pre-packaged with a colorful personality.
But Sonnen was the betting underdog in his first five UFC fights.
Simply put, there was little reason to expect a career performance from the former political hopeful. His wrestling and top control were some of the best in the business, but Silva had seen this bag of tricks before, from Sonnen's teammate Dan Henderson at UFC 82.
"The Spider" was controlled for one round, but roared back and finished "Hendo" via submission in the second stanza.
The stage was set for UFC 117, which took place at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 7, 2010. Sonnen was expected to be trouble for the Brazilian in the wrestling department, but on the feet? He was a lamb to the proverbial slaughter.
Then, this happened just seconds into the fight (from our live play-by-play by Druby Sunshine):
"Body kick from Silva. Sonnen rocks Silva with a right!!! Silva buckles and Sonnen is charging forward!!! Another right from Sonnen and Silva is hurt bad!!"
Silva was getting beat on his feet by a wrestler and the crowd was going nuts. It was such an unexpected outcome, I don't think even the champion could believe it. Sonnen won that round, as well as the next three, en route to what looked like a lopsided unanimous decision win for the challenger.
Then, disaster struck.
Sonnen got careless -- or perhaps just lazy -- in his opponent's guard and found himself tapping out just a few feet from the finish line. But something happened on that wild night in "Oaktown," something that would change his career forever.
Chael Sonnen became a superstar.
Even in defeat, he had accomplished something no other UFC fighter had: He made Anderson Silva look mortal, out-striking him a staggering 320-64. It also helped his case when "The Spider" knocked Vitor Belfort clean out in his very next fight, before beating the brakes off Yushin Okami.
There was no question they would do it again.
Sonnen's performance at UFC 117 -- coupled with the fact that the division had been cleaned out -- set the stage for a Silva rematch at UFC 148 last July, one he earned by defeating fellow 185-pound contenders Brian Stann and Michael Bisping.
By the time "Silva vs. Sonnen II" had rolled around, there wasn't a combat sports fan in the world who didn't know Chael Sonnen was fighting. Whether you thought his pro-wrestling shtick was entertaining, or you just wanted to see him get crushed, you were paying attention to his fight.
Just like you'll pay attention to his next one, too.
Sonnen has moved on to face Jon Jones in a fight for the 205-pound title, despite coming off a loss, because he has that kind of star power. Make no mistake about it, "The American Gangster" did not earn a fight against "Bones" at UFC 159 because he earned his place in the 205-pound title hunt.
He earned it because it's a fight that sells.
It helps that Jones, like Silva before him, already disposed of the usual light heavyweight suspects during his championship reign. But only a superstar like Sonnen can get a title shot coming off a loss in a division he hasn't competed in for over seven years.
And he couldn't have done it without a career performance in Oakland.
With broadcast gigs under the FOX banner, as well as his pizzeria and other non-fighting endeavors, Sonnen will never have to worry about job security should he lose to Jones this Saturday night (April 27, 2013) at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., but he can once again establish himself as one of the biggest "names" in MMA, even in defeat.
He's already done it once before.