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Throwback Fighter Of The Week: “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen

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The man of the hour, too sweet to be sour. What you see is what you get and what you don’t is better yet. The women’s pick and the men’s regret and if you bet against Chael Sonnen you made a bad bet. Now that the hour has passed and the flavor has gone off, I think it’s time to take a proper look into the career of MMA legend Chael Sonnen. Retiring on the 15th of June 2019, Sonnen ended his career on a 2 fight losing streak but don’t let his last few performances take away from his 31-17-1 career.

The Early Life Of The All-American

Born in West Linn, Oregon April 3rd, 1977, and starting his martial arts journey in wrestling at the age of nine, Chael Sonnen knew that he was born to compete from early on in his life. His first major achievement came in 1996 at West Linn High School where he was state runner-up in wrestling. In that same year, Sonnen started a new martial arts practice in the form of boxing with the hope of going straight into the UFC after graduation. However, this did not come to fruition as soon as he had planned. He attended Brigham Young University before transferring to the University of Oregon in Eugene.

When the university started to cut its wrestling program, Sonnen was awarded all-American honors. He was also a two-time PAC-10 (collegiate athletic conference) runner-up, a two-time Dave Schultz Memorial International Greco-Roman World University Championships Winner, and a silver medalist at the 2000 Greco-Roman World University Championships. Although his intentions lied in competing for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Chael Sonnen couldn’t help but pursue his early passion in professional wrestling trying out for the World Championship Wrestling at “WCW Power Plant”. He did this before graduating from the University of Oregon in 2001 with a bachelor of science degree in sociology.

Chael Sonnen’s Way to the Top

Known as “The Peoples Champ” Chael had his first MMA contest in 1997 at the age of 19 where he defeated Ben Haily and Future ICON Sport Middleweight champion and Strikeforce Middleweight contender Jason Miller. After six straight wins, he lost to Trevor Prangley in late 2003. Whilst Sonnen’s most notable win in his early career came against “Mayhem” Miller, his most notable loss was against the first Ultimate Fighter winner and future UFC Light Heavyweight Champion of the world Forrest Griffin who defeated the young wrestler by way of a triangle choke.

UFC 55 was where “The American Gangster” first had his chance to show himself on the world stage and after a moderately successful first round, Chael Sonnen tapped to Renato Sobral’s triangle choke. He later came back at UFC fight night 4 winning a unanimous decision against former opponent Trevor Prangley. His last loss on this run with the promotion came against Jeremy Horn at UFC 60 by way of an armbar. The highlight of Sonnen’s early career came at his time with Bodog Fight where he finished Tim Credeur with strikes, won a unanimous decision against Aleksei Oleinik, and secured a D’arce choke against Tim Mckenzie. His last victory with Bodog came against UFC and Pride veteran Amar Suloev by way of TKO.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 27: (L-R) Jeremy Horn defeats Chael Sonnen by arm bar submission at UFC 60 at Staples Center on May 27, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Chael Sonnen really found himself in the World Series of Fighting (WEC) where he competed for the middleweight championship. Here he lost at one of the multiple controversial submissions in his career as the bout was stopped after he screamed in pain but did not tap, the referee interpreted this as a “verbal tap out”. UFC president Dana White was watching cage side and agreed with the call. After a rematch fell through due to failed drug tests from Paulo Filho, Sonnen ended up facing undefeated contender Bryan Baker where he dominated and won a unanimous decision.

Sonnen finally got his revenge on November 5th, 2008 where he dragged Filho to the scorecards and once again won a unanimous decision. Unfortunately for Sonnen, Paulo missed weight by seven pounds, and the contest was ruled a non-title match, Filho later shipped the belt to Chael.

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 24: UFC fighter Chael Sonnen (R) battles with UFC fighter Yushin Okami (L) during their Middleweight bout at UFC 104: Machida vs. Shogun at Staples Center on October 24, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)

After the dissolution of the WEC Chael looked to make up for his first stint with the UFC but came up short in his first contest against Jiu-Jitsu black belt Demian Maia losing by way of a triangle choke. But he returned and was finally ready to show why he belonged defeating Yushin Okami’s replacement Dan Miller by decision. When the time came for Okami to face Sonnen, “The Peoples Champ” did not disappoint outwrestling Yushin to yet again win a unanimous decision. Only one more victory was needed before he would challenge for UFC gold and the man standing in his way was Nate Marquardt. Chael Sonnen was in trouble many times in this contest but ultimately won another unanimous decision.

The Ultimate Trash Talker

Before we jump into Chael Sonnen’s bout against Anderson Silva, let’s look at what made “The American Gangster” so great. Chael was always open about his love for professional wrestling and showed it in his witty comments that he would come up with almost without thought at press conferences and pre/post-fight interviews. it really was something to behold. With classic lines such as:

“Anderson Silva you absolutely suck! Super Bowl weekend, the biggest rematch in the history of the business. I’m calling you out Silva but we’re upping the stakes. I beat you, you leave the division. You beat me; I will leave the UFC forever.”

“In some parallel universe you can hit a man 300 times, he wraps his legs around your head for eight seconds and they call him the winner. On the streets of West Linn, Oregon, that is not the rules. I am the Middleweight Champion. I defended my Championship tonight for the first time and I am willing to give Anderson Silva a shot at the true belt, the linear belt, the people’s belt from the best damn middleweight there has ever been.”

The fans loved it and it made for good PPV buys, he was a guy the fans could tolerate but also always want to lose so time and time again viewers tuned in to see him win. That was until his monumental performance against “The Spider” which we will talk about now.

Coming Up Short But Proving His Worth

UFC 117, August 7th, 2010. The highly anticipated matchup between the all-American and “The Spider” Anderson Silva was finally upon us and it did not disappoint. Chael Sonnen came to show the world who he was and why they should stop doubting him. Early in the first Chael rocked Silva with a left straight and the pressure began right there, walking him down until Anderson dragged Sonnen down where he locked up a guillotine in a short-lived grappling exchange. However, Chael did not let that stop him almost instantly taking it back down to the ground, he did this for 4 and a half rounds. 30-23, 30-24, and 30-25 across all judges scorecards, and then with less than 2 minutes left to go in the fight Anderson locked up a triangle where Chael tapped and instantly protested.

OAKLAND, CA – AUGUST 07: Chael Sonnen punches Anderson Silva while on the ground during the UFC Middleweight Championship bout at Oracle Arena on August 7, 2010 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The End Of A Career After Starting A New Era

With the likes of Conor McGregor and Colby Covington, it is not a stretch to say that Chael Sonnen’s talking ways inspired the next generation of fighters across all of MMA. He still continues to use his great talking ability in analysis videos on his youtube channel. After competing one more time against Silva for the title and then facing Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight strap, Chael would go on to fail multiple drug tests and then end up competing in the Light Heavyweight division for Bellator where he had many wins and losses against former greats. But his last contest against Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida drew the line for him and helped him realize that it was time to focus on family and stop competing in the sport he loves. This has not stopped Chael Sonnen from working as an analyst for ESPN and features on “Ariel and the Bad Guy” Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show.


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