Chael Sonnen has been hinting at a return to MMA for quite some time, and while he will be returning to competition, it won’t be in the UFC. The Associated Press’ Greg Beacham reported on Thursday night that Sonnen has signed a multi-fight deal with Bellator MMA. Details on the who, when, and where for his debut fight were not revealed, but there will be a conference call with Sonnen on Friday, which is also the date of Bellator 161. Fox Sports’ Damon Martin reports that “Sonnen reached an agreement with the UFC to exit the promotion as a free agent.”
Sonnen (29-14-1), a three-time UFC title challenger who became one of the most popular and controversial characters in the sport, starting with his legendary rivalry with Anderson Silva, has not fought since a 3rd round TKO loss to Rashad Evans at UFC 167. He was scheduled to fight Wanderlei Silva (who’s also now with Bellator), then Vitor Belfort at UFC 175, but was pulled from the event after failing a drug test. He failed an additional drug test, testing positive for (among other things) HGH and EPO, and announced his retirement from the sport. The Nevada Athletic Commission suspended him for 2 years, and his ban ended in July 2016.
The 39-year-old had entered the UFC’s USADA testing pool in July, although there was never any word on the results of those tests from the UFC or USADA. Sonnen himself said that he was “basically clean.”
MMA Fighting received this official statement from Bellator MMA president Scott Coker, which includes a list of possible opponents for Sonnen.
"Chael is an incredible athlete that has competed at the very highest levels of the sport," Coker said. "And I know that he is going to continue to do just that here at Bellator. When we were signing him, Chael was adamant that he wants to compete in three divisions here. He already has unfinished business with Wanderlei Silva, but he also wants to fight guys like Tito Ortiz, Fedor Emelianenko and even Rory MacDonald at middleweight. These are all fights that I'd be very inclined to watch, so hopefully we can put some, if not all of these match-ups together starting before the end of the year."
And this was Sonnen’s tweet after it was revealed that he was heading for Bellator after several years in the UFC.
The Rulers Back.— Chael Sonnen (@ChaelSonnen) September 16, 2016