Posted 06/13/2014 at 09:56 AM
After flunking a random drug test earlier this week that forced him out of his UFC 175 fight against Vitor Belfort, perennial middleweight contender Chael Sonnen announced his retirement Wednesday on UFC Tonight.
Like Belfort, Dan Henderson and many others, Sonnen is one of those fighters that for years has been given testosterone replacement therapy exemptions for many of his trips into the Octagon. But the Nevada Athletic Commission banned TRT a few months ago, so Sonnen (and Belfort) were going to be competing without a TRT exemption for the first time in many years.
Sonnen claims that the substances he tested positive for were advised by his doctors to use in an effort to come off the TRT substances. Even UFC President Dana White noted on Tuesday that "you don't just come off TRT cold turkey."
Whatever the case, there will be many MMA scribes who take shots at Sonnen. Yahoo's Kevin Iole was one of them with his column last night.
This space isn't going that route, however. Why, you ask? Because Sonnen, despite just a 7-7 career record in the UFC, is one of the best things to ever happen to the promotion.
I'm not an "old-school MMA guy," so I didn't become familiar with Sonnen until the promotional tour began for his middleweight title fight against Anderson 'The Spider' Silva at UFC 117 on Aug. 7 of 2010.
Silva had never been beaten in the Octagon and was a -450 favorite versus the West Linn, Oregon, product. Nevertheless, Sonnen audaciously attacked every appearance at a microphone before the bout to explain that he was going to destroy Silva.
Sonnen even cracked jokes about Silva's wife and all of the unprecedented trash talking had everybody thinking that Silva was going to deal out a ruthless assbeating. Instead, Sonnen dominated the champion for 23 minutes. He scored takedowns in the opening minute of every round and Silva was never able to get back up. Sonnen blasted away with ground-and-pound punishment, putting on a performance for the ages.
Forget Matt Serra's jaw-dropping KO upset of Georges St. Pierre or T.J. Dillashaw's recent win over Renan Barao. Sonnen's domination of Silva was -- by far -- the most shocking result in the UFC's 20-year history.
But there was only one problem. The fight was scheduled for 25 minutes, not 23. In complete desperation mode working from the bottom, Silva took advantage of one minor mistake by 'The American Gangster" and was able to lock in a triangle choke that forced Sonnen to tap.
At the post-fight presser, Sonnen was questioned as to why he didn't play it more safe with two minutes remaining and an easy decision win within reach. His response was classic.
"I was in a cage fight in Oakland, California, on a Saturday night. That's not the time or the place to think about playing anything safe."
Sonnen was gracious in defeat on that night. However, his tone toward Silva predictably changed in the coming months as he began his verbal efforts in an entertaining campaign for a rematch.
Following a dominant win over Brian Stann in his next fight, everyone knew there were fireworks coming in Sonnen's post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. Sonnen said, "Anderson Silva! You absolutely suck!"
After another victory over Michael Bisping in a narrow decision, Sonnen got his wish for a rematch. And as expected, he elevated his verbal haymakers aimed at Silva in the months preceding UFC 148.
In the first round of the rematch, Sonnen picked up where he left off in Oakland. He stormed across the Octagon at Silva and scored an immediate takedown. He kept top position for the rest of the stanza and delivered ground-and-pound punishment.
In the second round, however, Silva defended the takedown with a little help from illegally grabbing Sonnen's shorts. As they remained standing, Sonnen once again made one crucial mistake. He attempted a spinning backfist that Silva ducked under. As Sonnen's momentum carried him forward, he tripped over Silva's foot and landed with his back against the cage.
Silva sized up Sonnen and dealt a crushing knee to the body. At first glance, it appeared to be a knee to the head of a downed opponent. But the replays clearly showed that the knee landed legally into Sonnen's upper chest area. With Sonnen badly hurt, Silva finished the fight with a series of strikes.
Although Silva won both fights, you could make the argument that Sonnen dominated The GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) for all but about 10-15 seconds of seven rounds in the Octagon. Of course, that means nothing but it was quite an accomplishment considering that nobody ever challenged (with the possible exception of Round 1 vs. Dan Henderson at UFC 82) Silva until Chris Weidman.
Sonnen will be remembered for more than his bravado and epic rivalry with Silva. He'll also be known as the fighter that would get into the cage with any guy in any weight division on any given night. He once said, "I'll fight any man God put on this earth at any time."
When Henderson had to pull out of his title shot against 205-pound kingpin Jon Jones less than two weeks before the fight two summers ago, Sonnen was the only fighter to agree to face Jones. But it was Jones that refused to face Sonnen on such short notice even though he was in great shape and Sonnen wasn't even in a training camp prepping for a fight.
Hours after that news broke, Sonnen went on SportsCenter and explained, "I have no idea why Jon Jones won't fight me next Saturday night. He must be going to a wine-tasting event."
As I noted above, many members of the MMA media will blast Sonnen for this week's developments.
I just want to thank him for the entertainment he provided. He will be sorely missed.
Also, in what is not even a conversation, even if compared to the great Muhammad Ali, I declare Sonnen to be the greatest to ever live in one category: Chael Sonnen: The Best Shit Talker Ever.