Chael Sonnen wonders if Sean Strickland is being saved for Bo Nickal’s next fight after UFC 300

Chael Sonnen has a pair of theories about Sean Strickland’s next UFC step.

On one hand, Sonnen believes Strickland’s fate could be as straightforward as possible: Serving as the backup fighter for Dricus du Plessis’ next title defense. On the other hand, however, the three-time UFC title challenger wonders if Strickland is being saved for a more unexpected purpose, one which would be unveiled after UFC 300 goes down on April 13.

“You’ve got to understand, Bo Nickal is on the main card of [UFC] 300 for reason,” Sonnen said on his YouTube channel. “None of us fully know what that reason is. But we also do understand [that reason] is to shine up a tremendous prospect. And at some point, like everybody, that prospect has to be given that guy with the right number next to his name.

“I’ll give you guys a fine example. Khamzat Chimaev was not ranked. If you could believe it, he wasn’t ranked, and he was the media darling like only two of other people in the history of our sport have ever seen: Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. This is red hot and we’ve got to get him into a title fight. He’s not ranked. So to solve that problem we’re going to take an unranked Khamzat Chimaev, 25 years old, and we’re going to put him against No. 3 Leon Edwards — and they actually signed that fight. You guys were quite upset. You wanted to see the fight, but you were quite upset, because you looked at as a slight on Leon. And I’m just reminding you of this because COVID hit, canceled that fight. But that theory and that process still does hold up.”

Sonnen pointed to a similar set of circumstances around Sean O’Malley, another blue-chip prospect who sat at the periphery of the rankings then burst straight into the title conversation once he was awarded an unexpected matchup against former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan. O’Malley defeated Yan in a controversial split decision, then immediately challenged Aljamain Sterling and captured the UFC title — having effectively circumvented a cavalcade of longer tenured contenders at 135 pounds.

Sonnen wonders if the UFC is planning a similar setup for Nickal.

“Something is happening with Bo, and I don’t know how many of these squash matches we can do until we finally just go, ‘Hey guys, give him the match. We all see what you’re trying to do, but you are the one that has decided you can’t do it,’” Sonnen said.

“So somebody’s going to have to do all that, so somebody is going to get the call to do this for Bo — and that is one of my guesses for Strickland.”

Nickal, 28, is widely considered to be one of the most talented prospects in MMA. A three-time NCAA Division I champion wrestler, Nickal is a perfect 5-0 in his MMA career and kicked off his UFC run with back-to-back first-round stoppages of Jamie Pickett and Val Woodburn. Nickal is scheduled to next face Cody Brundage on the main card of UFC 300, though his placement on the historic pay-per-view card has drawn the ire of some fans.

Strickland, 33, has continuously campaigned for a rematch with du Plessis since dropping his title to the South African middleweight in his first title defense in January at UFC 297.

Sonnen is confident one of his two scenarios is correct.

“Those are very opposite guesses,” he said. “On one hand, [Strickland] is going to be the guy used to bring up the guy that has very clearly gotten this push behind him, but we’re not quite sure what to do with it, versus, Strickland has been assured and reaffirmed of his value, of his worth, of his ranking, of where he stands, and is going to be a backup fighter.

“I understand the separation but I do maintain, I believe I’m right on one of those two speculations.”

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