The rise and spectacular fall of Chael Sonnen, UFC superstar - Part two

Jared Wickerham

A look at the turbulent year of 2011 in the career of Chael Sonnen. Including his battles with athletic commissions and return to the cage after a suspension for his failed drug test following the first Anderson Silva bout.

When last we left Chael Sonnen, he was embattled in a public tussle with the Nevada State Athletic Commission. If you missed part one, you can read it here.

Sonnen had gone in front of the California commission following a failed drug test in California and claimed that he'd gotten an exemption for Testosterone Replacement Therapy in Nevada and felt that this would carry over to all state commissions.

The rub, of course, was that NSAC director Keith Kizer made it clear that he had never spoken to Sonnen. That was too little, too late for the CSAC as they had already made the decision to reduce Sonnen's suspension from a year to six months and change the language from a failed drug test to a failure to disclose his TRT regimen, this despite a 16.9:1 testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio that would have been a test failure no matter the paperwork on file.

The fact that Sonnen hadn't spoken to Kizer at any point was also brushed aside with some attempts at slick footwork by the fighter. He claimed that when he said "he spoke" to Kizer, he actually meant that "his management" had spoken to Kizer. This also appeared to be untrue, but at least the likes of Matt Lindland did appear to have, at some point in the history of time, spoken one-on-one with Kizer.

Meanwhile, Sonnen had his UFC contract put on ice after a guilty plea in a federal money laundering case. While Sonnen was admitting to an almost $70,000 kickback to get someone to purchase a home, Dana White came out in his defense, ""Chael Sonnen has gone through a lot in the last few months and we think it's important for him to focus on getting his personal life together before focusing on his career in the UFC," White told TMZ. "I spoke with Chael earlier today and he agrees that setting priorities in his life is the best thing for him right now. I sincerely hope Chael is able to straighten out his personal life."

While some reported that Sonnen was "suspended" by the UFC, his manager cleared the air by stating that he was never suspended by the promotion, merely "given time" to get his life in order, and "his career is not over. It's far from over, I can promise you that. "

The end result of the money laundering case was 24 months probation, a $10,000 fine, and forfeiture of his real estate license, significantly reduced from a potential 20 years in prison and half a million dollar fine that was the maximum penalty for the charges.

In May of 2011, things got a little bit weird regarding the six month CSAC suspension.

At the time, the CSAC was a laughably inept organization. Constantly tripping over their own feet in half-assed attempts to regulate combat sports.

Sonnen's suspension should have ended in March, but the CSAC announced a new "indefinite suspension" for Sonnen, based on the criminal conviction as well as lying in front of the commission in regards to the complete lack of conversations with the NSAC about TRT.

A week later the state upheld the indefinite suspension, including asking other commissions to contact them prior to considering licensing Sonnen to fight, compete, corner, manager or otherwise have any role in mixed martial arts competition.

The big revelation at the time was Sonnen testifying that the UFC was targeting him as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, opposite Michael Bisping, with a bout between the two to determine the next middleweight title contender at the end of the season.

Unfortunately for the CSAC, they didn't really understand their own rules and had to issue a correction two days later. Sonnen could no longer have an "indefinite" suspension, they could only keep him out until his license expired on June 29. 2011, at which point he would legally be free to request a new license. This was all the result of the commission voting to uphold his suspension, rather than revoke his license.

ESPN writer Josh Gross would appear on MMA Live to discuss the Sonnen situation, taking the UFC star to task on the air.

This led to Sonnen's lawyer sending Gross an e-mail ripping into the reporter for...reporting. Middle Easy published the letter, wherein Raffi A. Nahabedian doubled down on some of the more ridiculous Sonnen claims (people say, "I" when they meant "representatives" all the time, and such) while also using Sonnen's money laundering conviction as proof of upstanding citizenship.

