There is a term in mixed martial arts for fighters who willingly bounce between weight classes in search of the biggest and best matchups. "Moneyweights", we call them, chameleons who care a lot about the numbers on the front of their checks and little about the numbers on the scale. True ones are rare and seldom seen, mostly because promotions prefer order, and moneyweights often lead to divisional chaos.
Chael Sonnen is the latest and greatest iteration, a fast-talking, hard-charging takedown artist who can sell a fight to a pacifist. Sonnen has never held a title, but he’s the unofficial moneyweight champion of the world.
This is not a title that is necessarily won in the cage, although his UFC Fight Night: Shogun vs. Sonnen guillotine choke victory over Shogun Rua helps his cause. In his last four fights, Sonnen is 2-2. He’s won once at light-heavyweight, lost once at light-heavyweight, won once at middleweight and lost once at middleweight. For his next match, he has no idea which division he’ll compete in, but in true moneyweight fashion, everyone wants to fight him.
By the time he walked out of the TD Garden in the wee hours in a search of a bowl of clam chowder and a Coke, Sonnen had four separate possibilities brewing: He’d continued his longstanding targeting of Wanderlei Silva — who went radio silent — while Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida and Phil Davis had all publicly asked to fight him.
There are probably others who will ask soon, too.
“I think the whole country of Brazil wants to fight him,” UFC president Dana White said.
All this hoopla for a guy that is only ranked No. 9 in the middleweight order? It’s an amazing phenomenon. Sonnen, after all, has never won a major championship. He’s 0-for-3 in UFC title tries, and 0-for-1 in the WEC, although he did win a non-title match against champ Paulo Filho after Filho missed weight. [Filho’s camp later mailed him the title belt after Sonnen beat him by decision.]
Say what you will about that record of big-fight struggle, but there is no doubting Sonnen’s willingness to fight anyone while talking it up in the process.
Keep in mind, this is a guy who set his sights on Anderson Silva from before the first day he set foot in the UFC for his most recent tenure. It was in December 2008 when Silva’s name first came out of Sonnen’s mouth. Sonnen’s winning streak at the time was a whopping two, while Silva had already been the champion for two years.
At the time, it’s not inconceivable that Silva didn’t even know who Sonnen was, but this is what the Oregonian said: “When I get to the UFC and they give me a microphone, his is the name I’ll call out.”
That name stayed on his lips for years, through two failed title challenges, a feud and a list of quotes that deserved to be printed and bound in a leather cover. By the end, Sonnen was must-see viewing.
He continued his moneyweight assault by seizing opportunities. In no way did Sonnen deserve to fight Jon Jones in April for the UFC light-heavyweight championship, but he raised his hand when few others did and was rewarded for it.
Against Shogun, he took another step towards dispelling the myth that he’s just the mouth that roared. Yes, he has failed to win a belt, but then again, Jones and Silva are the only ones who have beaten him in his last nine matches — and Silva once just barely. He’s beaten top contenders like Nate Marquardt, Michael Bisping, Yushin Okami, Brian Stann, and now, Rua.
“I hear that about myself, too. I hear that ‘Chael is all talk’, but I fight some very tough guys,” Sonnen said. “I won national championships in college where I had to beat four or five guys in one day. I’m very proud of my wins and losses, but I’m not afraid to call out a guy. This is America. You won’t get anything that you don’t ask for. There’s certain guys I want to fight, and if I can have the smallest hand in my own career, I see that’s a wise thing to do. That’s where the talk comes from.”
With the attention he brings, it’s a wonder more fighters don’t run towards him. Wanderlei Silva so far seems uninterested in fight him, while Belfort just now is coming around after initially calling Sonnen a “clown”.
Privately, Sonnen might well appreciate the insult and its extending the narrative between them. A ready-made bout with either rival seems the most likely step for Sonnen, and guess what? He has said he will face either one at any weight. Of course he will. He’s already been promoting both fights for years. Win or lose, the cash register will be ringing.