Chael Sonnen fell up short against MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko last night, succumbing to a barrage of ground-and-pound in the semi-finals of Bellator’s heavyweight Grand Prix tournament at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
Sonnen, who is one of the most entertaining promoters in mixed martial arts, was dropped by Emelianenko in the first few seconds of the fight and never made it out of the opening round.
Speaking to reporters at the Bellator 208 post-fight press conference, Sonnen commended Emelianenko on his explosiveness and athleticism.
“I would call him explosive,” Sonnen said, per MMA Fighting’s Jose Youngs. “With his punches, there wasn’t a ton of set-ups, they just came and they came hard. Even on the ground, I had some good positions on him and he would just explode. It weren’t exactly technique-based. It was impressive. He’s an impressive athlete.”
Sonnen did have moments of success against Emelianenko, at one point taking ‘The Last Emperor's’ back and securing dominant position on the ground. Shortly after securing back mount, however, the three-time UFC title challenger tried to roll Fedor into a submission hold but ended up being reversed and blasted by Emelianenko’s trademark ground-and-pound.
“The dive roll, I was going to lose that position anyway,” he said. “I was falling over the top so I tried to tuck his chin and go. I used to do that move all of the time in college and I always got it. But I missed it tonight. I rolled right over.”
Sonnen, a 2000 Greco-Roman silver medalist at the World University Championships, was eventually stopped by ground-and-pound at 4:36 of the first round.
The 41-year-old said he was trying to ‘rope-a-dope’ Emelianenko towards the end of the round but admitted that it was a ‘bad plan’. Sonnen, who has been competing in MMA for over twenty one years, said he had never been ‘ground-and-pounded like that’ in his entire career.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been ground-and-pounded like that,” said Sonnen. “I thought there was opportunity there. I was covering up and I thought that he was slowing down. The referee warned me — he said, ‘If you don’t move I am going to stop this.’ But I didn’t think he would because they were gong into my hands. I thought I was blocking them. I thought I was having a rope-a-dope moment. I thought I was luring him in. That was a bad strategy it turns out. That was a bad plan.”
Sonnen, who has fought at middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, told reporters that he would like to return to 205-pounds in his next fight under the Bellator banner. Emelianenko will move on to the tournament finals against Ryan Bader on Jan. 26, 2019.
“We’ll see what happens,” Sonnen said. “If they want to do a losers ball and play this thing all the way out to third [place] then maybe we do that. But I don’t know. That’s up to (Bellator president) Scott Coker. If you ask me what weight class I’d rather be in, I’d say 205 is more appropriate.”