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Tag: Sports Entertainment

The Underdog Heel: How Chael Sonnen Became a Sports Entertainment Superstar

(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.”


Why More Fighters Need to Talk Sh*t (Hint: It Works)

(What are you gonna do against the largest arms in the world, brother? / Photo via Getty)

By Matt Saccaro

MMA is the ultimate “nice guys finish last” sport. It’s called prize fighting for a reason, and “I respect him; he’s a great opponent” doesn’t sell.

This is no secret. Just look at how Chael Sonnen—a perennial mid-carder who nobody knew or cared about—resurrected his career with carefully executed, bombastic trash talk.

Why am I telling you this if it’s common sense? Because it’s only common sense to people who appreciate MMA for what it is—real-life pro wrestling. Unfortunately, most hardcore MMA fans (and some media members) refuse to see it this way. They either believe in a non-existent code of honor, or an even less corporeal competitive architecture. “It’s a sport,” they maintain. “It should be only about competition. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see the best fighters go at it, even if they have less charisma than a light bulb?” The answer to that question: Most of the country.

There’s a sport with no flash, no glitz, and none of the other maligned “entertainment” trappings of the UFC and the WWE. It’s called amateur wrestling, and nobody watches it. MMA turning into amateur wrestling hurts the fighters. If there’s no viewers, there’s no money. It’s crazy that people still need to be reminded of this, but selling the fight is equally as important as fighting the fight. To quote The Simpsons, “Every good scientist is half B.F. Skinner and half P.T. Barnum.”


Five Obvious but Overlooked Things Fans Need to Remember About the UFC

(Just keep repeating to yourself, “Nobody’s making me watch this…nobody’s making me watch this…nobody’s making me watch this…”)

By Matt Saccaro

The UFC has come under fire lately for several reasons: Declining numbers, oversaturation, the fading of their stars, launching a digital network with a questionable premise, not hiring Ben Askren and so on. When we fling insults at the UFC, we need to remember a few things about the company in order to put these negative occurrences and circumstances into perspective. Let’s start with the most obvious but frequently-ignored point:

1. The UFC is a business.

The purpose of the UFC is to make its owners money. The UFC does not exist to feed fighters’ families. There’s not much else to say on this front. Companies have to make money to be viable. Yeah, it sucks that some guys get paid an absurdly small amount of money for what they do, and it sucks that the UFC is upping the PPV price.

That’s just something we have to deal with though. If you don’t like it, vote with your dollar. If enough people tune out, Zuffa’s wallet will know and they’ll either change their tune accordingly or lose money.

2. The UFC is an international company.

There’s been talk about the UFC hiring unfit-for-television jobbers lately. It’s true but necessary. The UFC is headed to distant lands where MMA is in its most nascent stages. The talent pool in these places is more like a mud puddle. The UFC has to work with what it’s given in China and Singapore. Deepening foreign talent pools can only happen by growing the sport overseas, and growing the sport overseas can only happen when they have foreign (foreign to us, home grown to them) fighters on the card. And since there aren’t many great foreign fighters, the UFC has to scrape the bottom of a very empty barrel. This results in fighters getting a place in the “Super Bowl of MMA” who shouldn’t even be in the bleachers, let alone on the field.