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Chael Sonnen on signing with Bellator MMA: 'The ruler has returned'

"The American Gangster" came out of retirement and shocked the world by signing with Bellator MMA on Thursday (September 15, 2016) He spoke to MMAMania about his new deal, possible opponents and more in this exclusive interview.

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Retirement didn't quite suit the "American Gangster," so after a two-year absence from mixed martial arts (MMA) Chael Sonnen (29-14-1) is returning to action--this time in Bellator MMA.

Sonnen, 39, shocked the MMA world late on Thursday (September 15, 2016) when the Associated Press reported the former three-time Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) title contender signed a multi-year, multi-fight contract with UFC's biggest competitor.

"The ruler has returned," Sonnen proclaimed in an exclusive interview with MMAMania.

One of the most popular fighters in UFC history, Sonnen hung up the gloves in July of 2014 after being hit with a two-year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) for multiple failed drug tests and did not hint at a possible comeback until announcing he entered the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) drug-testing pool when his suspension came to an end in July.

Surely he loves that all the attention is back upon him, knowing he has the MMA world in the palm of his hand once again. "Yes. In a word, yes," he said with villainous delight.

If you are wondering how Sonnen was able to sign with Bellator, since UFC athletes are usually still under contract with the promotion when they retire, Sonnen clarified that wasn't the case. "I was not under contract with the UFC when I signed with Bellator," he said.

So how exactly did signing with Bellator come to be? Sonnen said he didn't have a particularly "great story" to tell regarding his signing because the whole thing came together rather quickly, but it's rather plausible to surmise that Bellator came in with a great offer that was easy for him to accept.

"Yeah, I think a lot of that is right," he said, before explaining he didn't have a big hand in the process. "I had a lot less involvement. Fighters have a lot less involvement in these things and then they remanufacture stories to act like they … The fighter's job is to train and surround himself with good people. That is really what happened. I'm excited to have an opportunity to be back and have a match. I've had some grappling contests, but there is nothing quite like it. There is nothing quite like MMA. So, the sooner, the better. I signed today. They have a show tomorrow in Austin and I'm pissed I'm not on it."


Sonnen won't be on hand at Bellator 161 tomorrow night, but said he would be "involved in some capacity," so you can expect an interview with Jimmy Smith during the broadcast or something along those lines. One thing is for certain, we will get our first dose of the classic Sonnen schtick--which helped soar his career to great heights-- that's been absent from the sport since 2014. As for when he will step in the Bellator cage for his debut, he thinks that will be happening relatively soon.

"I think it's going to be November," said Sonnen, who last fought at UFC 167 in November of 2013, losing by technical knockout to Rashad Evans. "I don't know. I suspect that I will know quickly. Bellator did not ask very much, but one question that I was asked, they did say 'how quickly can you be ready?' which led me to the conclusion: the quicker the better. That was never said either. I was just asked that one question and I drew the conclusion on my own. So I started looking at the dates and they have a show in San Jose in November. I don't know what they have going on. I just got into this thing a few hours ago. It isn't rocket science. It's 205 pounds in Bellator. You have a "Bad Boy" and a "Bad Guy" now just get us a date."

Tito Ortiz could certainly be a possibility for Sonnen, who said he would fight in multiple weight classes, or "gangster weight," as he referred to it in the press release. Bellator president Scott Coker also mentioned Fedor Emelianenko, Wanderlei Silva and Rory MacDonald as potential candidates for the Oregon native.


"That's accurate," Sonnen said. "When I was planning to come back and keeping my weight down, I was going to return at 185 pounds and I like some of those matches, but with Bellator you got some real opportunities at 205. You know, Tito, and Wanderlei. There is no way that Wanderlei and me end up in the same organization and don't fight. It would be make believe by any of us, promoter or either of us to act like that wouldn't happen. You always have this Fedor talk going on. Is he going to come to America? He says he fights at heavyweight. There has been talk of him going to 205. Guys can go up to heavyweight like [Fabio] Maldonado did. Coker's always had a relationship with Fedor.

