Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
To the outside observer, it has been a rough couple of months for former UFC fighter Chael Sonnen. The light heavyweight was handed a two-year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission after a failed drug test, and he was subsequently removed from a doomed UFC 175 card — his opponent-to-be, Wanderlei Silva, refused to take a random drug test administered by the commission and was also pulled from the event — but Sonnen had announced his retirement from mixed martial arts competition prior to the suspension. It is possible, however, that this retirement will be short-lived, because while he is hanging up the UFC gloves, he will be putting his wrestling and newly acquired jiu jitsu skills to the test when he squares off against Andre Galvao at Metamoris 4, a high-profile submission-only wrestling/grappling event.
The wishful thinking from fans of Sonnen, aka The American Gangster, will be likely be at an all-time high for the duration of his suspension. One of the most marketable figures in when he was in the UFC, Sonnen brought the same intense, grandstanding, Ali-like angles to hyping up fights and matched that intensity in the octagon. He was a take-on-all-comers, seemingly fearless fighter, squaring off against arguably the greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts, Anderson Silva, not once but twice. He also agreed to fight superstar light heavyweight fighter Jon Jones on eight days notice, an offer that Jones refused, although they did eventually face off and Sonnen fell short.
Since the suspension, Jones has commended Sonnen for the way he handled the situation, one that is very touchy and complicated. Yet another athletic governing body that doesn’t seem to handle sanctions in an effective manner is the NSAC, who had given exemptions for testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) to a handful of fighters, but subsequently banned the treatment, giving an ostensibly insufficient buffer for the athletes who were on it to wean off. In turn, Sonnen supplemented this by taking several substances, one of which was a fertility drug used to uptick testosterone production, all of which were banned. It was a tough situation, and in the court of public opinion many may see Sonnen as a “cheater”, but a reluctant one given the corner he was in. When asked to comment by MMAFighting.com, Sonnen didn’t put up a fight against the results of the test but did add that, “I will cooperate with the Commission and look forward to having a dialogue about how fighters who transition off TRT can avoid violating any rules.”
Moving forward from this debacle, Sonnen now finds himself back in the spotlight. It might be slightly smaller, removed from the ravenous fans that pack arenas around the world for UFC events, but any time The American Gangster gets in front of the camera or someone hands him a microphone and points him toward a stage, he makes it a spectacle. On the more technical side of the fourth installment of Metamoris — founded by Ralek Gracie, a member of the family who put jiu-jitsu on the map — Sonnen has essentially been taking a crash course in jiu-jitsu in the lead-up to the match, saying to his trainer, “I have no belt in jiu-jitsu. Within a week I need to be a black belt, and within three I need to be the best in the world.” These may sound like lofty aspirations for some, but the former NCAA Division-I wrestler looks to have the drive and the mettle to make it happen. That mindset also adds validity to the tremendous amount of guts he possesses. Many have said, and it is evident in his UFC record, that he is prone to getting caught in submissions; case in point his first fight against Anderson Silva, which saw Sonnen completely control the fight with flawless wrestling and excellent cardio and endurance for four and a half rounds, only to get caught in a triangle choke from Silva and tap out. To turn this supposed weakness into a strength and round out his game, to go into his opponent’s realm and poke the bear — Galvao is a multiple world champion and third-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu — is nothing short of inspirational.
While he hasn’t been as outspoken in the countdown to the event, Sonnen is still sticking to his subtly brash demeanour, even if he lets us all in on the humbler side of Chael every once in a while. One of the most polarizing figures in mixed martial arts, and in all of sports, will continue his career on August 9 at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Ca. As a fan, here’s hoping that he can and will put on another phenomenal show and continue to be an outstanding martial arts competitor.
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