Monday, December 5, 2022

Sonnen: Has Tuivasa Become A Bigger UFC Asset Than Jones?

Former UFC star Chael Sonnen has assessed Tai Tuivasa’s rising popularity and questioned whether he’s become a more favorable athlete for the promotion than light heavyweight legend Jon Jones.

In quick time, Tuivasa has risen from a power-hitter low on the UFC ladder to a top-five contender. He accomplished that feat by rebounding from a three-fight losing skid with five straight wins inside the Octagon, including over Augusto Sakai and former title challenger Derrick Lewis.

And despite seeing his title hopes fall away, for now at least, at the hands of former interim champion Ciryl Gane last month at UFC Paris, the Australian knockout artist’s performance, as well as the fact he was able to drop the previously untouched “Bon Gamin,” meant his stock as a legitimate contender took little damage.

Perhaps just as notable as Tuivasa’s results inside the cage, though, has been his antics before and after delivering viral KO blows. From entertaining walkouts to shoey-laden celebrations, “Bam Bam” has developed a level of popularity that is virtually unparalleled.

With a package that comprises charisma, knockouts, and status as a fan-favorite, Sonnen believes that the UFC has struck “gold” with Tuivasa, and perhaps more so than one absent GOAT contender.

Sonnen: “If You Have Tuivasa, I Feel Like You Have Gold”

During a recent video uploaded to his YouTube channel, Sonnen discussed Tuivasa’s rise to prominence in the past couple of years, and described the important questions that were answered and outcomes that emerged from the Aussie’s defeat in the French capital.

“If you have Tai Tuivasa, I feel like you have gold in this regard: you can do anything you want with him,” Sonnen said. “You could grab anybody at random and you could put Tuivasa in there with him. Now that was questioned, including by people like me, who recognized the gains in skills and the absolute popularity, but questioned where he was at in terms of fundamentals… That got called into question until Tai Tuivasa fought and almost beat Ciryl Gane. Now all of a sudden you go, ‘Okay, even if he’s a little bit unpolished in certain areas, he’s damn good and he could compete with anybody.'”

As well as having demonstrated a skill set that’s worthy of matchups throughout the division, Sonnen pointed out the immense fanfare Tuivasa creates inside arenas, which the fighter-turned-analyst described as a “phenomenon” he never experienced prior to seeing the #4-ranked heavyweight compete live.

“To explain to you the phenomenon that is Tuivasa… I’ve been in the arena on four separate occasions when he’s fought… Guys, it’s unbelievable,” Sonnen noted. “Tai Tuivasa walked into Houston to take on their favorite fighter, Derrick Lewis. They were cheering Derrick like mad… Tai won the fight, and the eruption of the crowd in a positive manner was louder for Tai post-fight when the match went the opposite way that the fans wanted.

“They’re on their feet, they’re drinking shoeys… I’m looking around going, ‘This is one of the most fascinating sociological and psychological experiences I’ve ever actually witnessed,'” Sonnen continued. “Tai is what we call ‘over’… Tuivasa is extremely unique.”

With his penchant for knockouts, now-proven ability to go toe-to-toe with the best and most technical athletes in the division, and popularity, Sonnen believes the UFC has reached a much-desired position with regards to Tuivasa’s status โ€” one that’s a lot less complicated than former two-time light heavyweight king Jon Jones.

“If I was a promoter and I could get hold of him, I realize he’s not the world champion, but I also realize that his contract in absent of being a former world champion is something fairly reasonable, and I have eight, or nine, or 10 different options I can do with him. Juxtapose that against Jon Jones,” Sonnen continued.

“If you don’t match Jon Jones up with the best guy, you’re going to send somebody to the emergency room. If you put Jones in there with the absolute best guy, many times, that guy has been in an ambulance… You’ve got a real responsibility, that is how good Jon is. But I have seen some athletes lose their career to success.”

Sonnen went on to describe how Jones’ latest outings were perceived during the buildup, suggesting that his dominance had reached a point where fans simply weren’t enthused by the prospect of seeing him fight anymore.

“I would love to have been as good as Jon. If I’m coaching a guy, I’d love for them to be as skilled as Jon,” Sonnen stated. “I would love for the guy to be as popular, and multi-versatile, and have as many big fights in front of him as Tai does. Tai, right now, has had more massive fights. Jon Jones, for the last four fights of his career, has never sold out an arena… There wasn’t one single sold-out arena… Some of those fights turned out to be awesome… but we didn’t expect that going in… Your own success starts to harm you.”

With that considered, Sonnen posed the question: what’s more valuable to a promotion, a versatile fighter who can face anyone and entertain at all times or a former champion who can only be put in there with a small pool of elite competitors?

“It’s a very tricky question. If you’re the promoter and you could have one guy… I’ll give you the contract; one means your bells and whistles better be damn straight and one means you get a little bit of room for air. Would you rather have the contract or Tai Tuivasa? … I am curious,” Sonnen concluded.

Jones hasn’t appeared inside the Octagon for well over two years, having vacated the 205-pound gold in preparation for a move to heavyweight. Despite appearing keen to compete, nothing has been announced regarding a return, with reports suggesting that desired opponent Stipe Miocic hasn’t been ready.

And with champion Francis Ngannou still on the sidelines, Jones’ search for possible comeback opponents certainly hasn’t seen a long list created.

What’s your answer to Chael Sonnen’s question?

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