Chael Sonnen is a horrible style match up for Shogun Rua. Shogun has pretty awful takedown defense, and suspect cardio. Sonnen is great at taking people down and keeping them there. He has a very tough chin.
Shogun’s stock has dropped pretty severely. He has split wins and losses in his last 6 fights, and even the wins haven’t generally been ones which that would inspire confidence.
Ever since the first (not a typo) Machida match, he’s largely abandoned his strongest tool, namely kicking people good, with his legs. Now a sloppy yet sneaky brawler. On bottom, where he will likely be against Sonnen, he tends to sweep rather than submit.
Sonnen is a guy who uses everything available to propel himself towards a goal. Legal PEDs, any and all psychological or potential monetary advantages, up to and including dumb-racism-when-he’s-obviously-smart-enough-to-know-better (or is it xenophobia, or ethnocentrism... no it’s racism). Compulsion: Win. WIN. Never that guy to throw hands and fall in love with the dream of boxing. Constantly forcing the fight towards where he feels he’s strongest. No illusions about the niceties of the sport, no glove touch or hugging it out at the start at the round. Refreshing candour whenever he’s lost, which is often.
Rogan and Goldie have their own rails that they run down. Most of us are pretty familiar with them by now. One of them is the wrestler line.
"Wrestling is such a great BASE for the sport. Not only because it allows you to dictate where the fight takes place, but because it builds such a great MENTALITY and ATTITUDE."
Actually pretty true. A fighter needs drive, and the grind of wrestling programs certainly helps with that. That drive obviously can have its downsides- being convinced you can win over any adversity is great on the way up, but when you’re old Jens Pulver getting brutalized every time you step into the cage? Less so.
Sonnen, the archetypical mma wrassler, has a lot of drive. He’s also pretty smart. Good when it came to making money and getting himself a title shot and suchlike. Bad because he’s easily clever enough to know that his drive is currently going nowhere, pushing him in circles around the drain of history before it sucks him down. Forever a footnote. That guy who almost beat Anderson Silva a few years before Weidman actually did.
The psychology of fighting is odd and surprising delicate, and my assertion is that Sonnen’s mentality has gone that little bit haywire. Like building train tracks towards a goal, throwing everything you own onto that train, driving it to that goal as fast as you can. Then when it crashes, putting it back on the rails, loading it up, making a new set of tracks. Run it again. You can only do it so many times before the train starts to get battered and shitty, and starts to come off the tracks more and more.
As fight fans may just remember, he fought an incredible fight against Silva, before getting tapped in the last round.
OK. Let’s do this again.
Coming up for his second title shot, something felt slightly awry already. His racist schtick was starting to become increasingly weird, approaching desperate.
Something few people seemed to pick up on as a negative: his sheer size. The muscle paradigm is often thought of like so: "well, if you can cut the weight, and you don’t gas out, then you should be as big as you possibly can be!"
"X fighter could really compete in Weight Class Omega if he put on an extra ten, fifteen pounds of muscle."
Some fighters are really more effective at certain body mass. Musclebound – this is a good word. Ropes of muscle can tie you up, and slow you down. Prime Mariusz Pudzianowski, cardio issues aside, is just too god damn blonx to throw a really effective punch.
Contention: The meat suit that Sonnen slowly donned between the Silva fights was bad for him. In the fight against Bisping, his step-in and oft-underrated head movement closing the pocket looked cumbersome and sluggish.
What was behind it? Was it weight gains from the TRT, like Hampage against Bader? Was Sonnen just desperately thinking "I was able to overpower him last time, I need to get bigger. BIGGER!" ignoring the fact that his toughest task was closing in on a ferocious striker without getting his head knocked off? Who knows.
Regardless, in the rematch with Silva, he lost again. For all the talk of ribs and short-grabbers and meat suits and whatnot, the two fights are not fundamentally surprising, with a salient lesson behind them: being able to finish people is a useful skill, especially if you’re the champion.
