Is Chael Sonnen Really Crazy?
Chael Sonnen is a polarizing character. That goes without saying. I’ve never met or spoke with an MMA fan that said “Chael Sonnen? Eh, he’s ok”.
Sonnen supporters will tell you he is one of the best wrestlers in MMA, imposing his will and dominating his foes for fifteen minutes.
Detractors argue he is a decision fighter that uses pro-wrestling promo techniques to garner more interest to make up for his boring fighting style.
MMA veteran and former Pride superstar Mirko Cro Cop went so far this past week as saying that you could tell just by looking at Sonnen’s face that he was slow, and had the IQ of a child.
“Is he crazy? He obviously is, but I’m not mad at him. It’s just as I can’t get mad at my eight-month-old son, Fillip”, Cro Cop added.
But is Sonnen crazy, or is he just great at selling fights? It’s been a common debate in the MMA community ever since he defeated Nate Marquardt at UFC 109. If Sonnen were a soft-spoken, humble fighter, would he have gotten a title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 117? He was coming off a three fight win streak over decent competition, but all three fights went to decision and weren’t in anyone’s fight of the year discussion.
Sonnen’s harshest words have been targeted at Brazilians, specifically Silva, the Noguiera brothers, and Wanderlei Silva. However, Sonnen was noticeably silent going into his recent fight with Brian Stann. Then again, what could Sonnen possibly have used as ammunition against an American war-hero in Stann?
Many feel as though Sonnen is not speaking his true feelings, but merely playing a character. Sonnen can be considered the Andy Kaufman of MMA. He may not be the best at his profession, and may not believe everything he says, but he can get people to either despise him or love him with what he says. Just like with Kaufman, Sonnen has plenty of fans who understand Sonnen’s gimmick and appreciate it.
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen would have been in the same category as Silva/Cote, Silva/Lutter Silva/Leites, and Silva/Maia. Fights that casual MMA fans weren’t interested in because they were a foregone conclusion the moment the matchups were announced. Instead, Sonnen went on a five-month long mission to promote the fight, utilizing interviews and Twitter to degrade Silva. By the time the fight came around, people had either bought into the hype, or wanted to see the fight just to see Sonnen lose.
A friend of mine, who had recently gotten into MMA and wasn’t familiar with Sonnen, asked me about Sonnen when the Silva/Sonnen fight was first announced. I told him he wasn’t the most exciting fighter to watch, and wouldn’t pose a threat to Silva, but would do a great job promoting the fight with his candid remarks and shots against Silva. It was the perfect fight for Silva, and for the UFC. A chance for Silva to redeem himself after being called out by boss Dana White for his lollygagging performance against Demian Maia in Abu Dhabi. Needless to say, he agreed with me the night of the fight.
Silva, who is relatively silent in the months before a fight, could have thanked Sonnen for doing all of the promotional work for the fight. The atmosphere in the arena and sports bars around the country was that of an epic middleweight showdown, not of a fighter on a four-fight win streak against a journeyman. The fact that Sonnen dominated Silva for over twenty minutes before succumbing to his kryptonite, a triangle choke, was merely icing on the cake. As disappointed as Sonnen must have been in the locker room afterwards, inside he must have known he had surpassed all expectations, and barring any bizarre turn of events, he was most likely going to be granted a rematch.
This is where the problems and arguments against Sonnen come forward. After the loss to Silva, it was found that he had tested for excessive levels of testosterone, and was labeled a steroid-user and cheater.
Months later, he was found guilty of real-estate fraud due to money-laundering, and was labeled a felon.
In relation to his Testosterone Replacement Therapy, Sonnen’s lawyers stated Sonnen never went through puberty, and had the Testosterone level of a 93-year-old male.
It’s not easy to play the role of the heel and trash-talker, when your abuse of PEDs, legal record, and manhood can be pushed back in your face.
Not to mention some critics say his talking serves as a distraction to his fighting style, as Sonnen has been known to take most fights to decision. Prior to his arm-triangle victory against Stann, Sonnen’s last finish had been in 2007 against Kyacey Uscola (yes, that Kyacey Uscola).
But you have to respect Sonnen for being diligent in his cause against Silva. He is now trying to position Silva as the one ducking Sonnen, along with giving Silva a deadline of when to accept a rematch. Yet it is Silva who has been the champion for five years, defeated Sonnen in their prior matchup, and holds all negotiating power.
Is Sonnen crazy? Perhaps. But he is also a great promoter, someone Bobby Heenan would approve of. A voice that MMA needs, to get a break from the boring interview we have seen far too many times before. Is he playing a character? More than likely. But I give him credit for realizing years ago that his fighting ability would not be enough to get him national attention and big-name fights.
Say what you want about Sonnen as a fighter and as a person, but when it comes to selling a fight, there is nobody in MMA who is as polarizing as Sonnen. Whether he wins or loses, Sonnen wants to make sure you remember he had something to say.