Chael Sonnen, the MMA Media, and Those Without Sin
There’s plenty of people who have the right to judge serial drug abuser (and retired UFC star) Chael Sonnen.
Chances are, you’re not one of them.
If you’re reading this article, it’s a good bet that you’re not Anderson Silva. You’re probably not Brian Stann, either. And you’re most likely not Michael Bisping, Mauricio Rua, Nate Marquardt, or any other MMA fighters who might have been beaten by the unnatural, testosterone-fueled strength of the West Linn, Oregon-born almost-UFC-champion.
Those men have a legitimate beef with Sonnen, since their careers were skewed by his success.
But the UFC, the MMA media, and most UFC fans have no right to judge him.
How many people bought Sonnen’s rematch vs. Silva at UFC 148?
How many fans backed Sonnen against Jones during UFC 159 and The Ultimate Fighter 17?
How many MMA journalists gleefully cheered Chael in his biggest fights?
Hell, who bought his book?
(Full disclosure: This author owns a purchased copy of Chael Sonnen’s book, The Voice of Reason: A V.I.P. Pass to Enlightenment.)
Chael’s not innocent, and neither are any of us.
If MMA is a sport where the athletes are only as good as their last fight, then it’s also a place where the rest of us can be shamless hypocrites. Chael Sonnen, despite all his efforts, was the UFC’s most famous loser, and that’s probably a far bigger sin to many than testing positive for four different kinds of drugs. If Sonnen had beaten Jones by a default TKO on that fateful night, he’d probably still be a hero today even if he’d been snorting cocaine during the post-fight presser.
No, the real problem is that Sonnen made us all look stupid.
Don’t forget, despite the first positive drug test, MMA fans and media alike cheered him anyway.
It was easy, after all. Sonnen took his suspension without complaint, and we collectively forgot/forgave it as soon as enough time went by. It was even easier after Sonnen strung together a few wins, because he’s just that damn likeable. Nearly everyone who met him would admit it, and some of us can’t shut up about how much we like the guy. Sonnen’s smart, charismatic, and by all accounts, he genuinely cares about his friends, fans, training partners, students, and co-workers.
And so, his latest drug test failure is far more personal.
All us UFC fans are the ones who made Sonnen into a star. In turn, the UFC promoted him as much as he did himself. And years later, we all look like idiots.
So let’s stop with the false outrage.
Let’s stop with the self-righteousness.
Let’s stop pretending we ever had a clue.
Unless you’re someone like Zach Arnold at Fight Opinion—who’s been on-point about this topic since Day One—there’s a good chance you probably haven’t earned the right to be throwing stones.
Thursday’s California Circus with Chael Sonnen & Josh Barnett http://bit.ly/edFOcl #mma
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) November 30, 2010
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) May 19, 2011
— FightOpinion (@FightOpinion) January 26, 2012
And there’s no more justice to be dealt out, either. Right at this moment, Chael’s lost everything. His fighter’s license is worthless, his middleweight legacy forever tarnished, and surprisingly enough, even his Fox Sports analyst position is gone.
If you had some magical point to prove by writing an opinion piece about how bad Chael was for MMA and the UFC, you’re years too late.
Chael Sonnen will be judged by history and his peers.
But he shouldn’t be judged by us fans and media. Not now, not ever. If you wanted to do that, your moment was September 2010.
McKinley Noble is an MMA conspiracy theorist. His work has appeared in PC World, Macworld, GamePro, 1UP, GamesBeat, Cox Sports, Bleacher Report, CNN, and The Los Angeles Times. Follow him at @KenTheGreat1 on Twitter.