No more rumors, insinuations or innuendo: Chael Sonnen is back.
After 11 months away from the cage and a legal saga that would take both Matlock and John Grisham to fully ferret out, the recently un-suspended UFC middleweight finally has an honest-to-goodness fight booking. It was announced this week that Sonnen will make his return against Brian Stann at UFC 136 in October, drawing to a close a difficult chapter in the bombastic former Oregon wrestler’s life, one that at times appeared to spell the end of his mixed martial arts career altogether.
As for his controversial testosterone replacement therapy treatments, we’re left to assume he’s still using them and the fact Sonnen’s return will go down in Texas means the UFC is giving him some baby-sized administrative hurdles to clear his first time back. Sonnen announced his reemergence with authority this week – though from a PR standpoint he was never really absent – by cutting at nearly 20-minute, sit-down interview with MMA Fighting.com’s Ariel Helwani during which he showed off the kind of verbal skills that would make any WWE wrestler jealous.
The interview was taped prior to UFC 132 and before Sonnen found out he’d be facing Stann, so its content was largely focused on ripping Brazilian fighters like Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva and Lyoto Machida. At the time, Sonnen was likely angling for a bout with Wanderlei. As soon as the former Pride champ dropped a 27-second TKO to Chris Leben last Saturday night however, Sonnen immediately shifted gears and started trashing Machida. It was briefly reported that a light heavyweight bout between those two was signed, but roughly 24 hours later news broke that the UFC was keeping Sonnen in his natural weight class for an assumed title eliminator against Stann.
Admittedly, it’s great to have Sonnen’s mouth back in a high profile situation. As for how he will actually fair once the opening bell rings, that’s anyone’s best guess. By the time he enters the cage against Stann, Sonnen will be more than a year removed from the most successful 15-month stretch of his career, when he won three consecutive fights in the Octagon and came within two minutes of unseating Anderson Silva as middleweight champion. Will the magic still be there for him? Especially against a hard-charging up-and-comer the size and skill of Stann?
It’s easy to forget that prior to 2009 Sonnen was considered by most a fairly mediocre talent. He’d never really broken through on the big stage and the timing that he did it just as he says he began TRT treatments will no doubt be treated harshly by many in hindsight. The UFC is clearly hoping for a big return from him – monetarily, you can’t blame them – but we’d be remiss to at least mention the possibility that Sonnen might not be able to grab lightning in a bottle for a second time.
Stann poses challenges for him both in and out of the cage. Not only will he have a size and strength advantage – not to mention a decided edge on his feet, if he can keep it there – but it’ll also be interesting to see how Sonnen handles the build up to this fight. Stann is an acknowledged war hero and in stark contrast to Sonnen’s recent opponents is an English-speaking American who is (as far as Sonnen knows, anyway) a Christian. Will Sonnen spew vitriol at Stann the same way he’s done to Anderson and Wanderlei? Probably not. If he doesn’t, will his presence still be as marketable? Probably.
There are certainly a lot of question marks surrounding Sonnen’s return. For now however, it just feels good to have that crazy SOB back in the game.