For the first time in more than two years, Chael Sonnen is back to promoting himself as an active mixed martial artist. It’s almost as if he never left.
Sonnen (28-14-1) shocked the MMA industry this week when he announced a multifight deal with Bellator MMA. Prior to this deal, the 39-year-old had fought exclusively in the UFC since 2009 and developed into a major star along the way.
Ex-UFC contender Sonnen signs with Bellator
Chael Sonnen is coming out of retirement, declaring that he’s ready to fight “right now.” Sonnen signed with Bellator and said he’s targeting a November fight with fellow UFC alumnus Tito Ortiz.
On Friday, Sonnen hosted an international conference call alongside Bellator president Scott Coker. At least from a verbal standpoint, Sonnen picked up right where he left off in 2014, when his career was placed on hold due to a two-year drug suspension.
With Sonnen, it is often difficult to figure out where truth ends and promotion begins. His quotes are best defined as “claims” rather than “absolute truths.” Here’s what he had to say, however, on his return to the cage:
Prior to signing with Bellator, Sonnen submitted four drug tests to the UFC’s anti-doping program, all of which came back negative.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) website confirms Sonnen has submitted four samples in 2016. The agency does not typically release results unless there is an adverse finding.
It is worth noting that Bellator does not have a year-round anti-doping program. The promotion relies purely on the oversight of state athletic commissions in the U.S.
“Everything was fine,” Sonnen said. “They tested me at least four times. It could have been more. I think four was the number, and yeah, there was no problem. I’m on the other side of the tracks now.
“I get asked by people, ‘Did you ever take anything that was an enhancer?’ I never took anything that wasn’t an enhancer. That’s the only reason I would take something, is if I thought it would enhance me. I’m on the other side now. There’s still commissions, and if we go to California, which is what I’m lobbying for, [executive director] Andy Foster is as strict as it gets. He’s No. 1. There is nobody stricter, and he will bring in USADA. So if people are married to those letters, they’re probably gonna have it.”
Presumably due to his history, Sonnen claims there is a $500,000 fine written into his contract if he fails another drug test.
“[USADA] didn’t have anything to do with [moving to Bellator],” the Oregon native said. “If I would have gotten flagged by USADA, Coker would not have talked to me either, and I get it. I would be toxic.
“I don’t like those things I did. They embarrass me. I steer into it sometimes, but the truth is that stuff embarrasses me. It was a different world with different times, and you have to change with those times or you’re outside the lines. I was outside the lines. I should have been suspended [in 2014]. I was, and I did my time. I can tell you I’m not going back.
“If I was to fail a test under my Bellator contract, it would cost me 100 percent of my purse and $500,000. That is in writing.”
Sonnen is willing to fight at middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. He would like to fight as soon as possible and believes former UFC champion Tito Ortiz as a first opponent makes sense.
“I don’t know, I’m on a legends ass-kicking tour, and I hope they book two guys because one of them is going to pull out,” Sonnen said.
“Somebody else suggested Tito to me, and when they did, I thought, ‘Man, that makes a lot of sense.’ Tito is a legend. Tito is even a friend of mine. Bottom line is, he has been around, and I was jealous of him for a long time.
“I still see him at events and he looks at me in the same way I look at him. I look at him like, ‘Tito, you know I could whip your ass,’ and he gives me the exact same look. If the ‘Bad Boy’ wants a piece of the ‘Bad Guy,’ all you’ve got to do is say my name.”
Sonnen’s deal with Bellator is the “biggest deal” he has ever signed and encompasses three years … he thinks.
“This is the biggest deal I’ve signed, that’s true, but it’s not about the money,” Sonnen said. “People tell you money makes you happy. I’ve got $10 million and I can tell you it’s not true. I’m not any happier than I was when I had $9 million. It’s the same thing.
“I really don’t know [the length of the contract]. I couldn’t tell you the number. It’s multifight, multiyear. I believe it’s three years, six-fight deal, but I could be wrong on that. So if Coker corrects me on that, don’t call me a liar. But I’m in for the long run, man.”
When asked to confirm, Coker stated, “I really can’t talk about the details, [but] Chael is pretty close.”
Sonnen provided very few details about his contractual release from the UFC.
Sonnen’s UFC departure was shocking for several reasons, including the presumption that it required his UFC release. He was still under contract in 2014 and was even scheduled to fight Wanderlei Silva at UFC 175 before failing a pair of tests and announcing his retirement.
UFC president Dana White confirmed to ESPN.com that the UFC granted Sonnen his release, but did not offer further details. Sonnen took a similar approach.
“I guess you call it a paperwork issue,” Sonnen said. “You’re either under contract or not, and I wasn’t. I definitely had a release. You’ve got to understand, I’ve got to go back two or three years; I haven’t been in this since 2013. When my storm first hit, I believe I was released right then, but if you’re asking when actual paperwork came, I don’t know.
“[The UFC] was the track I was going down. This had nothing to do with the new ownership or anything like that. Look, you can only sign at one place. Unfortunately, that’s where the sport is at. People have their own promotions and networks. One is a pay-per-view business [UFC] and one is in television ratings [Bellator]. They are different models. You’ve got to pick which one you’re gonna go with.”