Will the Nevada Commission License Chael Sonnen to Coach The Ultimate Fighter?

Chael Sonnen appearing before the California State Athletic Commission.

We posted Saturday that Dave Meltzer had reported that the UFC is looking at Michael Bisping and Chael Sonnen to coach the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter

We didn't get into Meltzer's coverage of the complications that decision means for the UFC and the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Both Bisping and Sonnen are coming off a series of incidents that may give the commission pause. Bisping behavior during and after his last bout against Jorge Rivera, which included an illegal knee to the face of the downed Rivera and spitting on or at Rivera's corner post-fight is hardly laudable behavior but is far less problematic than Sonnen's issues.

Sonnen has pled guilty to a felony in a federal money laundering case and will be sentenced on April 8th. More problematically, Sonnen failed a drug test after UFC 117 and then gave testimony to the California State Athletic Commission claiming to have had conversations with Nevada Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer that Kizer denied. Cage Side Seats summed it up best:

While Chael Sonnen got his suspension cut in half at his hearing with the California State Athletic Commission this afternoon, he may have gotten himself in more trouble thanks to a statement about a conversation he claimed to have had with Keith Kizer, the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.  Sonnen claimed that he had spoken to Kizer about his use of testosterone as part of hormone replacement therapy, had the use approved by Kizer, and was told by Kizer that he didn't need to mention it again.  At the very least, Kizer had already told me that Sonnen had never requested a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone when it was revealed that Sonnen's claim would be based around testosterone replacement therapy.  With Sonnen's claim on the record involving a conversation with Kizer, I got in touch with him again to get his thoughts on what Sonnen said today.

He immediately noted that "I have never talked to Chael Sonnen in my life," regardless of the subject.  With regards to Sonnen's licensing in Nevada when the California suspension expires, he added that it would have to wait until after the California suspension expires, and then "if Mr. Sonnen wants to get a license here in Nevada, it's probably best if he appears before our commission as opposed to me giving him one administratively."  As far as the comments during the hearing could be an issue:  "Possibly.  I mean anything's a possible issue, but yeah, it's probably best that he appears before the commission and explains what he meant by that.  I'm very confused."

Sonnen then compounded his issues with Kizer by disputing Kizer's account of events.

With that background, we'll hear from Meltzer on the thinking and back room dealing going on in trying to book Sonnen and Bisping for TUF 14 in the full entry.

Update: Dana White commented on the issue to MMA Junkie:

White admits the NSAC issue could be a problem for any coaching plans. He confirmed he recently met with Kizer to discuss Sonnen's situation but didn't divulge details of the outcome.

As of now, though, White said no decisions have been made about the coaching slots.

"We have no clue who will coach; Chael has a ton of problems (right now)," White said.

From The Wrestling Observer (subscription required):

The decision, rumored for weeks, is controversial and will likely be heavily criticized if it does happen. Some will say Bisping and Sonnen are being rewarded at a time when both should not be rewarded. On the flip side, the belief is that the two, because of their strong personalities and interviews, can create another dynamic similar to Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson, or Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz, which resulted in not only the two highest rated seasons in the history of the show, but also huge PPV numbers in each case. I would not expect going in that these two will produce that level of business, but they are the type of personalities that one would expect to lead to a much talked about season. What this ultimately looks to come down to is how commission members will vote on Sonnen, or if UFC wants to risk Sonnen going before the commission given Kizer's assertion, that all evidence is true, that Sonnen lied, using his name, to get his California suspension for failing a steroid test reduced. UFC has a lot of pull, as their hierarchy includes former commissions and the former Executive Director, and their shows bring the commission a ton of revenue. I'm pretty sure if the commission had its way, they wouldn't want to go against UFC, but would also not want to be put on the spot and have to vote. So this could go a lot of different ways. If the feeling is Sonnen won't get the votes to get a license, rather than him apply and be turned down, I would think they will change plans. Chris Leben and Wanderlei Silva were names considered in the past for Bisping to coach against but they are trying to get Silva to fight Vitor Belfort on 7/2.

...if (Sonnen) does not apply, he would not be able to coach, eliminating a major boost to his career, name recognition and drawing power, as well as eliminate him from a major fight. Sonnen would be favored to win such a fight, and then earn a title shot. If Anderson Silva is still the champion, such a fight would be expected to do huge business, and even if Silva isn't champion, Sonnen with his verbal skills and coming off a high-profile win and challenging for the title would be expected to do strong business.

Sonnen, Lorenzo Fertitta, Dana White and other major UFC officials had a private meeting several weeks ago with the Nevada commission in an attempt to smooth things over and get Sonnen licensed. At the meeting, Sonnen was asked directly by Kizer why he claimed he had a conversation with him regarding approval of testosterone use when no such conversation took place. Sonnen admitted that he had never directly talked with Kizer, claiming he didn't mean to imply that he directly talked with him, but that his manager, Matt Lindland, had gone over his need for medical use of testosterone in February 2008, prior to his March 26, 2008, fight in Las Vegas with Bryan Baker. Still, there was no mistaking Sonnen at the California hearing saying he directly talked with Kizer, and on MMA Live right after, he reiterated that story. When Kizer's denial of a conversation ever taking place, he claimed Kizer told him to keep things quiet, that everything was taken care of, and that Kizer had to deny it due to HIPPA laws. In fact, that law is not applicable in this instance, and the only two cases where testosterone replacement therapy has ever been allowed in Nevada in the history of the sport are both basically public record, the cases of Dan Henderson and Todd Duffee.

Cage Side Seats explains Sonnen's current version of events regarding the he said/he said between himself and Kizer:

  • Sonnen's latest story is that he misspoke at his CSAC hearing and what he meant was that his manager Matt Lindland had dealt with Keith Kizer about his medical use of testosterone in February 2008, prior to Sonnen's fight in Nevada the next month.  Lindland via telephone corroborated Sonnen's story.
  • However, Kizer, when recalling his phone conversation with Lindland three years ago, claimed that he did indeed speak with Lindland about the procedure for getting a TUE, but that Lindland didn't mention Sonnen's name at the time and never followed up again afterwards.  Hmm, a cynic would suggest that they were scared off by all the hoops they would have to jump through to get an exemption.
  • Lindland disagreed with Kizer saying he followed up by email, though he wasn't able to produce that email for the commission nor could they themselves find it when checking their archives of deleted emails for the time period in question. 

The UFC is on the horns of a dilemma because it's precisely Bisping and Sonnen's behavior that drives fan interest in their coaching The Ultimate Fighter, but it puts their home-state athletic commission in a very awkward spot. 

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