Chael Sonnen: The UFC's Prodigal Middleweight Set for Return

Chael Sonnen's public image has taken a beating in the last few months.

Chael Sonnen has had a hell of a year since his brilliant performance against Anderson Silva at UFC 117. He managed to build that fight into Silva's biggest Pay Per View headliner ever purely by his brilliant (or sociopathic) pre-fight trash talk. Then he shocked everyone by dominating Silva in every aspect of the fight for four and one half rounds before falling into a triangle choke and losing with just over a minute left in the fight.

Since then it's been all down-hill for the former US Olympic Greco-Roman team member. Sonnen failed his post-fight drug test and was hit with a one-year suspension by the California State Athletic Commission. And no sooner had he appealed that down to six-months than he announced he had pled guilty to federal money laundering charges in an Oregon real estate deal. The UFC "froze" his contract while he awaited sentencing. 

Now he's been sentenced to two years probation and he says he's ready to come back to the UFC. Here's Sonnen from the MMA Hour (transcribed by MMA Mania):

"They have not given me a date but I'm pretty sure it's going to be very soon. I think he wants to get me in there as soon as possible. The director has been very stern with me. He was stern with me face-to-face. But he's also been very fair with me. He leveled with me, I would love to play poker with director Kizer, I'd clean him out. He's got no poker face. He'll tell you it straight, he'll tell you exactly how it is. And he told me I could come before his body as soon as I got done with the federal thing and look forward for a second chance. I think it will happen right away. I think it could happen as soon as this Friday. ... I'm real confident that we'll be in there within the month of April and we'll have resolution ...

I had contact with the UFC, I reached out to them. I said, 'Guys, give me the worst guy you've got under contract' and you've got to understand, my focus has been in a lot of different directions. Dealing with the federal government is a tough thing. Losing a title fight that you put everything into is a tough thing ... I called them up and I leveled with them, I said, 'Give me the worst guy you've got under contract.' They said, 'Chael, Wanderlei won't fight you.' I said, 'Alright, give me the second worst guy you've got under contract.' They said, 'Chael, how many times do we have to tell you -- Cro Cop's a heavyweight.' I said, 'Alright, is there anybody available? How about Bisping? Is his dance card open? And they said, 'That might be a possibility.' That's where we left off. That just isn't my focus. My focus is making things right with Director Kizer."

We've covered Sonnen's self-created difficulties with Nevada State Athletic Commissioner Keith Kizer here and here. But suffice it to say that Sonnen made some false claims regarding Kizer while testifying before the CSAC and Kizer can't let it slide.

Is Chael Sonnen worth the trouble he causes the UFC despite his athletic skills and gift of gab? Geno Mrosko asks the question:

(Sonnen's schtick) works wonderfully when his venom is directed at say, Silva, who fans were in a love-hate affair with at the exact time Sonnen turned his attention to the Brazilian and the gold around his waist.

Actually, it's a wonderful thing when he decides to go head on against any fighter, one that may get the chance to shut him up inside the cage in a bout on pay-per-view (PPV).

When it's not such a good thing, is when he's not filtering himself in front of athletic commissions or those in power that have the ability to determine whether or not he can fight again ... men like NSAC Director Keith Kizer.
...
He'll likely be let back but at what price? Do we believe Sonnen has changed his ways and will be any different than the man that got himself into this heaping mess to begin with? Or are we expecting the same trash-talking genius promoter who can't keep his truths straight from his lies?

Mrosko talked to Zach Arnold of FightOpinion.com to get his take on the Sonnen situation:

We know what UFC wants to do with him. They want him on TUF in order to try to revive that show. The problems with that show, however, are so extensive that simply replacing coaches isn't going to save the ratings decline there. They do want to pair him opposite Michael Bisping for good reason.

They are in the PPV business and they know the devil they have in Sonnen as opposed to some of the devils they don't have that they may have to push into PPV main events in the future. To me, he is fool's gold. He's had a largely average MMA career until his hot streak against Nate Marquardt (mid-level middleweight), Yushin Okami (above average middleweight), and then the fight performance against Anderson Silva (where he eventually lost the fight). Is it really worth the amount of energy UFC is spending to try to save this guy's career and put up with his act? It's hard to say. UFC's calculation is that the benefits outweigh the cons. It still doesn't change the fact that he uses drugs and has admitted as such.

Will fans care about him continuing to fight and dope in the process? Largely, no. As we've seen with the drug issue in MMA, fans forget about the issue unless it's a fighter that they really hate and then if said fighter gets busted the fans will turn around and whack him with the positive test as a weapon. Otherwise, it's the Wild West and as long as Sonnen can continue doping with the permissions of athletic commissions or the UFC at foreign events, it will be business as usual.

Do I think Chael Sonnen is worth the hassle? No. He had his moment in the sun last year. He's more on the downside than he is on the upside. However, desparate people do desparate things and as long as he can convince one person - Dana White - that he's useful, then Dana will twist himself up like a pretzel to justify Sonnen's existence with public lines like "the kid's paid his dues and now it's time for him to come back."

I have to respectfully disagree with Zach. Sure he's right from a moral, legal and ethical stand point. But as a fight fan and someone who always slows down to rubber neck at car wrecks on the highway, I'm all for Sonnen coming back in a big way. Sonnen and Bisping coaching The Ultimate Fighter would be such great television and the fight afterwards promises to be the just desserts...

Let's just put it this way, if Dana White and Chael Sonnen can somehow convince Keith Kizer to give Sonnen one last chance, I as a fan will be eternally in their debt. 

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