Chael Sonnen has watched or fought in every UFC event but one, so he badly wanted to be part of the organization’s 20th anniversary card Saturday night at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
He would’ve rather fought his Brazilian rival Wanderlei Silva, but the UFC is saving that bout for next, instead assigning Sonnen against the former light-heavyweight champion he’s become close to as analysts for Fox Sports, Rashad Evans.
“I understand that if you’re in the top 10 [weight-class rankings] you need to fight another top-10 guy, that’s the way it is,” Sonnen said at a downtown Los Angeles lunch Monday. “But if there’s one guy I would’ve not wanted, it’d be Rashad.
“We work together, talk often, it’s just kind of awkward. But I wanted to be part of the 20th anniversary card. This is the biggest show in UFC history. I like those records, a huge show means something to me.”
Evans (23-3-1) is the UFC’s fourth-ranked light-heavyweight while Sonnen (29-13-1) is No. 6.
Evans, 34, came back from an April 2012 title loss to champion Jon Jones and a flat defeat in February to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira to edge Dan Henderson by split decision in June.
Sonnen answered back-to-back title knockout losses to then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva in July 2012, and to Jones in April by submitting former light-heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in the first round in August.
Sonnen, 36, is planning to film a Brazilian version of “The Ultimate Fighter” with Wanderlei Silva beginning in January, with a fight to follow.
From there, he said he’ll move back down to middleweight, possibly in position to fight the winner of the Dec. 28 Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva rematch.
He said the match with Evans, also a disciplined wrestler, is “a nuisance. I really don’t know what to do with the guy, how to deal with him.
“But I seldomly do. I never walk into a fight confident. I’ve never walked in and thought, ‘I’ve got this fight.’ If I did, I’d be a bully. I don’t go around fighting guys I know I can beat. I fight guys I don’t know if I can beat. That’s what the whole point is.”
Considering that Sonnen’s fight with Anderson Silva was the UFC’s most lucrative fight of 2012, and that welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s victory over Nick Diaz is the richest of this year, Sonnen speculates this card will trump even the anticipated December Weidman-Silva card that also includes women’s champion Ronda Rousey of Venice fighting Miesha Tate.
“That’s a huge fight, I acknowledge that,” Sonnen said of the Weidman-Silva rematch. “The truth is … the biggest card of this year was St-Pierre-Diaz and No. 2 was Jones and I. Now, we’re teaming up. We’re going to do big numbers. This will be a huge night.”
Sonnen first fought in the UFC at UFC 55 in 2005.
Given Sonnen’s knowledge of UFC history, he was asked who he’d rank as the greatest UFC fighter of all time. He selected St-Pierre (24-2), who is defending his belt for the 10th consecutive time, facing hard-hitting southpaw Johny Hendricks.
“Georges is not the most intimidating, he doesn’t act scary, he’s not a jerk,” Sonnen said. “But he’s redeemed his only losses,” to Matt Hughes and Matt Serra “and has been dominant for so long. He might be the best wrestler, boxer and jiu-jitsu fighter in that whole weight class.”
As for the best UFC fight he’s ever seen, Sonnen said it was Jones’ gritty unanimous-decision triumph over Alexander Gustafsson in September.
“I had it 3-2 Gustafsson, but I thought it was Jones’ single greatest performance — his proudest performance — the way he was pushed to the brink and came back was so impressive,” Sonnen said.