Over the course of his well-traveled career, Chael Sonnen has fought many of the best middleweights and light heavyweights of all-time, and now he has faced what he considers to be the greatest heavyweight ever.
The 41 year-old competing for Bellator MMA was drafted into Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix. While he had success against his first opponent, fellow former 205-pounder Quinton Jackson, in a quarterfinal match up, he wasn’t so successful in the semi-final when he ran into former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight king Fedor Emelianenko at Bellator 208. “The Last Emperor” pummelled Sonnen into a first-round TKO stoppage.
After his battle with Emelianenko, the “American Gangster” compiled his list of the best heavyweights of all-time in a recent appearance on “The MMA Hour.”
“I have it down to three,” said Sonnen. “My three might surprise you and I actually enjoy this topic. I have Fedor in the conversation, I have Werdum in the conversation but I I‘m always surprised people don’t say [former UFC champion] Josh Barnett in that conversation. I feel like they weren’t watching back in 1999 and 2002 and 2003.
“So I have those three guys,” Sonnen added. “What order do you want to do it? I would probably put Fedor at number one. I love the debate, but for me it’s down to those three.”
Many fans believe former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez deserves consideration but according to Sonnen, Velasquez’s history of long injury layoffs rules him out despite holding a number of divisional records inside the Octagon including most knockouts , highest significant strike percentage [57.62%], most total strikes , most takedowns  and longest total title reign [1281 days].
“I think Cain took himself out,” said Sonnen. “How disrespectful, but Cain sits in the locker room too much to put him on that list. He had some fantastic moments and I’m not sure there was anybody alive that could beat him. But all we can do is discuss that because just didn’t walk out there and show it enough.
“But these are just conversations anyway. It comes to down to popular opinion. You’ve got to be able to out-argue the guy across from you. That’s how these pound-for-pound greats last. But I do think Cain shortened himself. He was the most intimidating heavyweight when he was in there. I’d put him right up there with George Foreman as far as the scariest guys to get into the ring with. But I kind of have him as a fourth or a fifth and out of the conversation.”
It may be no surprise Emelianenko is No. 1 on Sonnen’s list, but Sonnen maintains it is not simply because he beat him recently. Sonnen believes the “The Last Emperor” is constantly improving and learning from his losses despite his advanced years and that it showed in their fight when Sonnen was overwhelmed by the 42-year-old.
“I’ve had to break a lot of rules in my career too and I’m not talking about laws,” said Sonnen. “There are rules that say ‘if a fighter gets old, when a fighter slows down, when a fighter stops looking the same then he can never come back.’ I don’t like that. I’ve never been in a situation where you don’t use that as motivator and use that use that tape and use that footage to get better.
“But there seems to be a rule out there where when you look bad against a Fabio Maldonado that it’s over,” Sonnen added. “You’ve got to break those rules. You can’t let it apply to you and I don’t think Fedor let it apply to him. He started training differently and that’s what a real fighter does. He gets better and finds a way to come back and I admire that in anyone that can do it. But I also look down on the guys that can’t. Don’t let that stuff stick to you.”