Opinion: The Draw of Chael Sonnen
By Jesse Heitz
Seemingly out of the blue, Chael Sonnen has been thrust into the limelight of the UFC’s light heavyweight division. After his disappointing and perhaps even controversial loss to Anderson Silva in their second bout at UFC 148, Sonnen has found new life at 205 pounds.
Set to oppose current light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones as a coach on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter, Sonnen has retained his position as one of the promotion’s most visible fighters. However, much clamoring has occurred as a result of his impromptu ascension to light heavyweight title challenger.
Dan Henderson fired the first and perhaps most fierce shot, his now infamous tweet stating, “I guess I should just quit training to win fights and to be exciting for the fans and just go to shit talking school. @danawhite”. The criticism that has been widely covered by a variety of sports media outlets centers around what set of skills landed Sonnen an uncontested title shot at a weight division that he has not called home for the better part of a decade.
Henderson and many others feel that it’s Sonnen’s ability to cut professional wrestling-esque promos that keep him in perennial title contention, rather than his in-cage skills and accomplishments. I’m of the mind that such a theory might not hold all that much water.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a Chael Sonnen fan. I don’t cheer for fighters who have pled guilty to felony money laundering in connection with mortgage fraud. I don’t root for fighters who have failed drug tests, showcasing T/E levels that were nearly 17 times as high as that of a normal man. I do not and will not cheer for a fighter who disparages his competition. However, I do applaud fighters that are willing to accept any challenge that gets thrown their way.
Yet, with that being said, not even I believe that Sonnen’s microphone skills solidified his title shot against Jon Jones. The man has defeated stout competition in: Nate Marquardt, Brian Stann, Yushin Okami, and Dan Miller. More notably, he dominated the best fighter in the world for four-and-a-half rounds, a feat nobody has come close to touching.
I will not deny that Sonnen’s ability to sell a fight makes him a viable headliner in most any situation. Sonnen himself is not only fine with people believing that his smooth talking garnered him premier matchups, but he’s quite proud of his talking ability and enjoys the opportunity to rub salt in the wounds of his critics, making statements regarding his microphone abilities such “I talked a cat out a tree earlier today.”
The hostility that Sonnen has attracted from fellow fighters, reporters, and fans alike proves in an almost counterintuitive way, we need guys like Chael Sonnen. The UFC needs a top heel for the health of its bottom line. We as fans need a heel like Sonnen if for no other reason than to increase our enthusiasm about an event, even if it means only steadfastly support his opponent at any given time. Simply put, the sport needs fighters like Sonnen. We may not like him, but he draws attention and revenue to the sport, what it desperately needs to make it in the mainstream.