Both Brian Stann and Chael Sonnen have played it pretty cool in advance of their middleweight title eliminator on Saturday at UFC 136. Neither guy has had much need for trash talk or fighting words, saying the built-in stakes and obvious implications of this bout speak for themselves.
The pair has been so equally gracious and complimentary, that if you take the names out of their quotes, it’s kind of hard to tell who has said what.
“Nobody wants to fight him, but somebody's got to [do it],” one guy has said.
“I think he had a lot of people he wanted to fight [but] nobody would fight him,” the other has said.
Such a subtle approach is to be expected from Stann, who’s gone 10-3 during his Zuffa career all while a exuding a classy, levelheaded cool. For Sonnen?
Not so much. After years of being overlooked and dismissed as a second-tier talent, he broke out in 2009-10 behind a four-fight run at UFC gold and a campaign of verbal attacks on his opponents the likes of which we’ve never seen before in MMA. Suffice to say, those tactics made him a pretty huge star.
Against Stann however, Sonnen’s professional wrestling heel persona has been painted into a bit of a corner. He couldn’t very well come out blasting the former US Marine and bona fide war hero with the same vitriol he’d used so successfully against Anderson Silva, now could he? To his credit, Sonnen contends he wouldn’t want to do that anyway, saying he respects Stann and expects a heck of a test from him.
To a certain extent, these guys are right to let this bout speak for itself. It's a compelling matchup of styles -- the physically imposing power striker versus the decorated, tenacious amateur wrestler -- and the winner will go on to meet the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter for the UFC’s 185-pound title. As far as storylines go, that’s usually good enough.
In this case, though, it feels like Sonnen versus Stann has flown under the radar a bit. Most of the media attention leading up to the weekend’s event in Houston has focused (rightly, perhaps) on guys like Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Kenny Florian and Jose Aldo. Just like the positioning of their fight on the actual bout sheet, the two middleweights have been reduced to supporting roles.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s kind of unusual for a high-stakes fight involving Sonnen -- especially considering he’s making his return after 14 months away from the cage, a time when he fell from being No. 1 contender to being suspended for violating the California Athletic Commission’s drug policy to being indicted on federal mortgage fraud charges.
After emerging on the other side of all that adversity, you’d expect Sonnen’s comeback to feel bigger, more important. Yet, while this fight hasn’t been forgotten by any stretch, it also hasn’t taken on the momentum it might have attained had it been promoted with a bit more vigor.
When it’s all said and done, you’d think a fight pitting the man fans love to hate against a fast-rising “All-American” hero would be more than just a subplot.