The gangster from West Linn, Ore., has struck again.
After going 1-2 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) half a decade ago, it seemed as if Chael Sonnen would be one of the many fighters who would only amount to being a footnote in the big book of mixed martial arts (MMA). He had his chance in the spotlight, but the sport is as unforgiving as any other.
Chewed up and spit out as the old saying goes.
But then something strange happened. Sonnen signed with the online gambling website-backed bodogFIGHT and rattled off four straight victories, including wins over future UFC fighter Tim Credeur and old school Russian stalwart Amar Suloev. It was impressive enough for Zuffa -- parent company of the UFC -- to give Sonnen a buzz and offer him a middleweight title shot in its recently acquired World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC).
And just like that, "The People's Champion" was back and our lives have never been the same since.
From becoming the uncrowned king of the middleweight division in the WEC after defeating an overweight Paulo Filho to crowning himself the king of the UFC's 185-pound crowd, despite not winning the belt from Anderson Silva at UFC 117, there is always a hubbub surrounding the Team Quest fighter.
Now, after outlasting Michael Bisping tonight (Jan. 28, 2012) in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 2, a rematch with "The Spider" is all but signed in what could be the biggest fight in the promotion's history without Brock Lesnar or Georges St. Pierre's name attached to the bill. Sonnen hasn't shut his mouth over Silva for more than two years and with a second chance at UFC gold, it's only going to get (depending on your point of view) much better or much worse.
Growing up as an enormous professional wrestling fan, I enjoy what Sonnen does when promoting fights. But more than enjoying it, I appreciate it. Sonnen gets people -- fans or not -- to care.
And in the fight game, that's the most important thing.
There is a very clearly divided line when it comes to the number one middleweight title contender. There are MMA fans who love Sonnen's shtick -- and let's not mince words, that's exactly what it is -- and on the other side, there are those who have either grown tired of it or downright abhor it.
But what those in the latter half don't realize is that Sonnen outside of the Octagon is as much a carnival barker as his boss, Dana White. Both men will say anything and everything under the sun to get someone to pluck down 50 bucks for a pay-per-view (PPV) or tune into Fox on a Saturday evening. They'll make up pound-for-pound rankings, assign labels like "world class" where it obviously doesn't belong or even channel "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes for a post-fight interview.
Sonnen has two jobs: 1) fight and 2) make people care about number one. If no one is tuning in, the financial incentive for the middleweight fighter becomes insignificant. Before he became outspoken, saying ... well, flat-out crazy stuff, Sonnen's name wasn't in the headlines, he wasn't spoken in the same breath as the greats in his division. A few wins coupled with eight times as many outlandish statements and fans can't shut up about him.
And that's a bad thing how?
You either want to see Sonnen make good on his insane claim he'll wrest the middleweight strap away from Silva or revel in seeing his face get pounded in like the fraud he is. Whatever the reason, you want to see him fight. Sonnen is a fight promoter as much as he is a fighter. The trash talking, the elevated testosterone, the dominating performances, the felony convictions ... all of that and so much more paint the very complicated picture of who Chael Sonnen is.
One thing is for certain, however. After his win last night over Bisping, Sonnen is the number one contender to Silva's middleweight title.
Brace yourself, folks, it's going to be quite a ride.