Stephen A. Smith has been widely criticized by the MMA community for his UFC 246 comments saying that he’s “disgusted” and thought Donald Cerrone “gave up.” Joe Rogan and Josh Thomson called him out for it, and Conor McGregor himself told Smith to apologize.
Chael Sonnen has since gone to bat for his ESPN colleague, saying that Smith graciously attended UFC 246 and brought with him a wider audience.
“For Stephen A. to come out and commentate on this — which by the way, I’ll just share with you. The numbers go through the roof when Stephen A. comes to the microphone,” Sonnen explained on his YouTube channel. “So many times in MMA I keep hearing that ‘we want to be mainstream. Why aren’t we mainstream? Why aren’t we being shown the respect of mainstream?’
“When you have the most mainstream guy in the sport come and talk on the desk live at the venue about your sport — that by the way, he sat in the front row and observed as a fan — when he comes and does that, and then you reject it, do you really want to be mainstream?”
Sonnen went further and claimed that Stephen A. Smith was “misinterpreted” and that it isn’t him that should apologize, it is the other way around.
“Don’t forget, anybody that thinks Stephen A. called Cowboy disgusting heard it wrong. It’s not what he said. He said he was disgusted for Cowboy, that Cowboy did not — Stephen’s analysis — step back, gain his wits... grab ahold of Conor, take a deep breath,” Sonnen said. “He’s right about that!
“So to act as though he’s not an MMA expert, he is not pretending he is! To act as though the analysis he gave as a viewer, who witnessed something — he’s right!” he continued.
“Nobody here was insulted. Somebody here was misinterpreted. That somebody is Stephen A. and many people owe him an apology.”
You can watch Sonnen’s full defense of Smith here:
Here’s a few things to consider:
Sonnen and Smith are colleagues at ESPN, so it isn’t the most surprising thing to see the outspoken UFC veteran to talk about a hot issue, say something controversial, and come out to defend him.
You can read Smith’s original comments and debate the meaning of disgusted “by” or “for” all you want, but you’d really just be missing the point.
Interestingly enough, what’s common in Sonnen’s defense and Smith’s follow up statements, is that both seem to (intentionally?) dodge the actual issue people had. People weren’t really upset that he was “disgusted” as Sonnen says, or how Conor “didn’t show us much in 40 seconds” like Smith explained. People like Rogan, Thomson, and McGregor’s main complaint is all about him saying that Cowboy “gave up.”
Like Rogan said, Cowboy broke bones in his face, got head kicked, and was stopped by arguably the sport’s most dangerous finisher. Calling him a quitter for losing that way isn’t defensible in any way, which is likely why neither Smith nor Sonnen brought it up again.
Sonnen is right that Stephen A. Smith does bring in numbers for ESPN as one of their talking heads. He does this by spewing hot-takes to get a reaction from people — regardless if it’s positive or negative — and he did just that at UFC 246.
Smith got that reaction from MMA fans, and as a result, personalities with huge platforms like Rogan and McGregor talked about it. Several media outlets (including this one) are still talking about it. I’m not one to really care too much about these hot-take commentators or what they have to say, but for all intents and purposes, Smith did his job, and he did it well.
Let’s not pretend he’s right or he’s owed an apology though.