LAS VEGAS — A lawyer for Chael Sonnen has twice responded to an official letter from the Nevada State Athletic Commission that attempted to prevent Sonnen from competing on Saturday's Metamoris event in Los Angeles. As of Wednesday morning, the commission has yet to reply.
UPDATE: Thursday, 1:16 a.m. ET
On Wednesday afternoon, Sonnen lawyer Ross Goodman sent what he described as "one final shot across the bow" to Francisco Aguilar, the chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The letter marks one final attempt to get some sort of official comment from the commission regarding Sonnen's participation in Metamoris 4 on Saturday.
Despite the commission's threats, Sonnen has elected to compete at Metamoris and will be traveling to Los Angeles on Thursday morning.
Bleacher Report obtained a copy of Goodman's third letter to Aguilar, which thus far has been unanswered. Here is the text in full:
Dear Chairman Aguilar:
As a result of your initial letter putting at issue for the first time that the NSAC considers the M4 grappling event to be part of the suspension, M4 has repeatedly sought written assurances from Mr. Sonnen that he will compete this Saturday. It was our hope in sending a series of responses that we could have scheduled a meeting by now to discuss a resolution to this issue or, at a minimum, to better understand your position in light of the previously provided analysis, to include, public remarks by you which appear to confirm your understanding that jiu jitsu was not part of the suspension order. Because it does not involve striking of any kind and is in no way a MMA-style event, we believe that Mr. Sonnen’s participation in M4 this weekend does not violate the NSAC Order or interfere with Mr. Sonnen’s ability to earn a living during the 2 year suspension outside of unarmed combat.
While we are still hopeful to discuss this issue with you, at this point we can only presume that the lack of any response from the NSAC is a tacit approval that the M4 grappling event is not considered a violation of the suspension order.
Very truly yours,
Ross C. Goodman, Esq.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 3:15 p.m. ET
UPDATE: Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. ET
Sonnen's lawyer, Ross Goodman, told Bleacher Report that if he does not receive a response from the commission by 3 p.m. ET today, he will send another letter to the commission notifying them of Sonnen's intent to compete at Metamoris.
Goodman said it is bizarre that the commission has not responded, even after receiving the second letter (referenced below) that he sent to Aguilar referencing the chairman's comments at a July 23 hearing where Aguilar said Sonnen was fine to compete on the event.
"Chael wants to comply with the commission. He was surprised at getting the letter to begin with. So we're trying to respond and open up a dialogue to try and resolve the issue, which is what we've been trying to do. Unfortunately we haven't received a response," Goodman said. "We understand the commission has viewed the video of the remarks, and we trust that we would get some sort of a concession or approval that he is able to compete this weekend. But we haven't received that."
Goodman said that Sonnen is scheduled to leave for Los Angeles tomorrow.
—End of update—
Bleacher Report first broke the news of Sonnen's pending legal battle on Monday morning. UFC Hall of Fame member Randy Couture has been asked to take Sonnen's place should he be forced to withdraw from the event, according to multiple sources close to the situation.
On July 30, Francisco Aguilar, the chairman of the commission, notified Sonnen in writing that competing in Metamoris would violate the NSAC Order handed down two weeks ago when Sonnen was suspended for two years after failing two tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
Here is the text of Aguilar's letter in full (provided directly to Bleacher Report):
On July 23, 2014 you personally appeared with legal counsel before the Nevada State Athletic Commission (the "Commission") for a disciplinary hearing. You testified under oath regarding your use of five drugs that are prohibited at all times: Anastrozole, Clomifene, Erythropoletin, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, and Human Growth Hormone. While under oath, you promised that you would not fight in any jurisdiction during your two-year suspension.
Despite your promise, the Commission's reliance on your promise when it determined discipline, I now see that you had already scheduled a fight in California on August 8, 2014. Be advised that the occurrence of any fight is a breach of the Commission's Order and will subject you to further proceedings before the Commission. In addition, should you breach your agreement, the Commission reserves the fight to rescind the penalty imposed against you and reconsider a different form of punishment for your admitted violations.
Francisco V. Aguilar, Chairman
On August 1, Ross Goodman--a Las Vegas lawyer who has represented mixed martial arts notables including Wanderlei Silva and Nick Diaz--responded to Aguilar by official letter. Goodman's letter points out that the NSAC, according to regulation NRS 467.070, is charged with the "“management, control and jurisdiction over all contests or exhibitions of unarmed combat to be conducted.”
Bleacher Report obtained Goodman's response letters to Aguilar on Monday.
Under Nevada's own statutes (NRS 467.0107), "unarmed combat" is defined as:
“boxing or any form of competition in which a blow is usually struck which may reasonably be expected to inflict injury.”
Goodman's letter pointed out that since the Nevada commission's definition of unarmed combat is clearly defined as boxing or other competition where striking is allowed, then the commission itself has no power to regulate grappling or wrestling. In fact, Aguilar's letter to Sonnen marks the first time the commission has attempted to regulate any sort of grappling contest. Professional wrestling, which is regulated and taxed in many states despite being scripted entertainment, is not regulated by Nevada.
Goodman argued that Nevada is attempting to expand their definition of what constitutes unarmed combat, and doing so without due process:
There is no dispute that the NSAC has no jurisdiction or authority to regulate, license or sanction jiu-jitsu and other forms of grappling. Moreover, jiu-jitsu does not fall within the Nevada definition of unarmed combat because it does not involve “blows” of any kind.
Likewise, it would be a violation of due process to expand the interpretation of “fighting” broader than the statutory definition of unarmed combat. In our view, there could be no violation under NRS 467.885 as any interpretation to include jiu-jitsu or grappling would be outside of the NSAC’s jurisdiction and constitute an invalid order.
Goodman's initial letter also points out that Sonnen's participation in Metamoris was announced nearly one month before the July 23 hearing where his two-year suspension was handed down, and questions why the commission did not address Sonnen's participation in the event at the time.
Aguilar has not responded to the initial letter at the time of publication.
On Tuesday morning, Goodman sent a second letter to the Nevada commission. The second letter was also addressed to Aguilar, and a copy has been obtained by Bleacher Report.
As you may know, I endeavored to diligently respond within 24 hours to your initial letter given the time constraints of this weekend’s show and Mr. Sonnen’s contractual obligations with Metamoris pre-dating the NSAC hearing. In light of the detailed explanation underscoring Mr. Sonnen’s reasonable understanding that the 2 year suspension only applied to MMA or other NSAC sanctioned events, I have not received any response.
The letter directly references a July 23 interview (in Portuguese) conducted with Aguilar by Brazilian combat sports outlet Combate. During the interview, Combate journalist Evy Rodriguez asked Aguilar to confirm if Sonnen's Metamoris participation was covered by the suspension. Aguilar said it was not.
Rodrigeuz: But is it just an MMA fight because like he has a bout –
Aguilar: Anything sanctioned under our rules as an unarmed bout –combat, I believe he’s in wrestling and wrestling is not subject
Rodriguez: It’s like no gi grappling
Goodman's second letter concluded by asking Aguilar, in light of his own documented admission that Metamoris participation was not covered by the commission, to confirm that Sonnen's participation in the event did not violate his two-year NSAC suspension Order.
On Monday, Bleacher Report visited the Nevada Athletic Commission offices in Las Vegas. Executive director Bob Bennett did not wish to address the Sonnen issue on the record, but referred us to Nevada assistant attorney general Chris Eccles.
At the time of publication, Eccles has not responded to multiple voicemails left on his phone. The Nevada commission has also refused comment on the Sonnen situation. We'll continue our attempts to speak with all parties involved, so stay tuned for updates to this story.