Here's a taste:

In regards to the testimony issue, there is a continued blatant oversight and disregard for Chael’s testimony/responses to Commissioner Zinkin that fully clarify, explain and vitiate his statement that "he [Chael] spoke to Kizer." If you read the transcript of Chael’s responses to Commissioner Zinkin (and, perhaps, print them for the public to read), Chael made it unambiguously clear what he meant – "my management and/or my manager." As someone who represents people/companies, it is not uncommon to hear clients who are represented by agents, managers and attorneys to speak in such a manner (i.e. that they spoke to so-n-so or handled "y" matter). While the initial tweet about Chael’s initial comment is plausibly understandable (solely from the perspective that people like to create controversy to increase readers/viewers), there would not have been such an over zealous and unfounded determination to crucify Chael if there was some responsible journalistic follow-up reporting clarifying Chael’s subsequent testimony. Specifically, what he testified to in response to Commissioner Zinkin (no different than the CSAC issuing a retraction of its incorrect press release and subsequent clarification of its decision). The person who made the initial tweet should have done this which would have eliminated a lot of problems for everyone – Sonnen, Kizer, CSAC, etc.

In terms of what you purposely left out during your interview, I am baffled. How can you omit mentioning the statements made by a federal court judge about Chael during his sentencing in Oregon? (Remember, this is prong 2 of the issues before the CSAC). For your edification (and for that of your followers) here are some quotes from a learned federal court judge about Chael – "extraordinary acceptance of responsibility;" or "a truly remarkable record of a law-abiding, useful life to the community outside this crime." Sounds like the description of a true villain and lying scumbag from a federal court judge who has certainly seen the worst thereof. And, let’s not forget how Chael’s sentence was reduced (actually, not just reduced but severely reduced) to 2 years probation and a $10,000 fine from a statutory sentencing guideline of 20 years and $500,000. How is it that you disregard and ignore a federal court judge’s decision and the factors giving rise to that decision?

At the same time, there was Dana White, again, sticking up for Sonnen, claiming that the star had been wronged. "This kid got it stuck to him, man. He paid his dues in every way shape and form and, I think he's been treated a bit unfairly," White said.

Sonnen tried to make some staffing decisions at SB Nation, answering questions by then SBN blog Gal's Guide To MMA, he told them that the first thing he'd do after winning $50 million in the lottery was, "I would buy the website you work for and make you the Janitor for a week, then fire you."

While seemingly "mean" out of context, moments like these were Sonnen on his image rehabilitation tour. He might ruffle your hair a little bit, dear media member, but he'd do it with a wink and a good quote. This may well be how, despite years of dishonesty, criminal behavior, use of performance enhancing drugs and offensive behavior, there is still a portion of the narrative that is "why has this all happened to one of the sport's good guys?" as Fox and the UFC bounce him from their ranks.

Sonnen didn't tone down the rhetoric toward other fighters, however. He took to Twitter to attack Brazil (as well as fighters such as Silva and Machida, "Greetings from Sao Paulo! I'm learning the language: breakdancing in the Special Olympics is called capoiera and cocaine is called brunch."

One of the more well known Sonnen moments from the same week as the Twitter ranting was his "bus" comment on the Nogueira brothers. In an interview, Sonne said, "I was in Las Vegas when the Nogueira brothers first touched down in America.There was a bus, this is a true story. There was a bus that pulled up to a red light, and Little Nog tried to feed it a carrot, while Big Nog was petting it. He thought it was a horse. This really happened. He tried to feed a bus a carrot, and now you're telling me this country has computers? I didn't know that!"

Lost in that interview was a "joke" referencing his plans to catch Wanderlei Silva and the Nogueira brothers engaging in homosexual acts, "Listen Wanderlei, I will do a home invasion on you. I will cut the power to your house and the next thing you'll hear is me climbing up your stairs in a pair of night vision goggles I bought in the back of Soldier of Fortune magazine. I'll pick the lock to the master room door, take a picture of you in bed with the Nogueira brothers working on your 'jiu-jitsu.'"

While Sonnen was continuing his xenophobic rants and tossing in the new element of "gay jokes," reports began to emerge that he would return to action against Lyoto Machida with a UFC 136 date attached. Sonnen had talked about "making a stop" at light heavyweight to take out "the karate guy," and Machida had also expressed interest.

