Chael Sonnen proved timing is everything in the UFC on Saturday night.
In fact, a mere 27 seconds was the difference between a "shock the world" moment and what is now a likely retirement for the bombastic fan favorite.
On a weird night that saw unintentional eye pokes put a premature end to two fights on the undercard of UFC 159, undisputed light heavyweight champion Jon "Bones" Jones endured a gruesome compound fracture to his left big toe during the frantic first round of his clash with Sonnen.
Whether fueled by adrenaline or motivated by all the pre-fight smack talk delivered by Sonnen in the buildup to the pay-per-view event, Jones, the youngest champion in UFC history, did not show any discomfort from the injury — and simply focused on taking down his opponent and beating him until the referee called the fight and handed him the victory by technical knockout.
Imagine what could have been. UFC president Dana White admitted post-fight that had the first round ended, doctors would not have allowed Jones to go on and Sonnen would be champion.
Make no mistake, Sonnen is under no delusions of grandeur. Had he survived the additional 27 seconds and won the fight as a result of the cringe-worthy injury to Jones, it wouldn’t have been some sort of validation.
"I knew in those first five minutes who the better fighter is." Sonnen said in after the fight. "… But I got my questions answered tonight.
"(Jones) is a lot better than I thought he was. To beat a guy is one thing, to beat him at his own game is something else. He is the best fighter I’ve ever fought. I don’t want to disparage Anderson (Silva, middleweight champion). I whipped him for 30 minutes he whipped me for less than 30 seconds. I whipped Jon for zero seconds. He’s the better fighter."
But still, an extra 27 seconds and we’d be — or likely, self-promoter Sonnen himself would be — talking about a rematch for the ages that would not only help decide the legitimate light heavyweight champion but also who is the greatest fighter in the UFC.
But timing is everything.
"It’s tough. I wanted more, and I wanted to feel more of him," Sonnen said. "I was impressed with him from the start, and I wanted more. That’s what happens with anybody. You just wish you had a few more moments."
For Jones, the discussion turns towards a possible mega-fight (after recovering from injury) with Silva that would help settle the debate as to who is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
For Sonnen, it’s not so clear cut.
"I’m going to think it through," he said. "I’m not going to be one of the guys who hangs around if he doesn’t have a road to the title. I believe that was my last opportunity.
"I’m definitely not (ready to decide on my future). What am I going to do? I’m terrible. I lost to (Jones and Silva). … Who else am I supposed to beat around here? I’ve had a lot of fights and they haven’t all gone my way. But I’ve only been beat up twice, and (Jones) was No. 2. And he beat me at my own game. It’s frustrating. It’s tough, and that’s it."
Sonnen never used the word "retirement" after the loss, but as he said his goodbyes following the post-fight interviews, there was a sense of finality to the event. Back-to-back losses in championship fights vs. Jones and Silva means there are few chances for the 36-year-old to get back to the summit of the sport — and he’s not the type to hang around without the spotlight.
Yet on FUEL TV’s UFC Tonight, three days after the fight, Sonnen seemed to have recovered his golden gift of gab.
“I’ll fight at 205. I’m not retiring," Sonnen said. "I’m 36 years old. I have a lot of goals and I’m not going to reach them if I retire. I don’t have a lot of options at 185. I’ve fought everyone in the top 10, including the champion a couple of times. So I moved up to 205, but I lost to the champ and it wasn’t a competitive enough match to warrant another chance. So what do I do?"
Well for one, Sonnen proceeded to call out UFC light heavyweight contender Wanderlei Silva.
“Wanderlei called me out before, but the fight never made sense. Now it does. I’m not going anywhere until me and Wanderlei straighten this thing out once and for all."
Needless to say, it appears that Sonnen is ready to jump back into the Octagon. But in the meantime, the presence of the "American Gangster" isn’t going anywhere. His outgoing and loud personality not only has made him a fan-favorite, but has also landed him television opportunities including The Ultimate Fighter, FOX UFC broadcasts, and hosting duties on FUEL TV’s UFC Tonight.
"I like to fight, but I love this business, and there are so many opportunities that are out there that weren’t here a few years ago."
Timing is everything in the UFC and the clock is far from running out on Chael Sonnen.