Chael Sonnen, the polarizing, wisecracking wrestler that was one-hundred seconds away from taking Anderson Silva's title, makes his return at UFC 136: Edgar vs. Maynard III against rejuvenated middleweight Brian Stann.
After the performance of a lifetime in which he handled the seemingly untouchable Silva for four and a half rounds before succumbing to a triangle, Sonnen was sidelined due to some static with the Nevada and California State Athletic Commissions. His re-entry has been uncharacteristically docile due to his beaming respect for Stann's heroic military honors.
Considered the former, de facto WEC middleweight champion after defeating Paulo Filho -- as the Brazilian's inability to make weight took the belt out of the equation -- Sonnen's debut as a UFC middleweight was unremarkable. Soaring sub-demon Demian Maia not only tapped him in the first, but dressed up the catch by hurling the reputable takedown artist off his feet effortlessly in the clinch.
The MMA populace (myself included) wrote Sonnen off as allergic to submissions and destined to fade into the depths of the division. Thoroughly gratified with each heaping spoonful, the Team Quest standout proceeded to portion out a triple serving of humble pie with commanding wins over Dan Miller and perennial top-contenders Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami, re-establishing himself among the elite and earning a crack at Silva in the process.
Brian Stann blasted his way up the WEC light-heavyweight ranks with five consecutive first-round knockouts, culminating with a title affair against champion Doug Marshall to attain the 205-pound strap. His first defense of the belt -- a rematch with Steve Cantwell -- would also be the first loss of his career and his only TKO loss to date.
Like Sonnen, Stann's opening run in the Octagon was rather pedestrian: he was finished again, this time via Krzysztof Soszynski's signature kimura, he notched decisions over Rodney Wallace and in a rematch with Cantwell, then found himself buried under the double leg takedowns of Phil Davis. A drop to middleweight rekindled the flames, as three straight stoppages would follow in a submission of Mike Massenzio and vicious knockouts of Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
There was no better way to set the tone for a surprise than Sonnen staggering Silva with punches early.
The normally elusive champ stood directly in front of Sonnen with his feet mysteriously planted, absorbing a nicely cast straight-left to the chin.
Sonnen shifted the momentum in his favor thirty-seconds in and never relented until the late turnaround; perhaps throwing the agile kickboxer off by relying on his striking to lead the attack.
Duping Silva into a striking war was the ideal set up to spring his engulfing double legs.
To the left, Sonnen again finds success in simple, straight punches, clearly connecting on most of these punches while the champ continues his abnormal defensive tactics.
Compared to the past, the boxing technique, footwork, balance and head movement that Sonnen shows here signifies some progression.
Silva, who danced around the cage with excessive circling and movement in his previous title defenses, remains stationary and allows himself to be cornered against the cage.
With a well-timed level drop, Sonnen nails the takedown.
A salient statistic from UFC 117 is that Sonnen only secured three of seven takedowns. Going from memory, I would've guessed he hit a half-dozen based on so much time ground time.
That does reinforce how Sonnen maximizes his takedowns by not only holding control on the mat, but pushing the action enough to avoid a referee stand up.
Sonnen is a tenacious workhorse from the top. He almost always slithers to half guard and looks to trap the right arm with his left knee as he does here.
This enables him to freely land a high volume of short, damaging punches from an advantageous perch and he also pursues the arm-triangle from this position.
If no one else has come up with a corny catchphrase for his technique to the left, I'd like to offer my own by coining this "The Windshield Wiper."
Though hardly effective and mostly annoying, it's considerably demoralizing to have a stocky leviathan rag-doll you on the feet and then methodically grind you down with an incessant shower of blows.
At the close of this sequence, Sonnen's left forearm ends up across Silva's face, which leads to another of his favorite one-armed tactics, which is a series of short but stiff forearms. He'll also palm the head to control it before dropping Jeremy Horn-style elbows.
All of Sonnen's true offensive potency revolves around his ability to set up and complete takedowns.
If he can't nail them with timing and quickness alone, he does an excellent job of setting it up with strikes; typically the overhand left as depicted here.
While Silva's footwork and movement was suspiciously lacking, Sonnen's footwork is straight-line effective, especially in that he penetrates deep into the pocket and drives his through his attempts.
He's an intelligent stalker who carefully selects a wise position to spring from so the fence wall prevents escape routes for the defender.
I started looking at Brian Stann in a whole new light when he knocked out Chris Leben, joining the great Anderson Silva as the only fighters to incapacitate "The Crippler" with strikes.
He's always been a hard-nosed, athletic specimen, but his drop to 185 seemed to coincide with achieving the next level of his potential.
His military commitments took precedence over his training curriculum in the past, so transitioning to a full-timer at Greg Jackson's is a sensible explanation.
What I found particularly admirable about the Leben KO is that his opponent has staked a reputation for being a feisty brawler with a nearly impervious chin, and Stann flat-out beat him at his own game.
Overwhelming one of the toughest scrappers with raw brutality speaks volumes about his inherent toughness, but his fundamental strides are what made the difference.
In the first gif, Stann holds Leben's head down with the single collar tie and switches to the knee to finish him.
Throughout all of these animations, he makes excellent use of either the whizzer or head control to maintain good balance while dirty boxing and to repel Leben's takedown attempts.
To the right, the key to dropping Leben is the sweet circle under and back to his left during the incoming blitz of punches.
After swatting the big right hook, he lands in side-control when pouncing, then constricts the guillotine due to his head control when Leben stands.
Against Jorge Santiago (right), Stann shows the same sharp pivot to his left to matador Santiago when he bursts forward.
This will pay huge dividends when defending Sonnen's deadly double legs.
I'm sure his stance and strategy in these animations are tailored to striking-oriented opponents and that Team Jackson will tweak his stance, footwork and hand position more towards sprawl-mode.
Such as: having a bigger cushion, keeping his hips back and his guard up but prepared to dig underhooks.
Nitpicking on the sequence to the left, against Sonnen, Stann will need to be either well outside of range to counter-punch and circle when Sonnen shoots or right in his face dropping bombs (in short bursts).
That extended left leg is a perfect target for Sonnen's filthy mitts when he's dropping low, so I'd suggest either opening his stance more, crouching down further or both.
I also like the level at which his punches are landing here. The first one-two is at shoulder-level and the uppercut sequence keeps the lower pocket unfriendly.
The exact same shuffle to his left, while effective again, could be a repetitive pattern that Sonnen picks up on.
If Stann doesn't mix up his angles, Sonnen could easily toss out his overhand left and cut a hard right turn during his takedown attempt.
Though Stann claims to be "falling in love with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu", I'm not sure he can threaten from the bottom.
While Stann can't outwrestle Sonnen, he might have an adequate combination of strength and agility to shake off his fair share of attempts.
Even if he does, winning a decision doesn't seem likely. That leaves a knockout or submission as his alternatives.
I do feel Stann has enough raucous power to clip Sonnen standing and, for that reason alone, feel he has a decent shot here. While Sonnen's stand up and takedown set ups have improved, the singular threat is the takedown. Stann's shown a decent enough chin to err on the safe side by taking some punches rather than defending them over the takedown.
I'm in line with the betting odds giving Sonnen a slight push. Unfortunately, Stann was taken down rather easily by Mike Massenzio; many times throwing leg kicks that the wrestler happily scooped up, other times just unable to fend it off. He could have all the tools to adjust his footwork and takedown defense to score an upset, but he just hasn't showed them so far.
My Prediction: Chael Sonnen by decision
Sonnen vs. Silva gifs via Caposa
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com