The story of Chael Sonnen's comeback will be written in the first couple of minutes Saturday night in Houston. If he takes former Marine Captain Brian Stann down to the mat - and especially if he makes it look easy - we'll all get the gift of Sonnen's gab for another few months. He'll earn a rematch with Anderson Silva for the middleweight title and the trash talk will flow freely.
But if Stann defends the takedown and makes it a standing bout, it will be a long night for Sonnen. Or, more accurately, a short one. Stann has power to spare and will make Chael pay for any extended periods striking. It's the classic battle between grappler and strikier. And in the last decade, it's a battle Sonnen has never lost.
Yes, we've seen Sonnen fall victim to some of the top fighters in the world. Jeremy Horn, Forrest Griffin, Demian Maia, and the great Silva himself have all made the Team Quest star cry uncle. Those hard earned wins were all product of submissions, traditionally Sonnen's Achilles heel. He's fallen victim to them all: triangles, guillotines, armbars, triangles combined with armbars. If it can be choked or stretched from the bottom position, it's happened to Sonnen. But never a loss to a striker.
It's been fourteen months since we last saw UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen in the Octagon. If anything slows him down against Stann, it will be this. Stann has had trouble with wrestlers in the past, getting easily decisioned by Phil Davis last year when he couldn't stop the former NCAA champion's shot (admittedly, that bout was at light heavyweight; Stann is now a middleweight). There's no reason the Sonnen fight should play out differently - except Chael's extended absence from the cage.
If Sonnen comes out rusty, struggles with the takedown, looks out of sorts, it will be a victory for the moral majority. He will have been hoisted by his own petard; the loss will be a direct result of his actions outside of the cage. It's a living, breathing morality tale, a battle of good versus evil. Stann is the decorated Marine. Sonnen was busted for drugs and caught in a real estate scandal, in today's climate among the most nefarious of all crimes.
While the UFC hasn't played this angle up, fans have done so in droves. The hardcores in attendance will know - and hopefully like the best wrestling fans - will cheer the heel. Rooting for Stann is just too easy. The swaggering war hero is America personified. I like the guys with flaws, the ones who aren't afraid to say with a straight face that the voice on a radio appearance they did wasn't theirs. The guys not afraid to go to verbal war with a whole country. More importantly, I want a guy who can challenge Anderson Silva. The guy who took the champion to the limit, falling just inches short of doing the unthinkable. I'm on Team Sonnen. What team are you on?