Instead, a day later it was announced that Sonnen's return would come against Brian Stann at UFC 136.

With the UFC moving toward UFC 134 and months away from his return, Sonnen was still a central topic in the sport. And, when Jose Aldo and Lyoto Machida voiced concerns about Sonnen's style of fight promotion (and tendency to privately apologize to fighters he insulted), Sonnen responded with some of his regular nonsense.

Sonnen told Bloody Elbow, "any fighter I've granted a private audience with has been to allow them to kiss my ring, like I'm the POPE. If Hose A wants a private meeting next week in Rio, I'll grant him one. BUT...it may not be my ring he'll have to kiss..."

He would continue, "news flash, Lyoto: the spotlight is part and parcel for the gig. Go join a monastery if you want to pretend that fighting is about honor or integrity. And who are you to talk about being a big man? I don't see you changing diapers on flipper babies in Chernobyl."

Sonnen was actually set to work in Yushin Okami's corner for UFC 134, which was set to take place in Brazil. Those plans were scrapped when Brazilian based MMA brand Praetorian told Okami that they would pull their sponsorship if Sonnen appeared in his corner.

MMA Junkie's report on the story included another classic case of Sonnen taking a story and layering on top a web of fantasy:

Sonnen said friends in the country forwarded him a local-media report in which a police chief threatened to arrest him on sight if he showed. The official cited a law that makes disparaging the national identity a crime.

"You don't have freedom of speech in Brazil; put it like that," Sonnen told MMAjunkie.com after a workout at Team Quest Tualatin.

The source said Sonnen's claim is untrue.

UFC 136 would arrive with very little by way of Sonnen trash talk. Perhaps he felt it wouldn't go over well in Texas if he spent the lead-up to the fight running down a decorated military veteran in Stann.

While he may not have run him down outside the cage, he destroyed him once the fight started. Sonnen was able to score takedowns seemingly at will for two rounds and locked up an arm triangle in the second to end up with his hand raised.

It is also worth pointing out that the Stann fight saw Sonnen actually receive a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone replacement therapy. Making it, to our knowledge, the first time he legally used the synthetic testosterone treatment.

After a quiet build-up to the fight, Sonnen got back to business once a Brazilian was in his crosshairs as he took the microphone post fight to shout, "Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck."

The challenge was laid out, Sonnen wanted a rematch with Silva on the UFC's traditionally huge Super Bowl weekend show.

This was certainly a dream scenario for the UFC, but a hurdled remained as that card is historically held in Las Vegas with the intention of milking the high rollers who come to town to bet on the game. Sonnen still had issues to iron out with the state, namely the whole "using Keith Kizer's name in a blatant lie" thing.

Dana White once again was there to let the world know that Sonnen had been punished enough, and invoked the biggest fight sport star in the world in doing so, "Floyd Mayweather fights in Nevada. This guy's been arrested. He's got 50 lawyers defending him right now and all that crazy stuff, and he's fighting in Nevada. Don't even get me going on that one. There's no reason why they shouldn't license Chael. It shouldn't even cross my mind. The thought of whether Chael could get licensed in Nevada or California or anywhere else should be the least of my worries. The guy did everything that he was told to do. "

Silva would state that he felt Sonnen "does not deserve" the fight and joined in the chorus running down Sonnen's antics, "By doing these antics he ends up denigrating the image of the sport. There's no room for that in this sport."

But, while Silva was sidelined with a shoulder injury, White told Jim Rome that the fight would happen.

"It's the fight that everybody wants to see. People want to see Chael vs. Anderson," White claimed. "Anderson is in this position where he feels like the guy is so disrespectful he doesn't want to give him a shot.

"But Anderson will end up fighting Chael. The answer is yes."

A date was not set, and Sonnen would actually end up with one last hurdle to clear in the cage before the rematch would come to fruition.

But that's a topic for our next entry in the series...

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