Simulate your own Silva-Sonnen fight! Take a die, and say that Sonnen’s chance of taking the fight to the ground and winning a round is particularly high, say 5/6. If you roll 1 to 5, Sonnen wins the round! Silva’s chances of tapping or knocking out Sonnen are 1/6. Much less likely. Simulate a bunch of 5 round Silva-Sonnens- Sometimes Sonnen wins several rounds. Sometimes he doesn’t win many. Rarely does he win all 5 (I think? my maths not so good... more better at english...). Take into account that Sonnen’s chance for a round winner TD was probably less than 5/6, to boot.
It barely needs to be said but Sonnen’s spinning backfist was a very weird thing to try for a meat-and-potatoes wrestleboxer. He’d done fun, odd stuff before
but rarely something that suicidally risky. Where’s your head at, Chael Sonnen?
Let’s fight Jon Jones!
Was this courageous? Again, it’s difficult to know what Sonnen’s brain is doing, but he is a clever man. Always one who tried to pile up the advantages, he had to know that Silva was a relatively favourable style matchup, but that Jones was bigger, stronger, and ate wrestlers for breakfast.
A strong element of resignation to it. "Well.... I’m not going to get another shot at 185. What’s the worst that could happen? Hey, maybe I’ll win. Worst case scenario, I get a lot of money and an ass-beating while not having to cut too much weight."
Basically what happened. He came frighteningly close to winning by doctor stoppage, but instead joined Liddell, Jung and a few other fighters who own the dubious distinction of being finished by a cripple.
It’s a bad indicator for Sonnen’s drive, that he wasn’t really targeting legitimate opportunities. If we trudge back to our overplayed train metaphor, serious ambition makes for great fuel.
"I’m gonna become the greatest in the WORLD!"
As opposed to
"Let’s make some money here, I guess."
Now he’s kind of on the seniors circuit, fighting guys who are also never going to sniff gold again, like Shogun.
DIGRESSION TIME: LAWLER-KOSCHECK
Most, including I, thought it a massive step down for Koscheck. That said, did not consider it enormously unlikely that Lawler would win. Koscheck, with respect to Fight IQ, has demonstrated repeatedly that he is not the sharpest egg in the basket, entering ill-advised stand up battles with people who are better at hitting things than he is. If he had tried kickboxing with Lawler and gotten his head taken off, myeh.
However, I was surprised to see Koscheck come out and go full wrestler mode, and summarily get destroyed.
Koscheck has his similarities with Sonnen. A 1.5-dimensional power double wrestler who lost twice to the king of his division. Has shown some mental issues (notably flinching at punches) after his 25 minutes of GSP gently breaking his skull. Not as much as Sonnen, though. Partially, I think, because he is just a bit too
dumb cognitively limited to overthink in the potentially dangerous way that Sonnen could. The kind of guy who, faced with the Nietzschean abyss, hocks a loogie into it.
Regardless. The straight-line wrestler mentality is often difficult to get back on track. Lawler and Shogun can have inconsistent performances and come in out of shape, but they have something fundamentally harder to misdirect than drive, namely natural animal savagery, which jumpstarts their blood once the cage door shuts and screams:
"HIT. HIM. IN THE FUCKING FACE AND THEN JUMP ON HIM, NO NOT LIKE THAT. NO, WITH YOUR FIST, SOCCER KICKS AREN’T ALLOWED MAURICIO."
So I’m actually going to take Rua by TKO, sometime within the first two. I think that like Lawler, whilst up against it stylistically, he has enough veteran cunning to get back up when he’s taken down. I think Sonnen is really trying to simulate that drive which got him to almost beat the best fighter in the world, but that he lacks the focus necessary against a man who, sloppy and knee-less as he is, is a murderous finisher.
I also think Pointless Cho Aniki Muscle Suit Sonnen is slower and more hittable, much like his compatriot Pointless Cho Aniki Muscle Suit Mir.
Of course, sometimes style matchups just play out like they should. If Sonnen takes Shogun down for 5, or even taps an exhausted Rua out late a la Griffin, I won’t be surprised at all.
Maybe Sonnen starts seriously building those tracks again.
Doubt it, though.