Chael Sonnen came oh so close to winning a championship yet again. Only this time, even the king of smack talk knew quite well he was second best.
No, at no point in the near four and half minutes of action in the Octagon Saturday night did the UFC light-heavyweight challenger look like he was beating — or was going to be able to beat — the young champion and pound-for-pound king in the making Jon Jones. But in a strange, yet totally fitting way on a night of eyepokes, early stoppages and jaw-dropping injuries, had the most gruesome of displaced bones been caught by a referee who may have been a little quick to end the fight due to Jones’ swarming and own-pain-be-damned attack, we could easily be calling Sonnen the new 205-pound champion merely by default.
Fortunately for Bones, nobody noticed the little one in his big toe had snapped on the mat at the midway point of the opening frame until after his hand was raised in victory. It was his UFC-record ninth straight as a light-heavyweight and one which tied Tito Ortiz for the most consecutive title defences in the 205-pound division. But had the bone now sticking out of his skin been noticed by any officials during the nearly two minutes Jones continued to fight as his dominance over Sonnen didn’t miss a beat — or had the referee decided to let the action continue for another 27 seconds — the doctors certainly would not have let Jones start the second round. That would have resulted in Sonnen finally getting a major title he has so craved yet has been so elusive for him during both his collegiate wrestling career and now in four UFC/WEC attempts.
But Sonnen admitted such a victory would have been fairly hollow.
"When I get in there, I just want to know who’s better. If they would have called the match right there, I wouldn’t have had any illusions. I knew in the first five minutes who the better fighter was," Sonnen said. "I’m sure it would have garnered a rematch … but I got my questions answered tonight."
Indeed, the debate over who is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world seems to come up after any of the usual suspects -- Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre -- competes. But Sonnen’s vote was set for good after his UFC 159 with Jones, whom he thought he could beat coming into the bout; not so much afterward.
"He’s a lot better than I thought," Sonnen said. "To beat a guy is one thing, to beat him at his own game is another. He’s the best fighter I’ve ever faced."
Added Sonnen: "I don’t think I’ve been taken down three times in my whole career. He took me down three times in one round."
Naturally, comparisons were drawn to Silva, whom Sonnen fought twice and held the lead in the scorecards both times only to be stopped. In their first meeting at UFC 117 in August 2010, Sonnen controlled Silva with his wrestling and ground and pound for four and a half rounds before getting caught in a triangle.
Then in a rematch last July, he did more of the same for the first round but missed on a spinning attack and fell before Silva responded with a well-placed knee to the body en route to a TKO. Sonnen, who elevated his verbal attacks on the Brazilian to an art, was not impressed and maintained Jones should be regarded much higher than Silva.
"I don’t want to disparage Anderson, but it’s tough for me. I whipped Anderson for 30 minutes, he whipped me for less than 30 seconds," Sonnen said. "I whipped Jon for zero seconds, he whipped me the entire fight."
Speaking of Silva, UFC president Dana White said the longtime middleweight champion, who is currently scheduled to defend his belt against Chris Weidman at UFC 162 in July, called him Saturday night to say he wanted a fight. While White didn’t say which, he confirmed it was super-fight against either GSP or Jones.
While "The Spider" hasn’t looked even close to beatable apart from the one close call with Sonnen -- during which even that fight he never looked in danger of being finished -- you'd have to think that Jones’ performance Saturday must have even him wondering if Jones isn’t on track to be the greatest UFC fighter of all-time. If you can dominate a very strong fighter on one good foot, what hope is there for you against him when he’s 100 per cent.
"I looked down at my toe and saw blood. I looked a little closer and my toe was pretty much upside-down," said Jones while still maintaining a smile as he played up for the cameras.
Back to Sonnen, he hinted at retirement after coming up short again in a title fight. We will likely see him moving into his role as commentator more full-time.
But he didn’t completely shut the door on his fight career.
"I like to fight, but I LOVE this business, and there are a lot of opportunities there weren’t a few years ago," Sonnen said. "(Fighting) comes to an end at some point, I am by no means saying that happened tonight."
While we may see Sonnen in the cage again, what probably did come to end was him contending for a title. What we likely already knew was evident Saturday, that he just isn’t on the same level as Jones and Silva.
Few are, and that’s why we probably need to see that super-fight between the two.
And we’ll be more than happy to have Sonnen being the one commenting on it.