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UFC 167: What’s Next for Chael Sonnen?

In the lead up to UFC 167 Chael Sonnen was once again being regarded as a force in the 205 lb class, but after a disappointing loss to Rashad Evans the question lingers, what’s next? Since returning to the UFC in 2009 it feels as if there has been a constant whirlwind surrounding Chael. Whether it be his constant berating of Anderson Silva, a dramatic pair of title fights against the same man, a failed urine test, a money laundering fiasco, a TRT debate, a division change, or a third title shot in a second division against another champ that many felt Chael did not earn, no fighter in the last 3 years has spent more time in the limelight as Mr. Chael P. Sonnen. Say what you want about the man but he has successfully transformed himself from respected journeyman to MMA superstar. Now with all the drama surrounding Chael possibly subsiding, he has to figure out what will be the best course of action to continue his career. Here we will explore his options.

Stay at 205 pounds

Chael has now competed in 3 consecutive fights at 205 lbs and is 1-2 in his current run. Chael has said that he does not feel small or week for the 205 but that there are some positions that he does not do well in at this weight. I personally never thought that Chael was too small or weak for 205 and even if he was a tad small all his years of competing at a very high level in wrestling mean that it is unlikely he will be overpowered. Sure he was rag dolled by Jon Jones but he is certainly not alone there.  The obvious thing to do if Chael wants to stay at 205 is to expand his skill set.  His wrestling alone may not be enough to allow him to hang with the best guys anymore. It’s well known that Chael was receiving high level training in BJJ and that could be the edge he needs. But, Chael should ensure he maintains his wrestling at the highest possible level considering he is far removed from his amateur wrestling days and with the athletes competing in MMA today it will not be enough to rely on old skills, and training methods. Because after all, Chael will always be mainly a wrestler no matter how good he gets at striking or submissions and it will be his wrestling that will allow him to be effective in those other arts.

Drop back to 185

At 185 lbs Chael is a beast; his size, strength, and wrestling make him very competitive there, IF he can still make weight. The 20 lbs between MW and LHW is bigger than the gap between any other 2 divisions and at this level 20 lbs is huge, even if Chael says otherwise. One reason Chael recently left 185 was because he had fought and lost to the champ 2 times and was not likely to get another shot with Anderson Silva still champion. The good news is that after UFC 168 we will know if Silva will be standing in Chael’s way again anytime soon. An added bonus of dropping to 185 could be the discipline factor.  When a fighter is forced to make weight they have to diet harder, train harder, and be more disciplined in every way which can make for a tough, mean fighter with a chip on his shoulder come fight night and facing Chael under those conditions is tough.

Other variables

Another thing to address is that Chael’s physique and performance on Saturday, both flat. Being on full time testosterone replacement therapy this may be cause for concern. While some view TRT as a fountain of youth it is not as simple as just applying a cream or administering injections and BOOM you’re unstoppable. The human endocrine system can be very tricky and if TRT is not handled with the utmost care than you could be headed for problems.  Let’s hope that Chael and his doctor are handling this situation properly.

What to do?

It doesn’t seem like retirement is on the table for Chael just yet so Chael has to be honest with himself, even if he will not be honest with everyone else. If he thinks he can actually improve his skills than he may be able to hang at 205. If he feels he has topped out in that department then he should go to, and stay at, 185 where he will have to be a disciplined machine in order to make weight and where his size, strength, and existing level of skills will be tougher to beat. This becomes an even better option if Silva losses to Chris Weidman in their rematch at UFC 168, the removal of an old obstacle and the addition of a new challenge may be just what Chael needs. My guess is Chael will be watching UFC 168 closely for this very reason.