Photo by Esther Lin at MMA Fighting.com
Most people are probably still processing Chael Sonnen's actions against Anderson Silva at UFC 148. Reconciling his first round performance with his second round performance is a difficult task. In the first round, Chael wastes zero time, and gets Anderson to the ground. In minutes he's in half guard against a very capable black belt, and before the round is over, he's passed Silva's guard and landed modest to decent shots for what feels like his sixth dominating round over Silva.
The second round is dramatically different. Sonnen fumbles his takedown attempts, and when compelled to strike, throws a spinning back elbow that sends him careening into the fence, and on to his butt like he tripped over Tyrion Lannister.
I don't agree with Nate's take on Sonnen's performance overall, but that's not to say there isn't credence to his theory. It isn't like Chael failed to execute. He executed perfectly. He just didn't execute long enough (which isn't to say it wouldn't have been enough: Silva is nothing if not a master of capitalizing on an opponent's mistakes).
The rest, however, as they say, is history. Sort of. That history is still being debated. But that's another issue entirely.
What interests me is the future of Chael Sonnen, not as a fighter, but as the personality he's become. We've come to know Sonnen as this bizarre symbol of theatre: a white collar cacophony of gamesmanship, jingoism, and bluster. For some, it's precisely this mixture that makes him a charlatan rather than a symbol.
It's hard not to sympathize with that perspective. So much was made about Silva's disrespectful ‘bump' at the weigh-ins, and yet only the briefest of discussions are spent on Sonnen's transgressions, both in and outside of the cage.
Yea, I know what you're thinking: "it's Sonnen's schtick! He's selling the show man! Lighten up! " I don't think this is necessarily unreasonable. But I think there's a lot to said for the act of choosing the character you wish to play.
It would be one thing if the words that came out of Sonnen's mouth were connected with an honest man (or as honest a man we can think of who likes to wear masks). But Sonnen is a convicted felon. With such a colorful background, Sonnen's "schtick" begins to look less like theatre, and more like catharsis. The MMA community has mistaken selling for purging.
Such a topic may seem inconsequential for fans, but not for Sonnen. He's amassed so much hubris leading up to both fights with Silva (including a convincing "loser leaves town" ultimatum at UFC 136), perhaps the physical loss is what hurt the least.
I'm not sure how Sonnen would be received by any other sports community, but I suspect there would be far less glorifying. As if miming some irrelevant professional wrestler is supposed to erase Sonnen's thinly veiled racism, and habitual disrespect.
The thing about hubris is that we forgive it only when it comes from the top. It's why it looks so silly when worn by Junie Browning, Brandon Vera, or Melvin Guillard, just to name a few. Sonnen is none of them, but he doesn't wear any crowns, or sit atop any thrones either.
Perhaps we'll soon discover that asking where Chael must go from here is like asking who Chael must become from here.