This is what Vitor Belfort looked like after his third fight with Randy Couture. Could he survive Chael Sonnen?
That's what Jake Rossen thinks:
(Chael Sonnen will) be ready to go in November. And, conveniently, so would Vitor Belfort.
Belfort, originally scheduled to fight Silva in April before injury took him out, hasn't fought since September 2009. He's just sitting there, packed in ice, waiting to be unfurled for when the UFC decides it would be convenient to use his shaky status as a top contender. Is he really going to sit out for upwards of 18 months? Why not lend some legitimacy to his status -- he's had not one middleweight fight in the UFC -- by matching him against Sonnen?
There's an argument against, obviously: with Silva having slaughtered most of that division, it makes more financial sense to keep both Belfort and Sonnen circling rather than guarantee one gets eliminated. I get it. But I also get that athletes have a very small window of opportunity to compete, and shelving them because of a champion's injury displays a fairly gross ignorance of that fact. Matching them up against anyone else is disingenuous: they're the No. 1 and No. 2 contenders in the promotion. Who else could Belfort fight that would possibly aid his standing more than Sonnen?
I'm more or less all for this except for one thing.
In the rock-paper-scissors game that is MMA, Sonnen has the exact style that Belfort -- a fighter who relies primarily on his boxing and has weak wrestling and not much of a guard game -- has struggled with throughout his career. Sonnen's Team Quest teammate Dan Henderson took Vitor down at will en route to a one-sided decision in PRIDE in 2006. Randy Couture mauled Vitor so bad in 2004 that some wags still refer to a vicious ground and pound beat down as "a Belfort-ing".
But on the other hand, Belfort made very short work indeed of Sonnen's coach and mentor Matt Lindland at Affliction: Day of Reckoning. So he'll definitely have a puncher's chance.
The alternates are fights for Sonnen that throw him to the wolves -- he just can't handle great submission fighters, something this division is fairly loaded with. I have a recurring vision of Sonnen taking on Rousimar "Tap? What Tap?" Palhares and limping away with no intact ligaments in his knee.
I guess this is a long-winded way of saying, give us Sonnen vs Belfort. May the best man win and go on to face Anderson Silva. There will be no doubt that the winner of Sonnen/Belfort would have earned the title shot.
Let's hear from Dave Meltzer why this makes zero financial sense for the UFC in the full entry.
Of course, that would risk a Sonnen-Silva rematch and as the numbers begin to come in, it's more and more clear that that was a box office bonanza. Dave Meltzer gives the credit to Sonnen in the latest Wrestling Observer (subscription only):
After this week, there's a new phrase in the fight business lexicon. "There's drawing money with promos. And then there's Chael Sonnen."
In the modern history of the fight game, there is nobody who has taken a fight with such little public interest and talked it into a PPV blockbuster the way Sonnen did. You can point to Floyd Mayweather Jr., but Mayweather's fight with Oscar de la Hoya was pegged to be the biggest non-heavyweight fight in history long before the hard promotion of the event took place. Yes, the 24/7 series creating a hero and villain made a big fight into the biggest money fight in history, but nobody single-handedly did it. You had a popular champion who was a huge draw, tremendous mainstream media hype and the creation of the 24/7 series.
Sonnen took a dead fight, with a gifted champion who had never proven to be a draw, with far more limited mainstream publicity and the only television vehicle being a single Countdown show, and the result was one of the ten biggest money fights in UFC history.
... (Sonnen) was put in the main event of a show that figured to be the weak draw in a show sandwiched between a show headlined by Brock Lesnar and a show Dana White had been gearing toward for years because it was the debut in his former home town of Boston, and featured the first high profile boxing potential Hall of Famer vs. MMA Hall of Famer in history.
As far as weak business was concerned, the big question just before the show started that afternoon in Oakland was has there ever been anyone who has taken a fight that nobody cared about, and through interview after interview, built it into a major fight? By that point everyone knew the show was going to do above average business. There are guys in pro wrestling, MMA and boxing who have made big fights bigger. Some guys have made so-so fights somewhat interesting. But nobody was able to come up with another example of someone who had never headlined, had never been a draw, had a mediocre record, and was going into a match against another non-draw with a bad rep with PPV buyers and turned it into the kind of business that UFC 117 did?
Sonnen is pretty clear that he wants an immediate rematch for the title. His manager Mike Roberts spoke to MMA Fighting:
"We've had talks," Roberts said. "I just had a talk with [the UFC] [Monday] morning. You know, we don't tell them how to do their job. The only thing that we do is tell them what we want, and the simple question was asked, 'What does Chael want?' And Chael's answer was, 'I want to do this again. The party ain't over yet.'
For his part, Belfort is gunning for the title shot too, via MMA Fighting:
At almost exactly the same time, Belfort was taking to cyberspace, telling fans via Twitter, "Now guys I am waiting to hear from Lorenzo [Fertitta] and Dana when I will fight Anderson silva so let's wait and see."
The next day, perhaps sensing that the public narrative was moving away from him and towards a Sonnen-Silva rematch, Belfort was at it again. And this time, it seemed he wasn't as sure.
"Dana please give me the fight that every one want to see. This fight will be the fight of the century. Give me Anderson," he wrote.
There's no doubt that waiting for an immediate title shot (or rematch) is what's in Sonnen and Belfort's interest. Making sure they put on Silva-Sonnen 2 is probably in the UFC's interest. But I'm a fan and I'm interested in seeing Sonnen vs Belfort this November.