With any luck, MMA fans, the fighter you love to hate will be back in your lives very soon.
Chael Sonnen all but skated last week on the federal mortgage fraud charges that caused his contract with the UFC to be frozen a few months back. The embattled middleweight contender received just a $10,000 fine and two years probation after pleading guilty to the government’s accusation he used his realtor’s license to participate in a shady scheme at home in Oregon some five years ago. When you consider that Sonnen’s suspension in California for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone after UFC 117 also lapsed a week or two ago, it seems like he might be very close to a return to the Octagon.
As if to announce his presence among the living, Sonnen made his first high-profile media appearance with AOL’s Ariel Helwani last week, during which he blasted prospective opponents Wanderlei Silva and Michael Bisping and called the entire light heavyweight division “cowards” for being (his words, mind you) “afraid” to step up and challenge new champion Jon Jones. It was, to borrow the phrase of the moment from UFC President Dana White, business as usual.
As it always does, Sonnen’s performance raised hackles across the industry, with several writers and analysts wondering aloud if his marketability is “worth it” for the UFC to put up with the trouble that travels in the former University of Oregon wrestler’s hip pocket. To this, we must answer an emphatic yes.
Sonnen may have what can only be described as a near-sociopathic relationship with the truth, but one thing we know for certain about him is that he’s one of the sport’s most sellable personalities. Somehow, during the last couple of years Sonnen has been able to vault himself from second-tier nobody to main-event draw, mostly on the basis of his mouth. Well, he also won some fights nobody expected him to win and then put champion Anderson Silva through the toughest test of his UFC career before falling just short at 117.
At this point, maybe it’s that last part that makes him so interesting. Despite all the crazy things that fly out of his yap when the cameras are around, the most compelling thing about the 2011 version of Chael Sonnen might simply being waiting to see if he can recreate the stunning success he had during 2009-10. Prior to those years, Sonnen had been strictly a B-lister and finding out if that sudden rise to the top was just a lightning-in-a-bottle style fluke will be a storyline even his most ardent detractors can understand.
But wait, not so fast. Sonnen still has one major administrative hoop to jump through before he can return to active duty. Sometime this month he’ll have to appear in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and explain why he said things about Executive Director Keith Kizer that sounded (at least to Kizer) like lies while pleading his case in California.
Sonnen has already tried to explain away his claims to the California commission that he’d discussed his controversial testosterone replacement therapy with Kizer by saying he simply misspoke. That explanation however sounds suspiciously like Bill Clinton trying to debate the definition of the word “is” in front of special prosecutors back in the 90s, so it’s a good bet Sonnen will have to do better when he actually meets with the NSAC. The commission will also have to decide whether his TRT is an appropriate treatment for an athlete that fights other men inside a cage.
If it doesn't clear the testosterone therapy, then Sonnen’s future becomes even more murky. If it does, look for the UFC’s most despised middleweight coming to an Octagon near you sometime this summer.