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The Long, Strange Journey of UFC Star Chael Sonnen

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Chael Sonnen has had quite a 2010. From pygmies to steroids, from politics to probation, it's been a heck of a ride. Bloody Elbow was there all year long to chronicle the journey.

2/6/2010: The year starts well for the charismatic wrestler, as he upsets top contender Nate Marquardt at UFC 109. Sonnen earns Fight of the Night honors by controlling Nate on the mat. True to form, he nearly throws away a fight's worth of work when Marquardt grabs a guillotine and ends the fight pounding away at a helpless and bloody Sonnen. With the win, Sonnen earned a title shot at the nigh unbeatable Anderson Silva.

"He brings something different into the fight that a lot of people are going to look at," Dana White said at the post fight press conference. "If he gets this thing to the ground, it'll be an interesting fight. He popped out of nowhere, and it's a beautiful thing."

April 2010: Sonnen goes into full on pro wrestling mode to promote his August fight with Silva. Despite being in a midst of a political campaign, Sonnen treads dangerous water by making comments and tweets bordering on xenophobic and racist. Many MMA fans, however, were eating it up:

Chael Sonnen wants to be the knight in shining armor, rescuing the sport from the man he sees as a "gangster," part of a tribe of "savages" that speak a language "half a step up from Pig Latin." Sonnen actually believes his xenophobic banter will make him the hero, not the heel. Sadly, he may be right.

June 10, 2010: Sonnen's tweets come to the attention of the Huffington Post, a liberal media site with a huge reach. Writer Dedrick Muhammed calls out the media in Oregon for ignoring Chael's hijinks:

What we do know about Chael Sonnen is that he is the number one contender for the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) middleweight title and a Republican nominee for the Oregon State Legislature. In the UFC, Chael Sonnen has become better known for vitriol and increasingly racist sounding messages on twitter than his fighting ability. Now I am waiting for these xenophobic and scathing public pronouncements to bring him infamy in the political world where he is also competing.

June 11, 2010: Sonnen takes his show on the road, performing at the UFC 115 Question and Answer session. In front of thousands of fans he takes on some of the sport's sacred cows, including the great Antonio Nogueira. "A black belt from the Nogueira brother’s is like saying I got a free toy in my happy meal." Sonnen also denies he made controversial comments attributed to him on twitter:

"The truth is, I don't have a Twitter account. The one thing that bothers me about those, besides that they were confusing, was that it only said "Ed." Ed Soares has got to be getting pretty arrogant if he thinks he's like Cher and has only one name. What has he done besides becoming the world's most famous interpreter? Somehow he even got himself into the [UFC] video game."

Unfortunately for him, he was caught on tape in an interview with AOL Fanhouse's Ariel Helwani, not only discussing his twitter account, but spelling out the address.

June 16, 2010: The local paper, The Willamette Week, grabs a hold of the story:

Oregon legislative candidate and mixed-martial arts fighter Chael Sonnen is making quite a reputation for himself.

Unfortunately and Rogue-ishly, telling the truth isn’t part of that reputation.

Sonnen drops out of the race:

"In the best interests of my district, I am resigning from my campaign for the Oregon House of Representatives. A 2006 legal issue has arisen that needs my immediate attention. I am not at liberty to disclose the details, but my name was involved in a real estate case that requires a ruling. If the ruling is adverse, I would be disqualified from running for office until 2011. So, given that possibility, I have chosen to withdraw my name as a candidate in 2010. I will continue to contribute to my community and ensure that we have a capable candidate to run for my district in November."

August 3, 2010: On Pro MMA Radio, Sonnen goes off on beloved cyclist Lance Armstrong, accusing the Tour De France champion of giving himself cancer. Sonnen's anti-drug campaign will look even funnier in a few short months:

"When you screw up, you have to own it. That stuff really gets under my skin. Take Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong did a number of things and he gave himself cancer. He cheated, he did drugs, and he gave himself cancer. Well, instead of saying ‘Hey listen, I cheated and gave myself cancer, don't be like me.' He actually made himself the victim and then went out and profited something like $15 million dollars from this ‘Hey, poor me, let's find a cure for cancer' campaign instead of just coming clean and saying, ‘Look, here's what I did, I screwed myself up, and I hope people learn from my mistakes.' You just watch these guys and can't help but think, God, what a fraud. You got the whole Michael Phelps being a pothead thing too. I'm just glad I'm in the business I'm in so I can get them in the cage and kick the crap out of them."

And the year was just getting started. Much more after the jump!

August 5, 2010: Sonnen, as he did with his twitter account, denies he ever did an interview with Larry Pepe and Pro MMA Radio. Sonnen told Helwani and later mainstream sports talking head Jim Rome that he didn't make the Armstrong comments. Our own Brent Brookhouse was not amused:

This seems to be the new trend in fighter/media relations. Fighters give quotes or information to media and as soon as the slightest bit of heat comes back on them suddenly they claim that they never said it or the quote was taken out of context.

August 7, 2010: Sonnen almost pulls off the upset of the century, dominating Anderson Silva for most of a five round fight. Alas, it wasn't meant to be, as Anderson Silva pulled a submission from nowhere. I called it one of the greatest moments in MMA history:

As the fifth and final round opened the impossible seemed a real possibility. Sonnen had only to survive to pull off the biggest upset in UFC history. And then, it was Sonnen being Sonnen, beating himself in the biggest fight of his life. Seconds before the triangle choke that ended his night I tweeted that he was begging to be armbarred. Perhaps looking for an exciting finish, Sonnen got careless. He left his arms wide open, recklessly attacking the champion who lay prone beneath him. Like a true champion, Silva made him pay.

