Before the clash of heavyweight titans between Cheick Kongo and Tony "Hulk" Johnson unfolds later tonight (Fri., Sept. 16, 2016) at Bellator 161 live on Spike TV from H-E-B Center in Cedar Park, Texas, Bellator MMA held a conference call earlier today to announce something equally gigantic.
After a long and storied tenure with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as a fighter, and a shorter tenure with World Series of Fighting (WSOF) as a broadcaster, "The American Gangster" Chael Sonnen has decided to return to mixed martial arts (MMA) under the Bellator MMA banner.
Before Sonnen went live on the conference call to invoke massive interest from fight fans everywhere, Bellator president Scott Coker told us Sonnen would compete in multiple weight classes.
"When we were in the process of signing him, Chael was adamant that he wants to compete in three divisions here. He already has unfinished business with Wanderlei Silva, but he also wants to fight guys like Tito Ortiz, Fedor Emelianenko and even Rory MacDonald at middleweight. These are all fights that I'd be very inclined to watch, so hopefully we can put some, if not all of these matchups together starting before the end of the year."
Now let's hear from "The American Gangster" himself about his plans in Bellator, starting with his ongoing relationships, or lack thereof, with other MMA promotions.
"(With) the World Series of Fighting I do as a commentator, but that's accurate -- I do not have a relationship with the UFC, that's true."
What about a first opponent in Bellator? Who does Sonnen want to lay his hands on upon arrival?
"No I don't have an opponent. I'm hoping they book two. I'm on a legends ass kicking tour, and I hope they book two guys because one of them is going to pull out. All I can tell you is as for myself, no matter what happens I will make that walk when my music hits those speakers. Anybody, any time, at any weight class and that isn't bravado or tough guy talk. I've just had it man. I thought my race was ran. I wrote the book on this thing and I can tell there's a couple of chapters left."
Given what Coker had to say about weight classes, how does Sonnen feel about the opportunity to fight in multiple divisions?
"I'd like to go at Light Heavyweight. I've been mentally preparing to compete and I was thinking about going into the Middleweight division. I think with the change of being over in Bellator, and just looking at the line-up and the guys that they have, I just think 205 is the place to be for right now. That can change overnight. Rory MacDonald got signed, one of the best talents out there, he did an interview talking about he wants to go up to 185. He's going to need some opponents."
Clearly Sonnen would relish a middleweight fight with "Red King," but he hasn't ruled out a heavyweight fight with "The Last Emperor" either.
"I personally believe that Fedor (Emelianenko) is on his way to Bellator. I've heard these rumblings (and) usually in this business where there's smoke there's fire. I don't think he's coming at 205, so there's an opportunity at Heavyweight, but I fight at gangsterweight. Get on the scale, whatever it says man, you either want to fight or you don't -- and I do."
Throughout the call, Sonnen reiterated that he was under no obligation to return to UFC either before or after the recent buyout from WME-IMG, which gives him a chance to get back to doing what he loves.
"I was not under contract with UFC in any fashion when I signed with Bellator. Some guys got hobbies. They can go play golf, walk around on the beach and do things. We don't have those things in Oregon. We've got a whole bunch of rain and I don't know how to play golf, so I go to the gym every day just because that's my chance to visit with guys and have friends and keep up on the loop."
And now that he's jumping from the gym back to the cage, Sonnen couldn't be more thrilled to call Bellator home.
"As far as the reaction goes, Bellator is awesome. I'm a huge fan. I've been a fan from the very beginning. The one that really won me over if you really want to know is when Ken Shamrock walked out and before he walked out Animal from the Road Warriors busted onto the stage. That was really the moment where I said 'Look -- I want to make that walk.' That will probably surprise Ken that I was jealous of him, but that was a moment in time that I remember and thought 'That's going to be me someday.'"
Sonnen was coy about what wrestler (if any) would accompany him to the ring, but said he fully accepts the spectacle approach to MMA that Bellator has adopted.
"When I got into MMA all of a sudden you're doing the same thing but your hard work is also feeding your ego. People are watching, people are tuning in. That's a part of it that Bellator has embraced. You can go look at the ratings and look at the numbers that are going through the roof."
Also, Sonnen indicated that he is itching to fight an infamous "Bad Boy" of MMA, which certainly has "sports entertainment" written all over it.
"Somebody else suggested Tito (Ortiz) to me and soon as they did I thought 'Man that makes a lot of sense.' Tito's a legend, Tito's great, Tito's even a friend of mine. The bottom line is -- he's been around and I was jealous for a long time. Jealousy's a hell of a thing. There's a reason it's one of the deadly sins. When I was out slugging out trying to get my shot, Tito was on TV and having the crowd cheer and doing the appearances -- doing all these things that I fantasized and wanted to do."
It goes even beyond jealousy for Sonnen. He says this rivalry has been built up over a lifetime. And given that Sonnen, 39, and Ortiz, 41, are close in age, it's certainly plausible.
"There was really never an opportunity to go against him. We were in the same division in college, same weight class, same conference. I'd see him around at the events, I still see him around at the events. He looks at me the same way I look at him. I look at him like 'Tito, you know I could whip your ass' and he gives me that exact same look. Every time we're in the same room together it's like this big alpha male contest. He knows what's going on and I know what's going on so if the 'Bad Boy' wants a piece of the 'Bad Guy' all you've gotta do is say my name."
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