Infamous Troll or Gutsy Contender: How Will Chael Sonnen Be Remembered?

Jordy McElroy@ IJune 12, 2014

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Chael Sonnen is trading in the four-ounce gloves for a three-piece suit and a broadcasting-only gig with the UFC. Following a recent failed random drug test, the three-time UFC title contender officially announced his retirement from MMA on Wednesday’s episode of UFC Tonight.

Sonnen, who was slated to fight Vitor Belfort at UFC 175, was removed from the July 6 card on Tuesday after testing positive for banned substances. Those substances are presumed to be anti-estrogen medications anastrozole and clomiphene.

On Wednesday Sonnen explained that both medications were prescribed by his doctor, since use of testosterone replacement therapy was recently banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Sonnen suffers from a medical ailment known as hypogonadism, which affects hormone production. The anti-estrogen medications were prescribed to Sonnen as a means of facilitating natural testosterone production.

Early indications are that the medications were a success, as Sonnen and his wife Brittany will be expecting their first child soon. However, anastrozole and clomiphene are clearly listed as banned substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Sonnen’s explanation for not reporting his use of the drugs to the NSAC was due to confusion over the rules behind out-of-competition testing. He also maintained the stance that the drugs aren't performance-enhancing and are legal in the United States.

Regardless, he chose family and health over his fighting career, and it was a decision he would gladly make again:

I want to talk directly to the thousands and thousands of fans who have supported me throughout my career. Guys, I had a great time...Look, my health is going to come first. My family will always come first, and someday, I will not have the title of fighter. I will lose that title, but I will never lose the title of parent and father. That is very important to me, and at this time, I would like to officially announce my retirement from competitive mixed martial arts.

Despite a 17-year run, Sonnen’s career took flight merely four years ago during a UFC 115 Q&A session in Vancouver, Canada. This was the first time the self-proclaimed Oregon gangster publicly took aim at the greatest fighter in MMA history, Anderson “The Spider” Silva.

“This is a one-sided dance,” said Sonnen. “I saved Anderson’s job. Uncle Dana was gonna give him his walking papers, and I begged him to keep him around for one more fight. I will retire this guy.”

Sonnen’s ability to woo an audience by word of mouth became a spectacle in itself, but it was his unwavering bravado that truly stirred the masses. No other fighter had ever dared to question Silva’s greatness. Yet, Sonnen was onstage, soiling all over Silva’s accomplishments.

The initial reaction from the public was confusion. Was this guy for real? Silva had effortlessly defeated future Hall of Famers and top-tier contenders. What was so special about Sonnen that would make him any different from all the rest?

All of the questions were answered emphatically in one of the most dramatic championship fights in MMA history at UFC 117. Sonnen scored takedown after takedown and laid down the hammer on Silva for nearly all five rounds before succumbing to a last-minute triangle armbar in the final round.

It marked the first time the world had seen Silva look imperfect. Whether fans loved or hated him, the MMA community marveled at Sonnen’s ability to make the greatest fighter in the world look human.

After striking oil, Sonnen continued to milk prosperity from his newfound bad-guy image, and Silva continued to be the butt of an unending joke. The Brazilian sat in silence as Sonnen bashed his accomplishments, made inappropriate comments about his wife and chastised the entire country of Brazil.

“You tell Anderson Silva I’m coming over and I’m kicking down his backdoor and patting his little lady on the ass and I’m telling her to make me a steak, medium-rare just how I like it,” Sonnen told Mauro Ranallo on The MMA Show, per Middle Easy.

During the pre-fight press conference for his rematch with Silva, Sonnen joked about growing up as a wealthy American, while Anderson and the rest of the Brazilian kids “played in the mud.”

Some denounced Sonnen’s behavior as nothing more than churlish and a means of seeking attention, but in reality, the MMA star’s ability to make people have an opinion about him helped carve out an idea and path for future fighters to follow.

Talent is abundant around the world in an individualized sport like MMA. The next Anderson Silva is out there right now wowing some small crowd in a seedy dungeon somewhere. Unfortunately, his talent may never see the bright lights of the UFC because MMA isn’t only about wins and losses.

There is also a flair for the dramatics in combat sports. People may not have necessarily liked Sonnen, but you would be hard-pressed to find one fan who didn’t care about him. True superstardom in MMA is achieved by not only winning fights but by grabbing the attention of fans.

Sonnen’s presence on a fight card evoked emotion out of fans every time. Some wanted to see him rise to the occasion. Others tuned in hoping to see a beatdown. But all were willing to shell out their hard-earned dollars to see him compete. This can’t even be said for some of the current UFC champions.

He will never be remembered for being a champion, as he was soundly defeated in his rematch with Silva. He was then defeated nearly a year later in a UFC title bout with light heavyweight champ Jon Jones.

Being a great fighter and leaving behind a legacy that will be remembered for generations to come doesn’t always revolve around a plate of gold. Sonnen forever etched his name in MMA history by leaving no stone unturned. He aimed for greatness even when the world didn’t believe he deserved it.

Simply put, UFC President Dana White calls Sonnen “the best” fighter he’s ever had to deal with.

“The guy never turns down a fight; he never says no,” White told German reporters during a pre-fight media scrum, which was attended by MMA Crazy TV. “Doesn’t matter who it is. I could call him tomorrow and tell him he’s fighting Cain [Velasquez], and he’ll take the fight. He’s the best, man. He’s a great guy. But on the flip side, he’s got a lot of opportunities [after fighting] that others don’t.”

How will Sonnen be remembered?

It all depends on who you ask. Hardcore fans will likely look back on a guy who was always willing to poke the bear and never make excuses, while casual viewers may never get past the prettified showmanship.

All in all, history should one day tell the tale of an Oregon gangster who wasn’t afraid to rock the boat and never turned down a fight in the UFC.

Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.


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