Chael Sonnen has announced his retirement. Maybe it will stick, maybe not, but now is a good time to ask - what is the legacy of Chael Sonnen in MMA?
Hear thoughts from the staff of Bloody Elbow here in this Bloody Elbow Roundtable. Yesterday was part 1 - today, part 2 and an important question: Should Sonnen go in the UFC Hall of Fame?
John Nash: Chael was a very good fighter that gave Anderson Silva one great fight and was somehow able to turn himself and his non-fan friendly wrestling style into an attraction. He was so good at talking himself up it got to the point that strangers at the bar were betting me he'd beat Jon Jones (easiest money I ever made) Besides that, he choked repeatedly in big fights, failed two drug tests, made a mockery of the athletic commission duties, and developed a tired and arguably offensive pro wrestling schtick for himself.
For some time now I have been much more interested in hearing what he has to say about fighting techniques than actually watching him fight, or even worse, listening to him try and sell a fight.
Mookie Alexander: I don't think Chael "choked" in title fights as much as he ultimately is inferior to Silva, Jones, and Paulo Filho at his best. He had holes in his game he never really patched up and it was always going to be his downfall against the very best in the sport.
Oh, and my thoughts on Sonnen lean towards what Brent said, but I would argue he's one of the best middleweights in the sport (despite not winning the title I'd put him above Rich Franklin), and the one thing I found likable about Sonnen was his TUF coaching gig.
Fernando Arbex: He was one of the best TUF coaches ever. I don't know how valuable is this for a legacy but he was very good.
Stephanie Daniels: Yeah, his coaching gig let people see that he is a good guy, despite the pro wrestling heel shtick. I feel I need to clarify that while I'm kinda pissed that he tainted his legacy, I am and always will be a Chael Sonnen fan.
Fraser Coffeen: See, this is my problem with Chael. On the one hand, I really liked his coaching stints, as I felt that he put the emphasis on the fighters and presented himself quite well. On the other hand, I have no reason to think that is the "real" Chael. I don't know who Chael Sonnen truly is. Is he the motivating coach who just wants his guys to win, or is he the racist cheater who just wants himself to win? People who know him say the former, but the repeated drug test failures and the really poor taste left by many of his "I'm selling the fight" comments speaks otherwise. The truth, I imagine, is that he is both. Which I guess makes him human. But also makes me think not all that highly of the kind of human he is. Maybe that's unfair because I don't know the guy, but if I am unfairly judging him based on his "character", he has no one to blame for that but himself.
From a strictly athletic standpoint, is he an all time great MW? I don't think so personally. Losses to Horn, Filho, Maia, and Silva - not a bad list of guys to lose to for sure. But where are the big wins? Okami, Marquardt, Stann, and Bisping. Again, not bad by any means, but that's not the resume of a guy who I think is an all time great. Sorry Mookie - I give Franklin the nod.
I will say this about him - Chael Sonnen changed MMA. He changed the way fighters promote fights, and he was part of the change in TRT. Those are key aspects of MMA's landscape in recent years, of which Chael was a big part. However neither situation, in my eyes, reflects well on him.
Matt Kaplowitz: I agree with Fraser, he is definitely not one of the greatest middleweight fighters to set foot in the UFC, but he was a great villain that helped elevate the guys that did beat him. Anderson Silva was wildly popular because he was smashing guys left and right, but when Chael stepped up to bat, the fight felt so much bigger, like it was Anderson's most important fight, just because Chael could talk his way into making it that way.
So, what actually constitutes being "the greatest"? Is it just wins that make you the best, or can it be being memorable too? I think because of his ability to work people into a mad frenzy that he will go down in Zuffa history as one of the top middleweights, even though there are much better MW's out there (plus, being a company man never hurts).
Ultimately, I think the division between fans will be remembering him for his ability to work the mic and his issues with TRT, and not his fighting. Like Fraser said, those are the most pivotal elements that he brought to the sport, and with the Zuffa train behind him writing the history books, Chael is going to have a big legacy whether he earned it in the cage or earned it by stirring the pot.
Zane Simon: I'll say this, because I don't think my comments about his career are going to be much better than straddling the middle ground between enjoyment and distaste that most of us seem to already be straddling...
