Like it or not, Chael Sonnen is a trailblazer and there plenty of you out there that hate it.
When Dana White announced last week that Sonnen and UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones would be coaches on the next season of TUF and then fight for Jones’ belt in the spring, plenty out of you feigned outrage and took to sites like this to tell the world why.
Days later, I am still wondering why anyone was that surprised or truly upset.
Well past the boom period of the sport, we find ourselves in the discovery period as promoters big and small are simply trying to figure out what works. TV deals are being made simply to fill content in the off chance a difference-making star can be found. (Ask Bellator how that has worked out to this point.)
Sonnen is a legit draw, a well-trained public speaker who found a way to cover up a lack of punching power by using his words to stand out from a glut of vanilla talent. Like it or not, he has made himself a millionaire as a slightly above average fighter and has virtually ensured himself income for years as an analyst with Fox Sports.
Sonnen, Michael Bisping and Josh Koscheck figured out the game, so what is taking the rest of the MMA world so long? With hundreds and hundreds of fighters attempting to take up mindspace, both guys and gals need to take notice and start to work on how to effectively communicate and get over their personalities.
Of course it isn’t fair that Sonnen got the opportunity and karma may help alleviate the pain if he gets hurt and doesn’t get the shot. There are more deserving guys, but today’s MMA scene is an interest-based business more than ever. Talent is key, but so is the ability to swing the casual mma fan into saying, “I want to see that person fight.”
It’s not a very sporting way to choose top contenders, but that ship sailed a while ago. The decision to give Sonnen an opportunity was made because it served two masters: the aforementioned casual fan and Fox.
Desperate to keep TUF on a major cable network, the UFC put the rest of its chips on the table with Jones and Sonnen. Otherwise, a trip to Fuel felt imminent considering the dismal viewership and interest in the current season. They want casual fans to convert into consistent fans, something that has proven to be more difficult with each passing event.
For years, Sonnen and a small group of others have shown both current and future fighters what to do. Be interesting. Make people care about you. Say bold things. Have a next opponent figured out, win or lose. If you can do those things and consistently win, you’re already ahead of the game because plenty others are leaving those elements out of their professional careers.
Love him or loathe him, the neighborhood of interest-drawing fighters could use a lot more residents like Chael P. Sonnen.
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