OAKLAND CA - AUGUST 07: Chael Sonnen walks to his corner in between rounds of his fights against Anderson Silva during the UFC Middleweight Championship bout at Oracle Arena on August 7 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson likes to tell a story regarding the treatment of his football players while he was with the popular NFL team.
If Jim Jeffcoat, a mid-tier defensive linemen, fell asleep during a team meeting, he was likely to get released and be out of a job. If Emmitt Smith, a Hall of Famer and the all-time leading rusher in NFL history, fell asleep during a team meeting, well then, it was nap time.
The gist of that paraphrased story is your worth to your organization directly affects what you can and cannot get away with. My question is -- which player does embattled UFC fighter Chael Sonnen better represent?
On the one hand, the money laundering ex-Realtor has been nothing but a headache for Dana White and company as of late, with a list of legal infractions that reads like a bad crime novel.
On the other, the mouthy middleweight can be credited with almost single-handedly injecting life into the 185-pound title picture, or better still, making longtime dominant champion Anderson Silva into a box office draw, something the company had previously failed to do.
Now that his legal woes are essentially behind him, and only some kissing up to the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) left before he can return to the Octagon, the question must be asked -- is he really worth the trouble?
Sonnen's worth as a fighter is immeasurable as of right now. His performance against Anderson Silva at UFC 117, a spirited five-round battle that he was easily getting the best of before succumbing to a submission in the final minutes, has solidified his status as a top contender.
He's now a veritable main-eventer. Any fight card the UFC puts together could be headlined by him and it's sure to draw some eyeballs.
That's in part because of his skills as a martial artist but also due to his exceedingly incredible ability to spew vitriol at whomever draws his ire at any particular moment. This is both a blessing and a curse.
It works wonderfully when his venom is directed at say, Silva, who fans were in a love-hate affair with at the exact time Sonnen turned his attention to the Brazilian and the gold around his waist.
Actually, it's a wonderful thing when he decides to go head on against any fighter, one that may get the chance to shut him up inside the cage in a bout on pay-per-view (PPV).
When it's not such a good thing, is when he's not filtering himself in front of athletic commissions or those in power that have the ability to determine whether or not he can fight again ... men like NSAC Director Keith Kizer.
He's doing what he can to make up for it now, perhaps realizing the mistakes his mouth has made over the past few months, in the form of an overly-apologetic interview with the MMA Hour.
But is it too little too late? Has the damage already been done?
That remains to be seen, at least as far as Kizer is concerned. Whether or not he lets Sonnen back into his good graces, and in turn allows him to compete in the state of Nevada, is almost irrelevant. At this point, it's assumed to be a foregone conclusion.
He'll likely be let back but at what price? Do we believe Sonnen has changed his ways and will be any different than the man that got himself into this heaping mess to begin with? Or are we expecting the same trash-talking genius promoter who can't keep his truths straight from his lies?
We know what UFC wants to do with him. They want him on TUF in order to try to revive that show. The problems with that show, however, are so extensive that simply replacing coaches isn't going to save the ratings decline there. They do want to pair him opposite Michael Bisping for good reason.
They are in the PPV business and they know the devil they have in Sonnen as opposed to some of the devils they don't have that they may have to push into PPV main events in the future. To me, he is fool's gold. He's had a largely average MMA career until his hot streak against Nate Marquardt (mid-level middleweight), Yushin Okami (above average middleweight), and then the fight performance against Anderson Silva (where he eventually lost the fight). Is it really worth the amount of energy UFC is spending to try to save this guy's career and put up with his act? It's hard to say. UFC's calculation is that the benefits outweigh the cons. It still doesn't change the fact that he uses drugs and has admitted as such.
Will fans care about him continuing to fight and dope in the process? Largely, no. As we've seen with the drug issue in MMA, fans forget about the issue unless it's a fighter that they really hate and then if said fighter gets busted the fans will turn around and whack him with the positive test as a weapon. Otherwise, it's the Wild West and as long as Sonnen can continue doping with the permissions of athletic commissions or the UFC at foreign events, it will be business as usual.
Do I think Chael Sonnen is worth the hassle? No. He had his moment in the sun last year. He's more on the downside than he is on the upside. However, desparate people do desparate things and as long as he can convince one person - Dana White - that he's useful, then Dana will twist himself up like a pretzel to justify Sonnen's existence with public lines like "the kid's paid his dues and now it's time for him to come back."
The fact that we have yet to hear a decision on the coaches for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14, with all the speculation surrounding it, means it's entirely possible Zach is dead on the money.
The UFC could be counting on Sonnen to inject new life into the Spike TV reality show, the same life he injected into the middleweight title picture. Putting him opposite Michael Bisping is sure to create compelling TV.
But what message does that send? That it's okay to get busted for drugs, get caught in a web of lies and deceit, get in trouble with the federal government for money laundering and put a strain on an otherwise great relationship with the Director of the NSAC?
Not only that, but the reward for which is a prominent role on the very show that saved the company just six years ago?
That doesn't seem right. And what's to say that the mouth that helped sell so many PPV's at UFC 117 won't come back to once again bite him, and the promotion, right in the ass?
The answer is nothing. In fact, if the past is any indication (and it is), it's damn near guaranteed.
The juice, in this instance, is not worth the squeeze. Chael Sonnen, while a serviceable star and a damn good fighter, is no Emmitt Smith.