I don't think the legacy of Sonnen in MMA will be written by his career. His career is good enough to legitimize him as a public figure in the sport after he's done fighting. And I think it's much more likely that his career post-fighting defines him more than his career fighting ever did. Maybe that will come through commentary, maybe that will come through coaching, maybe... and this is where issues with both sides of his personality will really come into question, it will come as a member of the "Zuffa brass." If it does, the decisions he makes as a business leader in the sport will probably define him more than anything else.
Karim Zidan: Chael Sonnen will certainly leave a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I will always enjoy his antics - even if most of it was hogwash - but two failed drug tests and three failed title attempts will always bear down on his legacy like a foreboding shadow.
He did have a variety of appealing attributes; showmanship and unparalleled verbal skills, to name a few. He also gave us a variety of surprising UFC moments, including his battles with Anderson Silva and his submission win over Shogun. I hope he will be remembered for all of that, but it should not overshadow the fact that he also represented some of the biggest issues in the sport, like the troubles of TRT.
Anton Tabuena: I'm with Zane here. While he has done big things like what everyone mentioned here, I think Sonnen's true impact and lasting legacy in the sport is yet to happen. Say what you want about him, but Sonnen is part of the rare few who truly has the skills and the passion to actually succeed even outside the cage.
I think if we revisit this question several years from now, there's a good chance that the things he did after fighting will be the ones that stand out more when all is said and done.
Kyle McLachlan : When you assess Chael Sonnen's composite skillset, you have a journeyman, and for the majority of his career that's what he was. That's not a slight on Chael, in the old days of boxing a journeyman meant someone who could give the best a good fight and every so often picked up a good victory of his own, and that about sums Chael up.
A phenomenal wrestler with sloppy striking and poor submission defence, he was never going to be a world beater.
But then, something strange happened, and Chael went on a run. Despite agreeing with Brent as to the recycled nature of his pro wrestling inspired hyperbole, it was the main factor as to why Sonnen transcended what is expected of a fairly boring fighter who relies on stifling top control to get results.
Of course, with all the controversy over what substances Chael has been using and to what effect it's clear (to me at least) to see why he made the leap from journeyman to contender. Re-assessing his fight career, and particularly his infamous UFC tenure, it's hard not to think it's all been smoke and mirrors for the best part.
Tim Burke: Does he go into the UFC Hall of Fame? I think he does.
Brent Brookhouse: I'm sure he does. Were it an objective voting system like MLB, NFL, etc. I don't think he would (then again, with the oft sycophantic media...maybe he would). He is one of those guys who more fits in a "hall of very good." No title wins, very few "big wins," a history of drug failures and really only a couple years near the top of a division. And I don't know that his "impact on the sport" is something that is so major that it demands celebrating. He's a lot like a baseball player who got bounced from team to team before having a few breakout seasons and making a couple all-star teams. You don't put that guy in the Hall.
But this isn't a voting system or anything even slightly resembling one. So...yes. He'll be in the UFC Hall of Fame for sure. If Stephan Bonnar can get in with all his PED issues and lack of any big wins because of a single moment, I'm sure Sonnen can get in for being a company man who drew some money.
Kyle: I'm with Brent.
Just as the boxing 'Hall of Fame' the emphasis is on the word 'fame'. It's not 'Hall of certified all time greats'
Considering that Carlos Monzon (fled a drug test just as Wanderlei Silva recently did; found guilty of murder after retiring) and Don King (convicted of both manslaughter and second degree murder, also accused of fraud by many boxers) made the IBHOF it seems that with Stephan Bonnar, Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame that the process will not scrutinise either the personal or professional failings of a fighter.
Fernando: Just to add, Sonnen made Anderson Silva's name in Brazil. Anderson's win against Belfort (who was kind of a celebrity in 2011) and the rivalry with Sonnen made him an idol because he beat the "guy who talks shit about us". So, Sonnen was an important character for the sport even with all the trash talk and problems.
Stephanie: He absolutely should go in the Hall of Fame. He pretty much re-wrote the rules of smack talk and made Anderson Silva a superstar. Yes, I get that Anderson was talented before Chael came along, but let's face it, he wasn't bringing down the house with his PPV numbers until Sonnen came along to bring that little simmering pot to a rolling boil.