Some of Chael P. Sonnen’s recent statements in advance of UFC 148 this Saturday almost make sense. Almost. Speaking to the media about the rash of recent injuries and subsequent match-up shuffling in the UFC, Chael said that he believed any fighter that pulls out of a fight because of injury should have it counted as a loss on his or her professional record.
“I think there should be forfeiture,” he told MMA Junkie. ”It’s not realistic with the architecture that we have, but we’re the only sport where you can just not show up. Every event is set. The Super Bowl for 2015. The kickoff time, the venue — it’s set. If one team doesn’t want to show up, a Super Bowl champion will be crowned that day.”
On one hand, it’s worth examining if the recent wave of UFC injuries is the result of fighters pulling out of scheduled matches simply because they feel their health is less than 100%, and they might be more competitive at a later date. The reality is, everybody fights injured, and pulling out of a fight just because you’re a little banged up is a way of gaming the system, and screws the fans out of fights they already paid to see.
On the other hand, Sonnen’s analogy falls apart almost immediately. Athletes can and do pull out of competition due to injury in every single sport on the planet. This includes the aforementioned Super Bowl, where players on teams that have made it to the big game often miss out because of injuries they’ve sustained. And just as the Super Bowl still goes on when players get injured, UFC title bouts still happen when an opponent pulls out. It just might not be the title fight that was originally scheduled.
Case in point: Chael was scheduled to rematch Anderson Silva for the middleweight title in 2010 after he was submitted in the final round of their first fight. The fact that Sonnen failed his post-fight drug test, was suspended by the overseeing athletic commission for it, then plead guilty to money laundering — all of which delayed his rematch for two years — did not hold up the middleweight belt. Chael couldn’t show up, so others did.
No one likes seeing match-ups cancelled or postponed because of injury, most of all the injured fighters themselves who are losing out on money that they’ve been budgeting their lives around. Punishing them further by marking a loss on their record for a fight never fought is needlessly heavy handed. It’s also ironic that Sonnen, of all people, is advocating for harder punishment against fighters. You’d think a person who has gone before athletic commissions to beg for mercy and understanding would be a little more empathetic to his colleagues.
Most of all, we’re just disappointed that someone we once considered our great white conservative hope would call for more regulation in the lives of individuals and independent businesses instead of realizing that the market is perfectly capable of correcting these situations on its own. Believe us, a fighter who repeatedly pulls out of fights due to injuries or otherwise unexplained personal reasons gets a reputation for it, and eventually promoters stop booking them because they’re not reliable enough.
The sad collapse of ideological consistency in our favorite politician and philosopher aside, Sonnen’s comments about coming down hard on fighters also smack of hypocrisy. This, of course, is totally new terrain for Sonnen.
“My father was a plumber,” Sonnen continued in the MMAJunkie article. “I would never disrespect him by not showing up to an athletic competition that has a maximum duration of 25 minutes. I hear guys talking, ‘I pulled a hamstring.’ What does that have to do with anything? That’s a button off of my shirt. ‘Aw, I broke a finger — button fell off my shirt, let’s sew this back on.’ What possibly does it have to do with walking across the ring and beating a guy up? It’s ridiculous…If you give your word that you’re going to do something, you need to do it.”
Yep, Chael Sonnen is all about respect. Of course, disrespecting athletic commissions by not disclosing performance-enhancing treatments and substances one uses is another matter. So is lying about exchanges with regulators once you’ve failed a urine test.
In other words, while forfeiture is an interesting hypothetical to consider, Chael Sonnen should never be considered an authority on fair athletic competition, and the bottom line is this: If fighters don’t fight, they don’t get paid, which is why it’s usually ridiculous to question a fighter’s decision to pull out due to injury. And if a fighter decides that being hurt puts him at such a disadvantage that not fighting is the smarter option, we should respect that, even if their injury is less severe than, say, a totally blown-out knee. Can we go back to blaming hard sparring now?