PORTLAND, Ore. – Count Chael Sonnen among those surprised by Vitor Belfort's sudden light-heavyweight title shot.
Sonnen (28-12-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC) heard the news after practice this past Thursday and initially was puzzled that Belfort (21-9 MMA, 10-5 UFC) was moving up in weight to fight champ Jon Jones (16-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) at UFC 152.
But perhaps surprisingly, he's pulling for "The Phenom."
"Vitor's an excellent fighter," Sonnen told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) following Rumble at the Roseland 65, an event he promotes under the name Full Contact Fighting Federation. "It's world champion after world champion that he fights, and this isn't any different. It's a good chance for Vitor, and I hope he seizes the moment."
Wait, Sonnen praising Belfort?
At the start of July, in the week leading up to his title rematch with Anderson Silva at UFC 148, Sonnen did just the opposite at a media luncheon. Talking about the rash of injuries that's dramatically altered the UFC's 2012 schedule, he singled out Belfort's withdrawal from a headliner opposite Wanderlei Silva at UFC 147, and he called him "a chicken and a liar."
Sonnen, though, also recently has admitted that Belfort was his mom's favorite fighter, and called him "fantastic."
In any event, Sonnen wasn't disappointed that a fight he so nearly had against the embattled light-heavyweight champion was given to someone else, even when that champion welcomed the fight at a later date.
"No, I definitely wouldn't use a word like that," he said. "If there was any word to describe what happened in that 48-hour period, it would be surprised. Maybe even one step further of disbelief."
Sonnen was recruited this past week to fight Jones (on nine days' notice) when Dan Henderson was forced to withdraw from UFC 151 with a knee injury. He said yes to the bout and assumed it was a done deal until he found out the same day that Jones had turned down the fight, which prompted the eventual cancelation of the Sept. 1 pay-per-view event.
Despite initially being booked for a rematch with Lyoto Machida at UFC 152, Jones told MMAjunkie.com that he would have fought Sonnen at the Sept. 22 PPV show.
Instead, Machida turned down the fight, and Belfort, who was previously scheduled to meet middleweight Alan Belcher at UFC 153, got the spot.
Sonnen's disbelief was rooted in Jones' decision to turn him down at UFC 151.
"We're used to being attacked by competition," he said. "We welcome it. We're used to being attacked by the states because it's an opportunity to go in and educate them. But what we're not used to is being attacked from within. We're not used to having one of our own set off a grenade and walk away laughing and never look back. It was really kind of an unbelievable experience from where I stand."
Sonnen nonetheless hinted there is opportunity on the horizon, though he wouldn't give details. The status of a previously targeted fight with Forrest Griffin at UFC 155 was unclear.
"We'll see," Sonnen said. "There's going to be some news coming out on me soon. We'll see how things play out. Stay tuned."
I really dont see the Chael vs Forrest fight happening. Chael has just recieved way too much exposure in this. I think 1 of 2 things will happen by the end of september. Either we will see Chael vs Lyoto for #1 Contendership, or another likely situation would be Vitor gets hurt and Chael does step in, but this time Jones accepts. I wouldnt be surprised in the slightest by either.