Chael Sonnen: A Star Is Born

Everybody meet UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen. He’s a star.

The U.S. Olympic wrestling team alternate grounded and bloodied Nate Marquardt for 15 minutes in a violent bout at UFC 109, earning him a title shot against middleweight king Anderson Silva.

When Sonnen beat then-WEC Middleweight Champion and top-5 ranked 185-er Paulo Filho in a non-title fight (due to Filho missing weight) I wrote that he deserved to fight Anderson Silva immediately after the UFC absorbed its 185-class into the WEC. That’s because Sonnen represented the best choice, if not the best fight, for “The Spider.”

Sonnen’s toughness and high-level wrestling makes him an interesting style test for the UFC Middleweight Champion. And considering that the soft-spoken Silva sells a fight about as well as a Quaker minister, the Oregonian’s personality and fight prowess would have made the match work. But Sonnen got Demian Maia instead and lost for the third time in four UFC appearances, sending him away from title consideration.

Then Sonnen bounced back with a win over former International Fight League Middleweight Champion Dan Miller at UFC 98. Then he dominated perennial contender Yushin Okami at UFC 104 to run his post-WEC record to 2-1. The brief winning streak made him a credible opponent for Nate Marquardt, a gifted fighter who had been laying waste to the division following his 2007 loss to Silva.

In the weeks leading up to his fight with Marquardt Sonnen turned interviews into viral phenomena with scripted and off-the-cuff commentary that divided a previously indifferent fan base into distinct pro and con camps. A company man through and through, Sonnen spit polished the UFC logo in his post-fight comments by trashing Strikeforce and built hype for his middleweight title bout by saying that he hoped Silva defended the belt against Vitor Belfort at UFC 112 because facing “The Spider” would be an easier fight.

And that’s why Sonnen’s next fight is going to be a big one. He is peaking inside the Octagon and has a very real drive to fulfill a deathbed promise to his father that he’d be a world champion someday. He walked his talk on Saturday night. By summer we should know whether this new star is going to burn bright or burn out.

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