"So, yeah, I think those are all realistic names. I heard Rory MacDonald's name slipped in there somewhere. In fairness, Rory is a 170 pounder, but I think he was talking about going up to 185. I like the parity. I like the matchups. We are seeing that a lot. We are seeing that in the UFC. We just saw it with CM Punk. We saw it a couple of weeks ago with Conor and Nate. I like that as a fan. I like it. Guys have to be flexible and be willing to move and sometimes it makes it tough to get those matchups. It won't be with me."

To further his last point, he let it rip on fighters looking for too many concessions in today's sport.

"I don't get some of these conversations," he began. "I get asked 'who?' and 'what weight class?' and 'when can you be ready?' and I don't understand any of that man. Anybody and any weight class. That isn't some tough talk or bravado. We didn't used to have weigh ins. I never understand these primadonnas now that are picking their opponents and they gotta feel just right. I don't get it man. If you gotta feel right and this date doesn't work and this guy and this weight don't work, this sport isn't for you. You either got it or you don't. That is, by definition, what makes you a fighter. You either got it or you don't and from what I've seen these guys don't."

Sonnen was adamant throughout the last two years that even when his suspension came to an end (His two-year suspension from NSAC was completed in July) he wasn't going to return to fighting; he was going to stay retired. He had said so on his "You're Welcome" podcast and also in several interviews, even when his manager Mike Roberts of MMA Inc. had said otherwise.

So was Sonnen pulling everyone's leg the entire time?

"There was no gamesmanship there," he said. I can remember…  It all seems so distant now even though it's a few hours ago. I remember getting to a point where it was 'how much more of this do you wanna do?' Then you take a little break and then you back and you go, 'well, I do want to some more of it.' And then you start doing it again and then you go back and 'well, I got enough good memories.' And that's not just me. Everybody will tell you that, but I had never been through it. I was the one guy that would never tell you that. I was motivated and excited.

"So, no, it was never really a hustle as much as coming to a realization and going 'well, look let's go one way or the other man. There is no half footing this thing. Let's either jump into this thing or let's not.' And I just made that decision. instead of going to practice once a day I'm going to go twice a day. That's the only physical difference. And then you raise your hand and you jump in the game. That's it."

Yes, he was getting ready physically before his suspension was up, but in his mind he had still not pulled the trigger and made the decision to fight again. Once his two-year suspension ended and he was free to compete again, that is when the physical and the mental came together and he pulled the trigger to fight once more.


"That's the timeline," Sonnen admitted. "You are exactly right. That was the timeline. "I think mentally that is when it all freed up. Physically I had been preparing for a while. Physically I had taken a couple of months off and that was a couple of years ago and then I started back and it was a process. You start back a little bit slower. That's just a reality. When you have a fight you start to ramp it up. When you don't have that fight coming up sometimes you go without those peaks. It was just my situation. I use a guy like Dominick Cruz as an inspiration. And a lot of us that have been out, that's who we all turn to. You go, 'well, if you work hard and you want it, Dominick showed us all that's really all it takes is working hard and wanting it.' Physically I've been ready to go for a while. Mentality, I can't exactly tell you when that switch flipped."

Walking away from the sport in 2014 with his last fight being a loss left a bad taste in his mouth. He didn't get to go out on his own terms, so there was certainly a level of regret there. He wasn't happy how it ended and that definitely bothered him. Now, whether he has great success in his comeback or he doesn't, he won't have the "what if?" crawling around inside of his brain any longer.

"It's very rare in this industry that you go out on top," he said. "I can only think of one guy off the top of my head and that's George St-Pierre. Even in the world of boxing, maybe Lennox Lewis. It's very hard to think of anybody. I'd throw Floyd Mayweather in there, but I don't believe he is done. Yeah, that is a true statement. I wasn't content."

Sonnen is officially back. Now he just needs a name so he can reprise the trash talk and fight promotion he's long been known for, which has influenced countless amounts of fighters in MMA.

"That's the one piece missing is a fight."

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