The UFC has always been about the brand before the fighters. Chael Sonnen was able to upset that trend when he became a major star and fan favorite, even though his record wasn't the greatest. Now that he has walked away from the sport, it's clear that his contributions outside the cage were more important than those within the Octagon.
On Wednesday he announced his retirement from mixed martial arts. After failing another drug test, he has officially retired from active competition.
He was an admitted testosterone replacement therapy user who openly questioned the ban by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. This forced Sonnen and other fighters to stop using the treatment. A random test administered by the NSAC revealed two illegal substances in his system, anastrozole and clomiphene, both of which are primarily used for treating women.
The results led to Sonnen ending his career during a monologue on UFC Tonight. His statement pointed toward family desires that caused the need for using the illegal substances.
“If I know what I know now, and I know that this is going to work, and I'm going to be able to get my wife pregnant and look forward to having a family, I am going to do the exact same thing 20 more times,” he said on-air, as documented by Sherdog. “Which is going to put me out of compliance 20 more times.”
Just like that, Sonnen's UFC run is over. He went from a potential title eliminator against Vitor Belfort at UFC 175 to being a former competitor. Now, the conversation turns to Sonnen's legacy in MMA.
While his record may not support it, there is little doubt that he will eventually be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He has conducted himself in the exact way that the UFC would like.
It's well-known that the company tends to reward those who are the most compliant to its needs. Sonnen has always been such an athlete, regardless of his issues with PED usage. Taking late-notice fights and being a draw to pay-per-view events kept him in the UFC's good graces regardless of his performances.
His contribution to the world of MMA is that he's the blueprint of how fighters can become stars. Sonnen was a middle-tier fighter who put together a 7-7 run in the UFC. However, his ability to talk on the microphone and keep people excited about his fights helped him stay relevant in the sport. Other fighters, such as Conor McGregor, are using similar tactics. While everyone may not enjoy the way he did it, the fact remains that his promotional skills were effective.
“Chael's a nice guy. I've met him and hung out with him,” UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell told MMA Junkie's Steven Marrocco. “I can't stand the way he promotes fights. I understand what he's doing; he wasn't the most exciting fighter, so he made himself exciting by promoting the fight really well, and he got himself a couple of title shots for it.”
MMA now has more and more fighters who are willing to speak their minds and even exaggerate a bit to get the nudge up the ladder that they want. The sport can thank Sonnen.
“The Gangster from West Linn” will not be a part of any conversation about the greatest UFC fighter of all time. However, he contributed to the sport in a way that those who come after him should appreciate and implement.