When the UFC announced that they had booked controversial Middleweight Chael Sonnen to coach The Ultimate Fighter opposite Light Heavyweight Jon Jones followed by a title shot for Sonnen, the reaction was intense. Some, like our own Tim Burke, felt it was a desperation move. Others, like our own K.J. Gould, thought the matchup was "all kinds of awesome."
Most of those who favored the bout defended it on financial or entertainment grounds. Dave Meltzer at MMA Fighting is an example of the latter. He compares the planned Jones vs. Sonnen match-up with the pending UFC Bantamweight title unification match between Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao. The Cruz-Barao bout is the ideal of sporting competition: two young lions each with only a single loss, both at the peak of their youth and ability, both of whom have mopped up against the best in their division. Here's what Meltzer has to say about Cruz-Barao vis-a-vis Jones vs. Sonnen and which fight is "better for the sport":
This is an old argument, but people need to come to grips with what is bad for the sport. What is bad is when nobody cares, when the sport is not covered, and when people outside the MMA core fan base are barely aware it exists. That's bad. Bad ratings. Bad pay-per-view numbers. Television loses interest in promoting it past the fringe sport level. All bad.
Unless something changes, Cruz and Barao are not going to be all over ESPN. Joe Sixpack Monday Night Football Fan who may watch two or three UFC shows per year and make the difference when shows do more than 700,000 buys, may not even know who Cruz is, and almost surely doesn't know Barao.
I'll let Meltzer's opinion on the business front stand as definitive. I'm much more interested/amused by Randy Couture's recent comments that the bout makes sense from a sporting aspect. He appeared on Spike TV's MMA Uncensored last Thursday and here's what he had to say (via MMA Fighting):
"Chael has a great opportunity to win this fight actually," Couture said. "Technically I see a similar style fight as Anderson Silva. If he wades through him and makes Jon Jones wrestle him the entire fight, I think he can win that.
"He can do it, but he needs that gameplan. He needs to make it a wrestling match, start to finish."
Couture knows a little something about upsets in MMA. From the beginning of his career when he derailed "The Phenom" Vitor Belfort at UFC 13 to his amazing upset of Tim Sylvia for the UFC Heavyweight title in 2007, Couture won more high profile upsets than any other fighter.
Sonnen, of course is no Randy Couture, but it's important to remember he has a fighting chance to take the title away from Jon Jones.