shogun vs sonnenThe main event at UFC Fight Night 26 is Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua vs Chael Sonnen. They are both in the twilight of their careers and they are both coming into this fight off a loss, two in Sonnen’s case. To continue being someone who matters, a win on Saturday night is pretty much a necessity.

Since defeating Chuck Liddell in the first round in 2009, Shogun has traded wins and losses in the UFC. His overall record in the company is 6-6. Sonnen’s record in the UFC, in two separate stints, is strikingly similar at 5-5. A combined record of 11-11 is not something you would expect from participants in the headline bout of a UFC card. However, their records are more of a testament to the level of competition they have faced rather than a knock on their talent or lack thereof.

Interestingly, despite seeming very similar, their records in the UFC, upon closer examination, can be quite contrasting. Both are .500 fighters whose losses came against only the best. Their wins, however, are quite different. The five victories in Shogun’s UFC career were against opponents who are 7-16 over the last four years. Sonnen’s victories in the UFC came against opponents who, conversely, are 29-17 in the last four years.

Other than his title winning effort against Lyoto Machida, Shogun’s wins in the UFC have come against Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin and Brandon Vera, all of whom were aging fighters past their prime by the time Shogun met them in the octagon. Sonnen’s wins, on the other hand, were against legitimate contenders — fighters like Yushin Okami, Nate Marquardt, Brian Stann and Michael Bisping.

This, perhaps, partly explains why Sonnen is currently the favorite despite the fact that he has never won in the UFC as a light heavyweight and Shogun is the former UFC light heavyweight champion. There are, of course, other factors that determine Sonnen’s status as favorite. Neither wrestling nor cardio is Shogun’s strong suit but Sonnen excels in both; a troublesome combination for Shogun, especially in a five round fight.

These two fighters are battling to swim against the current. They are in the autumn of their careers and title opportunities are moving further and further away. The loser will almost certainly never be thought of as a contender again.

Since he lost his title, Shogun has twice lost to fellow contenders and is now firmly behind in the pecking order. Alexander Gustaffson will be the next man to face Jon Jones then there is Glover Teixeira, Daniel Cormier and Phil Davis waiting in the wings. Sonnen has lost all three of his title fights in the UFC. In fact, his last two fights were defeats in title bouts in two different divisions. Both men are in desperate need of a win if they are to remain relevant.

Sonnen, however, is in a slightly better position than Shogun. He recently announced that he has signed a new five-fight contract with the UFC and will be moving back down to middleweight following the fight with Shogun. The consequences of a Sonnen loss, therefore, have been greatly diminished now he is leaving the light heavyweight division behind. Whereas Shogun is in danger of falling out of the top 10 should he be defeated on Saturday night.

Luckily for Sonnen, Anderson Silva lost his belt and the middleweight division has opened up for him. Sonnen was likely to never get another shot at Silva and the middleweight title again. But now Chris Weidman is the champion, fighters like Sonnen and Belfort are back in the running for a shot at the belt (providing Weidman retains his belt at UFC 168).

Also, Sonnen has been, rather vocally, targeting Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva lately. So there are, at least, some interesting potential match-ups in his future. The same can’t really be said for Shogun. A loss would be devastating. Rather than making runs at the title, he would instead, should his career continue, take on the role as gatekeeper for entry into the upper echelon of the division. A depressing duty for a legendary fighter to undertake. There is just something so sad about witnessing the gradual decline of a former champion, the transformation from a lion into just the guy in a lion’s suit.

The outcome of the main event at UFC Fight Night 26 will very likely reinvigorate the career of the victor whilst killing the career of the defeated. One man’s prospects may be sunnier than the others but both men, to some extent, are in the last chance saloon.

Leave a Reply