Heading into UFC 159, figuring out ways that Chael Sonnen could compete with Jon Jones required an active imagination. The leading idea on how to get it done was for Sonnen to put his chin down, stick the crown of his head into Jones’ chest and drive him through the cage floor. Once there, things would become adventurous for all parties.
It didn’t get there.
In fact, Jones turned the tables on Sonnen and shot in for a takedown of his own just a few seconds into the fight. It was Sonnen staring up at the lights, fending off oncoming elbows. He was able to get up, but Jones, out of a sense of pride and civic duty, became the kind of insistent wrestler who only Sonnen could appreciate. With half a minute to go in the first round, Sonnen’s face battered and wits scattered, Jones was pried off of the "West Linn Gangsta" in what was ultimately the most predictable stoppage in the history of ground and pound.
But in a bizarre night where Ovince St. Preux won an abrupt technical decision with an eye poke of Gian Villante, Michael Bisping won a technical decision for an eye poke of the one man whose phobia is eye pokes, Alan Belcher, and Yancy Medeiros’ thumb was rearranged into something from Picasso’s brush, it was par for the course that Jones broke his toe somewhere along the way. By the end of the night, appendages at odd angles were all but the norm.
Now we can focus on “what does it all mean,” which is one of MMA’s favorite pastimes. Let’s try to sort it out.
How does Sonnen compete?
Turns out our hunches were right -- he doesn’t, not when fighting a stylistic nightmare who has the wingspan of a Cessna and a chip on his shoulder.
Last time we see Jones at 205?
Because he only tied Tito Ortiz’s record of five title defenses, here’s guessing no. Lyoto Machida has been promised a rematch, and Alexander Gustafsson still has a modicum of appeal on his way up. And if Jones fights Daniel Cormier, the likeliest scenario is it happens at light heavyweight.
Can Phil Davis break through?
Davis showed improved stand-up ability from that awkward version of himself a couple of years ago. But this was a one-sided beatdown of Vinny Magalhaes, a static fighter whose own stand-up won’t swell the orchestra. Davis might be ready for a step up in competition, but he still seems light years away from challenging Jon Jones.
Is Cheick Kongo showing his 37 years?
Kongo is a dapper gentle giant outside the cage, and in his fight with Roy Nelson, he became one inside the cage, too. We didn’t see any urgency or head-hunting or even any of that rare joie de vivre. What we did see was Roy Nelson go into his windup, as if from the pitcher’s mound, and deliver a heater of an overhand right that dropped Kongo like a curtain sliding off the rod. In other words, yes, Kongo’s days appear numbered.
Does Sonnen retire?
Through the last three-year odyssey in which Sonnen has captivated the world of MMA and fought for the belt three times, he made it plain that winning a championship was his singular motivation. Does he want to stick around in a grudge-match capacity to fight the Vitor Belforts and Wanderlei Silvas of the world? (Answer: Hope so. Too many delicious vendettas lingering out there for Sonnen to just walk away.)
Is Pat Healy a top-10 lightweight?
If you subscribe to the theory that divisions are essentially a Netflix queue, where you can drag a title up from the bottom and replace something already in line near the top, then yes (and I know that speaks to more than half a dozen of you). Beating Jim Miller in Miller’s native New Jersey was enough of a feat, but Healy’s pressure game is starting to look scary. At nearly 30 years old, and with 46 professional fights, Healy is just now really coming into his own.
Is Nelson a heavyweight contender?
His right hand says "yes." His surprising agility to climb the fence and do the two-handed Buddha belly rub after victories says "yes." His popularity among fans and mullet connoisseurs says "yes." And realistically, yes. Now everybody is imagining Nelson against Mark Hunt, and Nelson against Daniel Cormier, and Nelson against Alistair Overeem, and that’s a good thing.
What’s next for Michael Bisping?
In hockey patois, Bisping was clutching his stick a little tight early against Belcher, but he began to get into a groove with his striking early in the second round. It was a victory that staves off ugly circumstances and gets him rolling toward something again. Bisping has mentioned fighting in October in Manchester, and here’s thinking Cung Le would be a big draw.
For Sara McMann -- Right now it’s wide open, with the Armageddon she brought on Sheila Gaff. We know about the Olympic wrestling, but there’s something about the delight she took in the elbows she was dropping from the crucifix position that has you wondering about how she’d fare against Ronda Rousey (and that’s where McMann’s headed -- but she’ll have to stay busy with another fight or two).
For Jim Miller -- Technically, getting put to sleep isn’t a submission so much as a loss of consciousness, but losing a second time in New Jersey (the first to Nate Diaz) hurts Miller. Though he’s flirted with the idea of moving up to 170 pounds in the past, he might consider a move down to 145. Pastures are always greener in other divisions after losses like the one to Healy.
For Jon Jones -- He needs to get that toe better, but when that’s all said and done, he can officially break Tito Ortiz’s record of five light heavyweight title defenses. The dust has to settle, but the forerunners to become his next victim appear to be down to Alexander Gustafsson or Lyoto Machida (particularly if they fight each other while Jones heals to form a super-definitive, no-questions-asked No. 1 contender).
For Chael Sonnen -- The television booth, at first. But eventually Wanderlei. And Belfort. And the whole block of peeved Brazilians who are smashing their fists in their hands waiting by their phones for Joe Silva to call.
For Roy Nelson -- Daniel Cormier and great balls of fire!
Matches to make
Jon Jones versus Alexander Gustafsson -- If you're an all-or-nothing fan, Jones should heal up and wait on Anderson Silva. But more realistically, dial up the Swede.
Chael Sonnen versus Wanderlei Silva -- Sonnen's already dropping the subliminal tracks toward this fight.
Michael Bisping versus Cung Le -- The two greatest verbs in MMA are "Cung Le."
Alan Belcher versus Hector Lombard -- If 170 is too condensed for the Cuban, a run-in with Belcher at 185 might be fun.
Roy Nelson versus Daniel Cormier -- Twitter wants it. Twitter is all that matters in matchmaking.
STOCK UP/STOCK DOWN
Phil Davis -- He made it through the rebound portion of his career (the Wagner Prado series and now Vinny Magalhaes), and it’s right back into the kitchen fire of light heavyweight elites.
Steven Siler -- This would have been fight of the night had Healy/Miller not turned things into Grappler’s Quest Gone Wild. Siler was too much for Kurt Holobaugh, and he weathered a big second-round storm to get the job done.
Leonard Garcia -- Five losses in a row, the latest coming against a fighter who was tailor-made for getting off the schneid? Not good.
Vinny Magalhaes -- Here’s yet another lesson of “be careful what you wish for.” It was Magalhaes who called out Davis, but he had nothing for him.
Alan Belcher -- The eye poke was scary, particularly after having surgery on that same eye not all that long ago. But when you’re likely down 2-0 on the scorecards and you come out in the third with smiles instead of flurries? Not the way his corner drew it up.