Sonnen went from a 15-8-1 journeyman who was kicked out of the UFC to a fighter who challenged Anderson Silva twice for the title and is now starring in the next season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones, and will also be getting a shot at Jones' belt in April when the show concludes.
This miraculous turn of events wasn't the product of a vast increase in abilities or rededication to the principles of MMA. It was almost entirely due to Sonnen's new-found talents with a microphone—his silver-tongue, stinging wit and his professional wrestling-like gimmick.
Sonnen's second run in the UFC was when things began to change for him.
Evidently, Sonnen realized that in order to get ahead in the fight business he needed to start talking, and he began to do that in spades. Over a short time, "Chael Sonnen" became a name, a known commodity, especially around the time he fought Nate Marquardt.
"Did you hear what this Chael Sonnen guy is saying about Anderson Silva?" was a common question asked around that time.
And people heard, people listened, and most importantly, people bought.
Sonnen went from a no-name to a fighter capable of carrying a PPV with Anderson Silva, drawing an estimated 600,000 buys.
His performance against Silva that saw him wreck the champion for four and half rounds despite eventually losing further enhanced Sonnen's reputation as a star, his failed drug test after the fight due to an off T/E ratio notwithstanding.
Sonnen returned after his suspension, continued his witty ways, and eventually earned another shot at Silva at UFC 148, a PPV that nearly reached the hallowed one million buys mark. He lost again but still made out like a bandit, since he's now apparently the number one contender in a totally different weight class.
The UFC has never had a situation quite like this.
Yes, some fighters act tough and braggadocious in an attempt to achieve more fame and notoriety, the most notable example being the brash and fiery Tito Ortiz who sold tickets and pay-per-views by becoming the bad boy that everybody either loved or loved to hate (for most people, it was the latter). However, such men lack the humor and over-the-top mentality that Sonnen has.
Ortiz and his ilk are just tough, "badass" men who want to hurt people; they're just an attitude.
Sonnen is something more."Chael P. Sonnen" (with the "P" standing for perfection) is a fully fleshed out character, a professional wrestler who really hits, chokes, and slams people and through is antics creates an instant sense of high-caliber fighter legitimacy—both through generating sales and through the gullibility of fans who become giddy when hearing something other than the usual "I respect him, he's a great opponent" routine.
This meteoric rise was made possible by talking often, loudly, and outlandishly. No other fighters in MMA history have been smart enough to essentially fabricate a claim on two world titles in such a way.