You’re looking at the reflection of perfection. You’re looking at the man who gets all your attention. You’re looking at the man with the biggest arm. At the man, with the greatest charm, the man in Chicago who will do harm to the guy three doors down. Whatcha gonna do, when you know who? How ya gonna deal, with the man of steel? How ya gonna react to Sonnen’s attack?
— Chael Sonnen —
Following his Friday night fight in the famed Madison Square Garden, the man, the myth, nay…the Legend, Chael Sonnen, laid his gloves in the center of the ring and announced his retirement. I want to take a quick look back at the American Gangster’s decorated career.
We have to take a trip all of the way back to 1997 when a 19-year old Chael Sonnen started his MMA career. Sonnen fought and defeated Ben Hailey at the Battle of Fort Vancouver, winning via unanimous decision. He went on to fight 17 more times before making his first appearance in the World Extreme Cagefighting at WEC 12. Mr. Sonnen’s opponent for the night was Alex Stiebling. Again, Chael won the bout via unanimous decision and improved his record to 13-5-1, though Mr. Sonnen would tell you he has never lost.
One year later, Sonnen ended up in the UFC fighting Renato Sobral at UFC 55. He lost the fight to a triangle choke submission. He rebounded in UFC Fight Night 4 with another unanimous decision but dropped his third UFC fight via armbar submission to Jeremy Horn at UFC 60.
In 2007, Sonnen found himself back in the WEC, where he fought for the Middleweight Championship twice against Paulo Filho. Taking a quick leap back to present day, Sonnen has been very vocal about promising his late father he would fight until he was crowned champion. Well on November 5th, 2008, Chael P. Sonnen should have had his championship belt. Paulo Filho, the champion at the time, missed weight by a ridiculous seven pounds and the bout was subsequently ruled a non-title fight. Chael Sonnen won the fight via (you guessed it) unanimous decision, defeating the Middleweight champion, but did not win the belt he deserved.
Once the WEC dissolved its Middleweight division, Chael returned to the UFC losing his first fight to Demian Maia but quickly shooting up the Middleweight ladder to land as the number one contender after defeating Nate Marquardt. Sonnen was set to face one of the greatest fighters of all time, Anderson “The Spider” Silva for the Middleweight title. The lead up to the fight was classic trash-talking Chael.
You tell Anderson Silva that I’m coming over and I’m kicking down his backdoor and patting his little lady on the a** and I’m telling her to make me a steak, medium-rare just how I like it.
— Chael Sonnen —
Chael was a +410 underdog heading into that fight against Silva but by the end of the fourth round, Chael was up on the judge’s scorecards (40–34, 40–36, and 40–35). It was as impressive as it was unexpected, but Sonnen was three minutes away from upsetting the Middleweight champion. And that is when it happened, Sonnen was caught in a triangle armbar and was forced to tap out. Silva had defended his belt for the eighth consecutive time, and Chael came within two minutes of Championship glory. Sonnen went on to defeat Brian Stann and Michael Bisping and found himself in the Octagon opposite Anderson Silva yet again. Silva vs. Sonnen II was much different than the first fight, with Silva earning a TKO stoppage in round two.
But Sonnen wasn’t done facing champions, April 27th. 2013, he faced Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight championship but lost in the first round via TKO. He finished his UFC stint with a submission victory over Mauricio Rua and a TKO loss to Rashad Evans.
The American Gangster found himself in another failed drug test scandal when he tested positive for human growth hormone (HGH), recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO), anastrozole, and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This was his second time, and when a third test was revealed to be tainted Sonnen announced his retirement from MMA.
Chael didn’t stay out of the fight game long. He signed a five-fight contract with Bellator and made his promotional debut against Tito Ortiz. He lost that fight via first round submission. Sonnen then got matched up against longtime rival Wanderlei Silva. The original fight between the two was originally scheduled for July 5th, 2014 at UFC 175. Almost three years later, and Sonnen defeated Silva in New York City and immediately called out Heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko.
Wanderlei Silva, six feet tall and 205 pounds, boy, until I met you, I didn’t know they could stack crap that high.
— Chael Sonnen —
Bellator obliged and added Sonnen to the promotion’s Heavyweight Tournament, matching him against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the first round. With a unanimous decision victory over Jackson and Emelianenko’s TKO victory over Frank Mir, the two met in the semi-final round of the tournament. Chael lost the fight late in the first round due to strikes. Which leads us to Friday night. Chael faced Lyoto Machida in his last ditch effort to go on a title run. Unfortunately for the American Gangster, Machida ended his night with massive flying knees to the head and relentless punches on the ground.
John McCarthy interviewed Sonnen after the fight, and with gloves in hand Sonnen had this to say.
“I got one thing to say: I had a helluva lot of fun,” Sonnen said. “I had a good run. Scott Coker gave me a five-fight deal, he let me honor all five fights. And, ladies and gentlemen, I’m walking out. I appreciate the memories. And goodbye.”
With that Sonnen laid down his gloves, hugged Machida and left the cage, for presumably his last time.
Whether you loved or hated Sonnen, one thing is certain, he was great for the sport of MMA. He fought the baddest dudes on the planet and never blinked. He helped build the sport on the back of his trash talk and performance. Sonnen should be remembered as a legend in the sport, and I for one, am sad to see him go. Thank you for the great memories, and best of luck in retirement, Champ!