Why the UFC Needs Chael Sonnen More Than Sonnen Needs the UFC

Dustin FilloyFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2013

Failing to capture a belt hasn't stopped Chael Sonnen from contributing greatly to the entertainment value and commercial success of the UFC.

Although Sonnen competed in 17 different organizations before signing with the UFC back in the 2005, it wasn't until nearly four years later that the "American Gangster" returned to the company with a fresh persona in mind.

In his second shot with the organization, Sonnen decided to take his aggressive, pressure-heavy style and add to it a brash, pro-wrestling-esque demeanor.

Some obviously considered Sonnen's antics immature and out of place, but the pre-fight hype and tirades on the likes of Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping helped transform the American Gangster from a run-of-the-mill UFC middleweight into a polarizing media darling.

Currently one of the organization's most profitable pay-per-view draws and a full-time analyst on Fuel TV's UFC Tonight, the following must be asked: Does Sonnen need the UFC more than the company needs him?

In his first stint with the UFC, between October 2005 and May 2006, the American Gangster lost two of three bouts, dropping a pair of fights via submission to Renato Sobral (triangle choke) and Jeremy Horn (armbar).

In that span, fans would have been hard-pressed to hear Sonnen in a pre-fight press conference belittling Sobral or Horn.

Truth be told, Sonnen, who always yearned to represent the sport of wrestling, embodied the humble warrior in his first stretch with the UFC. Sonnen was a man who showed up, fought valiantly and collected his paycheck before quietly heading home with his team—win or lose.

In an interview with B/R's Jonathan Snowden early last year, longtime Team Quest trainer Matt Lindland offered the following observations regarding Sonnen's reinvention of himself:

Coming from a wrestling background, he tried to take a more humble approach. Over the last couple of years he's taken a little different approach...Whether they hate him or they love him, they know who he is. They want to see him fight either way. I think it's important that he learned how to do that. This is what it takes in this industry. It's an entertainment industry. The promoters decide which fights are going to sell more tickets and those are the fights they put together. It's about building hype and putting on a show.

Once Sonnen understood that controversy through outlandish behavior would lead to increased ticket and pay-per-view sales, the 36-year-old realized that win or lose, he had a future in MMA.

Perhaps that's why (even though he's been deemed a 5-to-1 underdog by Bovada) Sonnen jumped at the chance to fight for the light heavyweight belt against seemingly unstoppable champ Jon Jones at UFC 159.

Although some consider him a disrespectful motormouth, Sonnen has parlayed his media attention into a more stable and safe career outside the Octagon. When he hangs up his gloves, the American Gangster will have plenty of opportunities waiting in the world of broadcast journalism.

On the contrary, in the UFC's case, president Dana White can only hope that guys like Sonnen stick around long enough to influence the sport's future main attractions.