Skeptical that Chael Sonnen can produce enough interest to draw in a record number? He'll get close. Photo by UFC.com
In the lead-up to UFC 136 this past week, UFC President Dana White had a hesitant tone when talking about Chael Sonnen's future. Questions revolving around where he stands in the division, and who UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva would face next were met with non-committal answers. In the back of everyone's mind, it was obvious that Sonnen vs. Silva II was a huge fight that the UFC would eventually have to put on. The only question was when.
Sonnen made the answer obvious after destroying Brian Stann in a main card middleweight match-up at UFC 136 on Saturday night. Stann wasn't given any space to work, constantly defending against the relentless pace and wrestling of Sonnen. Impressively, there weren't any signs that Sonnen's lengthy layoff due to his legal problems and positive drug test for elevated testosterone levels had any effect on his performance. It was a perfect route of a legitimate, rising star.
Sonnen's post-fight pro wrestling promo in which he told the cheering crowd in Houston, Texas that Anderson Silva "absolutely sucks" and that he would leave the UFC if Silva beat him in a rematch brought an undeniable excitement to the fanbase watching. Any uncertainty in Dana White's mind was absent during the post-fight press conference as White stated the rematch needs to happen as soon as possible because the fans want it, Chael wants it, and Anderson Silva wants it.
The question now is whether this potentially massive pay-per-view card will produce exactly that... massive numbers. UFC 117, which was headlined by both Silva and Sonnen, reached an estimated 600,000 buys with a below average supporting cast. Undoubtedly, the rematch with the proper promotion and supporting fights could reach upwards of 800,000 to possibly 1 million buys as White alluded to at the post-fight presser.
There isn't any evidence to suggest that Sonnen has the connection with the UFC's fanbase to bring in those types of numbers. While there were many opinions in the aftermath of UFC 136 that were negative toward Sonnen's consistent schtick as the American badass, it's difficult to see it not amping up casual fans who don't have the hunger for the technical nuances of fighting. Those fans just want to see a great fight, and the added emotions and drama behind such a rematch should be enough to bring in new fans, especially if the UFC can promote the fight on their new network partner Fox.
Anderson Silva has brought more prominence to himself in recent appearances as well. The front kick knockout of Vitor Belfort at UFC 126 and his destruction of Yushin Okami at UFC 134 have laid to rest some of the bad memories of his stale performances in the past. He's also helped drive pay-per-view buys to an estimated 750,000 at UFC 126, hinting that he's beginning to move the needle as he should.
Sonnen is the major player in helping this eventual rematch breakthrough the ceiling. The UFC will undoubtedly push him into the spotlight to cut promotions and drive interest. They have all the material they need to connect with casual fans because Sonnen is in full production mode from now until the fight happens. It may be a tired WWE tactic, but the difference is that this schtick is in the confines of the real world, not a soap opera. Casual fans will eat it up, and Sonnen vs. Silva II will likely become a massive success.