Whatever your opinion of Chael Sonnen, no one can deny the ‘American Gangster’ puts his money where his mouth is.
And it is quite a mouth, one that before Conor McGregor was the stand-out voice in the MMA world. Sonnen modernised the way a fighter is expected to sell a contest. As unapologetic as he is charismatic, Sonnen can still command an audience with the flick of his hand and turn of a phrase.
Sonnen’s sometimes abrasive, often hysterical promotional skills mark him out as a target for many fight fans. Proclaiming yourself as the greatest fighter of all time with a 31-15-1 record tends to raise a few eyebrows.
But there is no denying it, Sonnen will fight anyone, anytime, anywhere. This weekend is no different. Sonnen fights heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko. The two veterans clash in the second semi-final of Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix, with the winner progressing to face Ryan Bader in the final showcase.
Sonnen started off as a light heavyweight and then settled at middleweight for the brightest period of his career. A short-lived return to light heavyweight before retirement in 2013 seemed to spell the end of the self-proclaimed ‘Bad Guy’, that is before Bellator came knocking.
Tito Ortiz tempted Sonnen out of retirement in 2017, and despite defeat to his bitter rival, he continued fighting. Sonnen earned a win over all-time great Wanderlei Silva and then Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson in his heavyweight debut.
At 41, Sonnen now steps into the Bellator cage with one of the most feared fighters in the history of the sport, called the Last Emperor by his legion of fans. But it is not the first time Sonnen has embraced a challenge. Sonnen has already fought arguably the two greatest UFC fighters ever, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva (x2).
Coming from a wrestling background, Sonnen explains why taking on the best of the best, time and time again, is not such a wild concept.
‘I only have one resentment in this sport and that’s that we only get to do it three times a year. I hate that. As a wrestler we’d have five to six matches a week, have 30 matches a month,’ Sonnen said.
‘In the wrestling world you’d take on those big names two to three times in one season. You’d have four of five seasons alone in college.
‘I will take any match. You can bring me a bum or bring me a champion and I’ll treat them all the same.’
Notable opponents: Anderson Silva (x2), Jon Jones, Michael Bisping, Wanderlei Silva, Tito Ortiz, Paulo Filho
The wrestling tradition is one that pits the best against the best month to month, year to year. For example, Sonnen crossed paths with Tito Ortiz 20 years ago when both were college wrestlers. Their 2017 showdown was a fight to settle very, very old scores, but for Sonnen it was his wrestling DNA that drove him to accept the challenge despite being three years removed from his last pro fight.
‘Even the guys I fiercely dislike in this sport, I don’t want them to have bad lives. I just competitively want to beat them,’ Sonnen explains. ‘But I look for that stuff. I don’t look to be in awe of someone. This is combat. Fedor doesn’t bring anything that I don’t. We have so many cowards in this sport.
‘Our fans are turning into cowards. The fighters in the locker room have been chickens for years. That’s really who my message is for. It’s not for Fedor, it’s for the guys on the roster who duck and dive and call in sick and don’t want to make weight and need more money.
‘Any other excuse they can think of rather than go out there and do the heavy lifting. That’s who the message is to.’
As is common in a wrestler’s mentality, it is always about the next match.
‘I always resist the term legacy, it’s a fair [term] but I just resist it,’ Sonnen continues. ‘I had great college [years], had some great memories and was an All-American.
‘But aside from just now, I don’t think I’ve said those words in 20 years. I don’t want to be remembered for something I used to do.
‘As my life moves on I want to have new goals, so I’m not a big legacy guy. But personally, I can tell you from the losses I’ve had, they kept me up and hurt me bad. I do everything to avoid them and I would like to win this match.’
Wrestling and his upbringing shaped Sonnen and gave him an insatiable appetite for work, but also made him a fighter to be admired. He ‘hates’ days off, balances commentary gigs with fighting and admits he gets ‘jealous’ every time he watches a fighter bathe in the limelight of a big fight night.
Sonnen will be remembered as a fighter you couldn’t shut up and couldn’t stop fighting. It’s a decent legacy, despite falling short against the GOATS of the sport. Wanderlei Silva, Jon Jones, Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffin, Anderson Silva, Michael Bisping, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson and now Fedor Emelianenko – Sonnen’s record reads of a man unafraid of any challenge.
‘Maybe I need to re-evaluate,’ Sonnen said when asked this week if he considers fighting the world’s best a unique legacy. ‘Maybe it is an honour, but I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as hard.
‘I’ve never got to enjoy my career, which I regret. I wish I did. I wish I enjoyed some of the moments, but it’s always been so hard – the work, the stress, the environment, the competition and everything on the line.
‘I never thought of it like that. When I was a wrestler, you took on everybody. In fighting I never looked at myself as fortunate but maybe I’m looking at it wrong.
‘I think I have been fortunate, but I’ve just never looked at it like that. There’s guys on the roster and we meet up and fight whenever we can, and move on. I suppose there’s something to that and maybe I should appreciate it more.’
Source : https://metro.co.uk/2018/10/13/chael-sonnens-insatiable-wrestlers-appetite-created-a-fighter-unafraid-of-any-goat-8035448/