Chael Sonnen: Demystifying the Persona of a Pantomime Villain

James MacDonaldFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 30:  Host and mixed martial artist Chael Sonnen arrives at the Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards 2011 at the Palms Casino Resort November 30, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Chael Sonnen might very well be one of the nicest people in the sport of mixed martial arts. Wait, just hear me out before you begin foaming at the mouth and formulating a strongly worded reply in your head.

Far too many people have bought into the image that Chael portrays to the media, conflating fantasy and reality. It is time to demystify the ubiquitous notion that Chael P. Sonnen and the character he plays are somehow equivalent.

As a liberal who is firmly opposed to TRT, I am an unlikely member of the Chael Sonnen fan club. Despite this, I find myself compelled to defend a man who is slightly to the right of Glenn Beck.

It is a strange compulsion, no doubt. But a good man is a good man, and it is always worth clearing the name of a good man.

It is true that Chael hasn’t necessarily helped his image over the past couple of years, given his well-documented legal issues and the controversy surrounding his use of TRT. However, neither charge should necessarily be enough to write the man off as a felonious psychopath.

In reality, it seems to be well known within the industry that the self-proclaimed “Gangster from West Linn” is an absolute sweetheart when the cameras aren’t around—and even occasionally when they are around.

At the recent UFC 149 Fan Club Q&A, Michael Bisping appeared to blow Chael’s cover, telling the crowd what he really thinks of his former opponent:

Chael has a reputation, and I’m gonna ruin it right now. He’s actually one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. He really is. When we fought in Chicago, he was a gentleman. He really was. I was a little pissed off because I wanted to really talk some trash, you know. But I couldn’t do it because he’s such a nice guy.

Coming from one of the UFC’s biggest heels, that is quite a statement. Bisping rarely minces his words, nor does he unduly heap praise on his fellow fighters.

Of course, that is just one person’s opinion. We need a little more evidence in order to prosecute this case. 

Let me take you back to another Fan Club Q&A, this time at UFC 125.

A lady who was present that day decided to share a story about her grandson, who was suffering from a severe brain bleed and required surgery.

The day of the surgery, Chael called her grandson several times to check up on him. More telling still, Chael continued to call up and check on the boy in the days and weeks that followed.

There were no cameras present, no reporters and no means of relaying this deed to the masses. In fact, no one else would have known but for the lady’s decision to share this story with those in attendance.

My point? Chael did not get anything out of this, other than the satisfaction of doing something nice for a sick child.

My modest effort to tell the story probably does not do it justice. Go here to watch the emotional woman recall Chael’s gesture.

It would be fair to say that Chael has a soft spot for children, as evidenced by another story that flew under the radar.

Ty Costlow attended UFC 136 with his father and sought Chael Sonnen’s autograph. Instead of merely complying with this simple request, Chael lifted the boy over the security gate and gave him an experience to remember.

Chael invited Ty to join him in the post-fight photo sessions, took him to the locker room so that he could meet the fighters, had them sign various items for the boy and took him to Frankie Edgar’s locker room while he was warming up for his fight with Gray Maynard.

Chael then made sure that father and son got to watch the final two fights of the evening in the section that seated the various UFC fighters who were in attendance, capping off an unforgettable evening for the boy and his father.

Read a fuller account of the events here, straight from Ty’s father. Also, Dana White's UFC 137 video blog offers a brief glimpse of Chael's interaction with Ty.

Chael has made his share of mistakes, and many of them have been exposed for public scrutiny. However, the next time you witness an ill-informed fan attempt to denigrate Chael Sonnen’s character, assess that claim with a critical eye.

There is much more to the man than the pantomime villain that he portrays.