August 10, 2010: The Wrestling Observer's Bryan Alvarez estimates that UFC 117 did a million pay per view buys. Sonnen was declared a promotional genius. Kid Nate saw the event as a potential paradigm shift in the way events are promoted:

I predict that other UFC fighters will attempt to ape Sonnen's approach in the future. If you don't like trash talk before fights, cover your ears.

August 17, 2010: Dave Meltzer rains on Sonnen's parade by revising the UFC 117 PPV estimates. Instead of an amazing 1,000,000 buys, the show actually did a pedestrian number:

UFC staff was told early last week that the UFC 117 numbers were looking to be just under 600,000 buys, significantly down from fight night expectations. I had actually predicted 550,000, though when the show was over the feeling I had was that it was an easy 1 million buys show.

September 19, 2010: Sherdog shocks the world by breaking the news that Sonnen tested positive for a banned substance during his title fight with Silva in August:

According to California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer George Dodd, Chael Sonnen has been notified that he failed post-fight drug screening following his loss to Anderson Silva at UFC 117, which was held Aug. 7 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

September 22, 2010: Details emerge about Sonnen's failed test. California, per usual, does a terrible job communicating with the media and fails to clearly explain the issue. Lance Pugmire of the LA Times gets the scoop:

Chael Sonnen tested positive for a steroid before his Oakland loss to Anderson Silva, CSAC exec. George Dodd tells me... Said a "natural steroid."

Sonnen's issues are trumpeted in the mainstream press, finally it seems, taking note of mixed martial arts. Jim Rome, an earlier victim of a Sonnen lie, sounds off:

Then comes word that he reportedly was popped for roids. reported that he flunked a post-fight urinalysis after that loss to Silva in the main event of UFC 117. So we have to wait and see what’s true and what’s not. If in fact that’s true, this guy’s got major problems. That’s a bad deal for him. Bad for him, bad for the sport, but mostly bad for him.

By the end of the day, California announced it was suspending Sonnen for one year:

A sample from Sonnen's August 6 drug test came back with a high T/E (testosterone-to-estrogen) level, which is indicative of anabolic steroid use. CSAC learned of the results September 2 and ordered a second test, which also came back positive for steroid use. CSAC received test results from the second sample on September 14 and suspended Sonnen two days later. He is suspended for one year. Sonnen has 30 days to appeal the decision.

October 4, 2010: At a UFC Fight Night 22 Q+A for the fans in September, Sonnen took shots at UFC Heavyweight star Brock Lesnar:

"If Brock Lesnar was here right now, I'd take my boot off and throw it at him, and he'd better polish it up before he brings it back to me," Sonnen said. "Talking about he's the baddest guy in the UFC? Brock, quit eating so many raw eggs and doing push-ups because it's affecting your realm of reality. Are you kidding me? I'd slap you in your face, and you wouldn't do anything.

"'I'm Brock Lesnar. I've got this $5 haircut and a knife tattooed on my chest.' I'll shove it up your face if you get in Chael Sonnen's way."

On Jim Rome's show Lesnar gets the last laugh:

"I don't know who he is."

December 2, 2010: Sonnen appears before the California Athletic Commission to appeal his one year suspension. The suspension was reduced to six months, but not before the fighter revealed some embarassing secrets:

Chael Sonnen is sworn in. Sonnen claims he filed all the paperwork that was asked of him, and that his Doctor sent the letter explaining his use of testosterone to the commission. Sonnen explains that his return to California for the Silva fight at UFC 117 involved a much more "sophisticated" process than his first fight in California. Sonnen has no problem discussing his use of testosterone, but does not want to "relive his youth" when he did not go through puberty. Sonnen explains that the drug testing procedure changed between his two fights, specifically that USADA was involved in submitting his sample at UFC 117. Sonnen jokes that he could not have told anyone else about his use of testosterone short of grabbing the microphone from Joe Rogan and announcing it to the world.

December 10, 2010: Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer, one of the most powerful regulators in the sport, scuttles any talk of Sonnen coaching The Ultimate Fighter opposite Wanderlei Silva. Angered by Sonnen's claims that he had received permission to use Testosterone Replacement Therapy when fighting in Nevada, Kizer makes it clear fighting in his state again will require more than rubber stamp approval. I questioned whether it was wise for Sonnen to use Kizer's name in his California testimony:

Sonnen spins a good tale. It helped him cloud the minds of the California Commission, a jedi-like power making it clear to them 'this wasn't the suspension they were looking for.' But it has cost him in Nevada. A better strategy might have been to simply claim confusion over the California policy. After all, the Commission members themselves seemed confused about their own policies. Throwing Kizer under the bus was taking things a step too far. And while MMA fans seem the forgiving sort, Kizer may not be. It will be interesting to see what happens the next time he wants to fight in Nevada.

January 3, 2011: Sonnen pleads guilty to money laundering charges. Watch Kalib Run's S.C. Michaelson breaks down exactly what happened:

In laymen's terms, Crown Point Enterprises, a mortgage company whose legal documents you can read here, was trying to "sweeten" the pot for a buyer to purchase a home so they offered a kickback. They drummed up false repairs that the house "needed" as part of the sale of the house. Of course, the house didn't need repairs. Sonnen had negotiated previously with to not actually do anything but use the repair company as a conduit to pass the money on to Sonnen, who would then pass it on to the buyer.

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