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Dana White: Before Conor McGregor, Chael Sonnen was the best at ‘pissing off other fighters’

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The infamous Chael Sonnen called an end to his career last weekend following a tough TKO loss to Lyoto Machida at Bellator 222. Few were surprised by the announcement, especially considering Sonnen is 42 years of age and on the tail end of his career, but fight fans were still caught off guard by the timing.

Sonnen, who compiled a 2-3 record under the Bellator rule since making his debut in 2017, first made a name for himself under the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) banner. He was able to knock off some seasoned veterans en route to three title shots in two different weight classes. Sonnen would never cash in on those golden opportunities, but he got as close as any fighter could without actually winning.

UFC president Dana White, who was front and center for all of Sonnen’s success in UFC, also witnessed the eventual downfall of the “American Gangster” inside of the Octagon. Sonnen’s UFC career lasted a strong five years, but came to an end in 2013 after dropping a TKO loss to former champion Rashad Evans. After that, Sonnen took his talents to the Bellator MMA cage.

“I like Chael a lot, I have a very good relationship with Chael Sonnen,” White told SiriusXM (transcribed by The Mac Life). “I like the fact that [the UFC] is the hardest place in the world to stay and make a living. It’s a very hard place. You have to be one of the best in the world to stick around here. And when guys can’t stick around here anymore, and they go somewhere else and get paid and make money; I love it. Good for them.”

White, who saw a lot of money come in from Sonnen’s storied rivalry with former UFC middleweight champion and all-time great Anderson Silva, believes that Sonnen is one of the best trash talkers in MMA history. Sonnen’s skills inside of the Octagon certainly played a role in his ability to fight for three UFC titles, but it was his gift for gab that pushed him to the top of the division.

“I don’t think Chael was necessarily a bad guy, I think Chael was very good — before Conor McGregor — Chael was the best guy out there to push buttons and not only piss off other fighters, but piss off fans and stuff like that,” said White. “He was very calculated and very smart in the way he conducted himself in this business.”

Sonnen, who leaned mostly on his wrestling to outclass opponents inside of the cage, did most of his damage before fights with his ability to belittle other fighters on the microphone. He ultimately paved the way for future trash talkers like former UFC champion Conor McGregor and provided a blueprint to sell a fight before any punches or kicks were actually thrown.

For now, Sonnen will remain on the MMA sidelines. His retirement is likely to stick given his decline in ability over the past few years, but there’s a small chance “The Bad Guy” returns somewhere down the road for a fat sack of cash.

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