Chael Sonnen was 27 seconds away from winning the UFC light-heavyweight title by default. Instead, he’s just the next in a long line of challengers turned back by the reigning champion Jon Jones.
That was the odd reality coming out of the main event of an odd night of fights in New Jersey.
Jones dominated from the beginning, “Chael Sonnen’ing” Chael Sonnen himself, beating the veteran title challenger at his own game from the start. Late in the frame, Jones opened up on Sonnen as he was on the canvas along the cage, burying a knee into his chest, and dropping heavy punches, prompting the stoppage.
When Jones walked to the centre of the cage for his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, everyone noticed the big toe on his left foot was sitting at an odd angle. Replays after the bout showed the champ suffered an open dislocation midway through the round, though he didn’t allow that to stop him.
For the next few months, it’s bound to slow Jones down, but once the toe heals, Jones will be right back in the cage. This victory tied him with Tito Ortiz for the most consecutive successful title defences in the history of the light-heavyweight division, and he’s talked at length about his desire to break that record.
Saturday night at the post-fight press conference, Jones said that if he had the choice, Alexander Gustafsson would be his next opponent.
The 25-year-old titleholder explained that having already faced and defeated Lyoto Machida, he’d like to meet the rangy Swedish contender next. Citing how often journalists focus on his reach and size advantage in the cage, Jones said squaring off with the 6-foot-5 Gustafsson would be a chance to “silence his critics” once again.
However, with Jones destined for some down time, there is the possibility that Gustafsson and Machida could end up squaring off, with the winner then advancing to face Jones once he’s ready to return. There are options available to the UFC, and how the organization proceeds will likely hinge on how long the dominant light-heavyweight champion is going to be out of commission.
Here are my thoughts on what comes next for the rest of Saturday’s main card fighters.
Chael Sonnen rides off into the sunset
Actually, I think he’ll ride off into the broadcast booth and continue in his role as the host of UFC Tonight and one of the best analysts in the business. While he didn’t come right out and say it Saturday, Sonnen hinted that it might be time to hang up his four-ounce gloves, and with a burgeoning career in media waiting for him, it seems like a perfect exit strategy for “The Bad Guy.”
Michael Bisping vs. Mark Munoz-Tim Boetsch winner
These two top-10 middleweights are scheduled to meet at UFC 162, the UFC’s annual Fourth of July event, and the winner would make a good future opponent for Bisping, who came away from Saturday night’s event with a technical decision win.
“The Count” was crisp with his striking and maintained his usual constant pressure to batter Alan Belcher. While an inadvertent eye poke ultimately ended the bout, the outcome wasn’t in question. Bisping is entrenched in the middle of the top 10 in the 185-pound ranks, and should continue to battle others in that same position for the next few bouts.
Whoever emerges victorious from the Munoz-Boetsch tilt will be astride Bisping in the rankings and similarly need another good win before being considered as a potential contender. Additionally, Bisping has had a few choice things to say about each, so I’m sure they’d both be interested in sharing the cage with the Brit that everyone loves to hate.
Roy Nelson vs. Daniel Cormier
I know I suggested Cormier move down to fight at light heavyweight last week, but this fight pretty much came together at the post-fight press conference, and it makes perfect sense.
Nelson earned his third consecutive first-round knockout win at UFC 159, dropping Cheick Kongo with a thunderous overhand right. After the event, UFC president Dana White said he’d talked to UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, and they agreed on Cormier and Mark Hunt as two possible opponents for the former Ultimate Fighter winner.
“Big Country” said he was game, and soon after, Cormier tweeted that he concurred with White’s thoughts on a bout with Nelson being a good fight. Making fights the 21st Century way!
Phil Davis vs. Ryan Bader
Davis showed how much his stand-up game has improved Saturday night, picking apart Vinny Magalhaes with a steady diet of “ones and twos,” pushing his record to 11-1 (1 NC) in the process.
The standout wrestler remains a top-10 light-heavyweight in the UFC, and it’s time that he gets back to being booked against similarly skilled competition. No offence to Magalhaes, but he was completely out of his league, and Davis deserves a better challenge.
With many of the top-ranked fighters in the division already committed to fights, a pairing with Bader looks like the easiest way to get both men back in the cage. The former Ultimate Fighter winner is coming off a quick win over Vladimir Matyushenko, comes from a wrestling base, and has big power in his hands. He has the potential to be a tough match-up for “Mr. Wonderful,” and that’s exactly what Davis needs at this point in his development.
Pat Healy vs. Josh Thomson
When I suggested last week that Thomson face the winner of Saturday’s bout between Healy and Jim Miller, I admittedly had “The Punk” facing off with Miller in mind, but with Healy having finished the perennial contender, a rematch between the two former Strikeforce contenders certainly fits as well.
Preliminary card quick hitters
Rustam Khabilov vs. Abel Trujillo-Khabib Nurmagomedov winner
It’s time to pair the promising Sambo expert with another surging prospect to see how good he really is.
Sara McMann vs. Alexis Davis-Rosi Sexton winner
The timing works with Davis and Sexton set to battle in mid-June, and the winner of that bout would be in line to potentially challenge for the title in the first half of 2014.
Ovince St. Preux vs. Gian Villante
The UFC will probably run this one back after an accidental eye poke and poor communication from referee Kevin Mulhall brought this one to an end early in the third of what was an even — albeit uneventful — fight.
Bryan Caraway vs. Erik Perez
Caraway’s prize for choking out Johny Bedford on short notice? A bout with the surging prospect Perez, the man he replaced.
Cody McKenzie vs. Connor McGregor
Yes, I think the UFC could sacrifice McKenzie to the charismatic Irishman next time out.
Steven Siler vs. Andy Ogle
There are only so many young featherweights who can be making the slow and steady climb up the rankings. At some point, you pair them off, and see who moves forward.