Some speculated he was in over his head fighting former world champions in a new weight class, but Sonnen didn’t get the memo.
In the finest performance of his career, Sonnen bulldozed former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, taking him down and battering him with punches before ultimately forcing him to submit via first-round guillotine choke.
The latest member of Reign MMA in California, Sonnen earned an unlikely submission over a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, cementing him as a viable contender at both 185 and 205 pounds and putting the brakes on a two-fight losing streak against world champions.
There’s no shortage of possibilities for the charismatic 36-year-old Oregon native. He’s repeatedly called out Wanderlei Silva. There’s something to be said about giving a man what he wants after the type of performance he turned in on Saturday night, but this option is the least competitive of all the possibilities. Silva may be coming off a win over Brian Stann, but he’ll be a heavy underdog trying to cope with Sonnen’s strength and wrestling pedigree.
Meanwhile, Vitor Belfort has been campaigning to fight Sonnen. This would be a highly compelling scrap that could set up the next challenger to the middleweight throne.
Lyoto Machida also threw his name into the hat on Twitter, accusing Belfort of dodging a fight with him and proposing a meeting with Sonnen instead. This would be another interesting option.
All these fights could conceivably take place at any weight, as Silva and Belfort have bounced around, while Machida is contemplating a drop to 185 pounds.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira is another option. After all, Sonnen just beat one of the best light heavyweights of all time. Why should he feel a sudden urge to cut more weight?
Although it’s probably not the most meaningful test, Sonnen could very well get his wish, provided Silva is up to the task. A 205-pound showdown with "The Axe Murderer" would be a strong FOX Sports 1 headliner, particularly with all the build-up over the years.
Travis Browne, Matt Brown Shake Up Rankings
In a gutsy come-from-behind stoppage victory over Alistair Overeem, the 31-year-old Hawaiian Browne catapulted up the heavyweight rankings.
There are two logical options for his next opponent. Look for the UFC brass to match Browne up with the loser of the heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos. Alternatively, he could face the winner of the upcoming battle between Frank Mir and Josh Barnett.
On the other hand, Overeem is at a career crossroads. Still, he deserves one more shot. A clash with the loser of Mir-Barnett would be a solid make-or-break fight for the former Strikeforce champion.
Matt Brown’s stock skyrocketed on Saturday night as he starched Mike Pyle in the first minute of their welterweight tilt.
Riding six straight wins, it’s time to step up Brown’s level of competition. The 32-year-old Ohio native is already calling out Georges St-Pierre, so he needs fights that get him closer to the belt. Fresh off a lackluster win over Jake Ellenberger earlier this month, Rory MacDonald could be just the type of challenge Brown needs. Armed with a particularly aggressive style, Brown could bring out the best of his Canadian adversary, effectively erasing the memory of his uninspired performance against Ellenberger. If Brown pulls off a win in that one, there will be no doubt he deserves a crack at the title.
Urijah Faber, Michael McDonald Lead Bantamweight Pack
Faber overcame some early adversity against Iuri Alcantara, but he rallied to win an impressive unanimous decision. In the featured prelim, McDonald obliterated Brad Pickett, locking up a fight-ending triangle choke in a performance that earned him dual post-fight bonuses, and likely a main card slot in his next appearance.
Let’s face it. A fight between these two is inevitable. But there’s no urgency in matching them up just yet. After all, they both recently lost interim title bouts.
The 34-year-old Faber is now on a three-fight winning streak and he’s cited an interest in potential superfights. It’s unclear exactly what that means and UFC president Dana White could be right when he says Faber is not exactly in a "superfight position."
Faber has cleared out most of his division, including a win over upcoming interim title challenger Eddie Wineland. A fight with a household name like Chan Sung Jung, Clay Guida or Frankie Edgar at 145 pounds could make sense at this stage of his career.
The 22-year-old McDonald rebounded from his loss to interim champ Renan Barao this past February, breaking down a game Pickett in a largely one-sided affair.
McDonald is still relatively new to the UFC, so there are numerous top 10 opponents he has yet to cross. Scott Jorgensen and Raphael Assuncao come to mind as possibilities.
Other Fights to Make:
John Howard vs. Luiz Cane: Howard made the most of his short notice UFC return, notching a split decision win over "TUF" runner-up Uriah Hall. Howard probably belongs at welterweight, but Cane is a fitting test if he opts to remain at 185 pounds.
Uriah Hall vs. Tom Watson: Hall’s hype train is slowly dwindling following successive setbacks since his reality show stint that featured numerous highlight reel finishes. He needs a step down in competition to regain some momentum and a bout with a fellow striker like Watson could translate into a stylistically fan friendly encounter.
Michael Johnson vs. Matt Wiman: Johnson was sensational in spoiling Lauzon’s Boston homecoming, dominating the fight from start to finish with vastly superior striking. Johnson has been inconsistent in the past, so he needs to work his way up the ladder slowly. A rebounding Miller would give us a better idea of where he stands.
Conor McGregor vs. Manny Gamburyan: Both featherweights were victorious on Saturday night. A former WEC title challenger, Gamburyan would be a stiff step up in competition for the heavily hyped Irish prospect. McGregor has a heap of potential, but there’s no rush to throw him in there with the division’s elite.
Diego Brandao vs. Steven Siler: Another pair of triumphant featherweights from the Boston bill would make suitable future opponents. Brandao’s conditioning became a major question mark as he rallied to defeat Daniel Pineda, while Siler made an emphatic statement in his first-round stoppage of Mike Brown. Both are quality prospects in similar positions on the UFC totem pole.