People know Chael Sonnen for his wit. But win or lose, “The American Gangster” always brought the fight. Here are our top five moments from Chael Sonnen’s fight career.
Following his loss to Lyoto Machida on Saturday night, Chael Sonnen announced his retirement from mixed martial arts competition. While he will likely continue his career as one of the most successful media personalities in the sport, he leaves the cage after giving fans some of the most entertaining events of the last decade. Here are our top five moments of Chael Sonnen’s fighting career.
5. Nate Marquardt – UFC 109
At this point in his career, Chael Sonnen had not become the character he is now. That would come several months later. In 2009, he was bouncing back from a first-round loss to Demian Maia after joining the UFC following their absorption of the WEC. He put together two victories, over Dan Miller and perennial contender Yushin Okami.
But Nate Marquardt at UFC 109 was considered a different animal entirely. “The Great” was surging toward his own shot at a UFC title and had just knocked out Wilson Gouveia with an incredible sequence and starched Demian Maia in seconds to hand the Brazilian his first career loss.
For all of his destructive capabilities, Marquardt was left without an answer for the wrestling of Sonnen. For three rounds, Sonnen was able to get Marquardt off his feet and maintain top position. It was not without effort. Sonnen survived several big shots from Marquardt including a flying knee that was not unlike the one Machida landed on Saturday. Sonnen shook up the middleweight division and went on to challenge for the UFC title six months later.
4. Paulo Filho – WEC 36
Years before his title campaigns in the UFC, Sonnen challenged Paulo Filho for the WEC middleweight championship. The pair had two meetings, both controversial. The first in 2007 saw Sonnen control the champion with his wrestling and pressure in the first frame, stifling Filho’s submission attempts throughout the fight. With seconds left in the second round, Filho attempted a deep armbar that prompted a scream of pain from Sonnen that the referee took as a verbal submission. Sonnen protested the stoppage as he did not tap and an immediate rematch was scheduled.
The fight took place nearly a year later, but Filho failed to make weight which changed the match to a non-title bout. Sonnen took a decision, but due to Filho’s failure to make weight, he was ineligible to win the title. The WEC was absorbed by the UFC shortly afterward and another title fight in the WEC for Sonnen never took place.
Sonnen has often expressed that a promise he made to his late father was to one day win the title. Even when asked about it Saturday, the topic prompts an emotional response from him. The fact that Sonnen was not crowned champion in the WEC, when the rule has been amended in special circumstances since then, remains unfortunate. Notably, Filho sent Sonnen the WEC championship belt out of respect for the situation.
3. Brian Stann – UFC 136
Following his bid to claim the UFC middleweight championship in 2010, Sonnen was suspended after drug tests found elevated levels of testosterone for his fight with Anderson Silva. With Sonnen out of the picture, Silva went on to have dominating performances over Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami. Meanwhile, a new slew of contenders began to work their way into the title picture.
When Sonnen returned, he did so emphatically against fan-favorite Brian Stann. At the time, Stann was enjoying the best run of his career with emphatic stoppages of Mike Massenzio, Chris Leben, and Jorge Santiago as he was quickly becoming a possible contender for the title.
After the layoff and circumstances of the suspension, there was question of how Sonnen would look upon his return. In the end, he came back looking more dangerous than before by shutting down Stann, going on to submit him in the second round.
Following the victory, Sonnen delivered one of the most electrifying call-outs in UFC history to Silva and set the wheels in motion for one of the biggest events in MMA when the two later collided in the rematch.
“anderson Silva, you absolutely suck!”
2. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson – Bellator 192
In 2018, Chael Sonnen became the unlikeliest inclusion to Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix. In a field with former champions and legends such as Fedor Emelianenko and Frank Mir, people immediately scoffed at the idea of the former middleweight contender making it far in the tournament.
His first-round opponent, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, was expected to end his ambitions early. Jackson had moved up to heavyweight years prior and was arguably the most dangerous puncher in the tournament. Sonnen surprised everyone by not only winning the fight, but also outboxing Jackson in the fight for a comprehensive victory. Even more, he did that at over 40 years old.
Sonnen went on to the semifinals where he fell to the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, but the victory over Jackson revitalized his career. The momentum and his own star power propelled him into Saturday’s title eliminator at a time when many had already written him off.
Next: Honorable Mention and Number-One Moment