After a UFC 136 performance that can only be described as vintage Chael Sonnen from start to finish, the MMA world is awash in speculation this week about Sonnen’s theatrical, stipulation-laden challenge for a loser-leaves-town rematch with middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
To say interest was piqued by Sonnen’s pro wrestling-style ultimatum and the champion’s goofy on-screen response would be a vast understatement. At the postfight news conference on Saturday, UFC President Dana White had to fend off reporters from Dallas, Houston and Brazil, who all seemed to be openly campaigning to have gargantuan sports stadiums in their areas host Sonnen versus Silva II.
White, whose news conference demeanor can often best be described as exasperated, repeated at least twice that if this fight goes down in early February on Super Bowl weekend -- as both Sonnen and the company seem to want it to -- it’ll be in Las Vegas, for the simple reason that’s where the UFC always does its Super Bowl weekend shows. If the fight goes down, White said a couple of times. If.
The truth is, it’s far from signed at this point and as much as a Silva-Sonnen rematch probably deserves to happen in the UFC’s hometown and the fight capital of the world, there are still some hurdles that need to be cleared before it can happen at all. And if it doesn't, what's the next best option for Silva, Sonnen and the UFC?
The first trick will be just getting Sonnen licensed in Nevada. Though White said this week he doesn’t anticipate a problem, we still don’t really know how that state will handle Sonnen after he and Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer publicly beefed last year. For that matter, we're not really sure if Sonnen has continued on with the controversial testosterone replacement therapy he said he needed to safely compete in MMA after his suspension in California in 2010. We also don’t know if he applied for a therapeutic use exemption for last weekend’s fight in Texas, or if he would apply for one in Nevada for a potential bout against Silva. How the NSAC responds to such a request could obviously greatly affect the timing and placement of this fight.
The second issue may well be the champion’s health. Last we heard, the status of Silva’s injured shoulder allegedly prevented matchmakers from signing him up for another high-profile rematch against Dan Henderson before the end of the year. In order to get in a full eight-week training camp to meet Sonnen on Feb. 4, Silva would have to be ready to resume MMA activities by the second week in December. At this point, it would be pure speculation to say whether or not that can happen on schedule.
If it can’t, any number of dominoes could fall. We keep hearing that timing is an important part of the equation in making these fights. If Silva’s injury pushes the timeline back, would the UFC hold Sonnen out to fight him? Or would Sonnen have to take a fight in the interim? That was the case with No. 1 contenders in other weight classes like Rashad Evans, Chad Mendes and Anthony Pettis and there is no reason to believe Sonnen would be treated any differently besides, you know, the obvious financial ones.
That's where Henderson comes in. The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion is still hanging around the outskirts of the Silva-Sonnen feud and he might be the true wildcard in this situation. We know the 205-pound title picture was recently scrambled by another injury to Evans and we know Hendo badly wants another shot at "The Spider." If Silva can't go or Sonnen can't get cleared, could Henderson be the odds-on favorite to step in for one of them, after he fights Mauricio Rua at UFC 139 on Nov. 19?
Clearly, part of Sonnen’s strategy in so vehemently calling out Silva was to create a situation where Henderson seemed second best as a challenger. Mission accomplished there, but if the UFC can’t clear the obstacles to making Silva-Sonnen II happen on schedule, there's a decent possibility either he or Silva ends up fighting Henderson instead. After that, all bets are off.