(They say Chael is still out there somewhere, working as a real estate agent and speaking with a Hispanic accent. / Photo via Getty)
By Seth Falvo
We know that the UFC is a sports entertainment company, but few fighters have ever embraced sports entertainment as fully as the recently retired Chael Sonnen had. “The Gangster from West Linn” understood the importance of drawing attention outside the cage, and shamelessly promoted himself as one of the most outlandish heels on the planet. But now that his fighting days are behind him, how will the fans remember Sonnen? There’s little doubt that Sonnen was one of MMA’s most infamous personalities, but was Sonnen a truly great sports entertainer?
Before we begin analyzing Sonnen’s smack-talking, fake championship belt wielding antics however, let’s not forget the overwhelming majority of his career: the thirty-plus professional fights (including his initial 1-2 run in the UFC) he had between 1997 and 2008. During this time, Chael Sonnen was a name that only the most hardcore fans had known of. He was a skilled, albeit smothering (and submission-prone) wrestler who could dish out one-liners and give thoughtful interviews, but was mostly known for his part in the unmitigated disaster that was Filho vs. Sonnen II.
If that seemed like a half-assed recap of twelve years of fighting, that’s exactly the point. Despite the best attempts of MMA fans to pretend that they’re above valuing personality over talent, the relative obscurity of Sonnen’s “pre-heel” career proved otherwise. If it weren’t for his ability to give a memorable interview, it isn’t entirely unreasonable to wonder if he would have even been invited back to the promotion when the WEC did away with the middleweight division. It’s even more likely that he would have been cut after getting choked out in the first round by Demian Maia during his Octagon return at UFC 95. The bottom line is, one doesn’t need to be entertained by Sonnen’s attempts to stand out in order to acknowledge their importance; Sonnen pretty much told Thomas Gerbasi just that back in 2010:
“You listen to some of these guys and it’s like hitting ‘play’ on a tape recorder. Whether these guys just aren’t free thinkers or just scared, I truthfully don’t know, but it is pretty annoying. Every now and then you get a guy that appears that he’s read a book or watched a news program and has an autonomous thought, and those are the kind of guys that I would visit with, but it’s pretty hard to find them in a UFC locker room.”