MMA: Has Chael Sonnen Ultimately Been Positive or Negative for the UFC?
The name "Chael Sonnen" has become one of the most dubious in all of mixed martial arts. The former NCAA Division I All-American is one of the most hated men in MMA today.
It is easy—and perhaps justified—to immediately dismiss Sonnen as a cheater and a criminal since, after all, he did get busted for highly elevated levels of testosterone and for money laundering.
Nevertheless, Sonnen has been in the sport—as well as under the Zuffa banner—for quite some time. He was even 1:50 away from being the UFC middleweight champion!
So, when it is all said and done, were the actions taken by Chael Sonnen in the UFC ultimately positive or negative in the long term? Read and find out.
The Case for Chael Sonnen's Influence Being Negative
The case for Chael Sonnen ultimately being a negative force for the UFC, and for MMA, is relatively straightforward: He failed his drug test, found a questionable excuse for it, and then was implicated in a money laundering real estate scheme.
There is no doubt that the image of UFC and of the sport of MMA was tarnished, at least a little, by Sonnen's actions. Such dubious headlines about MMA are the last thing that the sport needed.
The sport has long had an image problem, especially among those who never did, and still don't, understand what the sport really is and who have the notion that the athletes are just barroom-brawlers a la Tank Abbott.
However, the UFC managed to mitigate most of the bad press by essentially suspending Sonnen until his legal woes were sorted out. Unfortunately for the former real estate agent, with the California State Athletic Commision's decision to uphold his suspension, it appears as though he may never fight again.
Because Sonnen may not be seen in the octagon for a long, long time, any sort of negativity caused by what he did won't spread far and will quickly die out.
The Case for Chael Sonnen's Influence Being Positive
Despite Sonnen's transgressions against the law, it cannot be said that Chael did not turn heads and in doing so, get fans to part with their money.
Now, some might say to this "So what, he helped sell one pay-per-view, UFC 117, against Anderson Silva!" Such a view does not take the wider context of the event into consideration.
Before UFC 117, Anderson Silva was not a well-liked figure by any stretch of the imagination. He was responsible for three superlatively lackluster title defenses, arguably the worst of which being against Demian Maia at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi—the UFC's first venture into that market.
Many fans were beginning to (if they hadn't already done so) believe that Anderson Silva was cocky and boring. His drawing power was suffering, as was his popularity.
Enter Chael Sonnen. Sonnen went on a complete and total verbal warpath against Silva when it was announced that they would fight; Sonnen had made more soundbytes in only a few weeks than George W. Bush did in eight years.
Sonnen would actually back up his talk, taking the fight to Silva throughout almost the entire match. He went on to lose via a hail-mary triangle choke at 3:10 in the final round.
To make a reference to Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi said, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine." The same was true for Sonnen.
In defeat, Sonnen did more than he could have in victory; He successfully saved Silva's reputation, and restored his drawing power and fan base.
The same skeptic would also say, "So what, he helped one fighter!" That notion is wrong.
While Sonnen was in the UFC he also managed to fall perennial middleweight contenders Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt via his superior wrestling skills. Both fighters stepped up their wrestling training after losing to Sonnen. Okami even trained with Sonnen!
Thus, the increased wrestling skill of both Marquardt and Okami is part of Sonnen's influence in the UFC. Who knows, perhaps an Okami victory at UFC 134 will be the closest Chael Sonnen can come to getting revenge on his nemesis?
Final Verdict: Neutral
Chael Sonnen did things that were dishonest and illegal and, in doing so, caused embarrassment to the UFC and to the very sport of MMA itself. But, this does not necessarily mean that everything he did in the UFC was bad, quite the contrary.
Sonnen did have actions in the UFC that had a positive outcome in the long term.
These two sides of the coin ultimately balance out. Yes, there were some benefits to Sonnen being in the UFC but there were also drawbacks.
Perhaps it is best to move on and let Chael Sonnen's name fade into MMA history.