Chael Sonnen Returns To MMA With Bellator

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Chael Sonnen is coming back to the cage, and he’s doing it with Bellator.

Sonnen will return to mixed martial arts with the UFC’s biggest competitor, the veteran fighter told The Associated Press on Thursday night.

The 39-year-old Sonnen signed a multiyear, multi-fight deal with Bellator, the promotion also confirmed to the AP.

Sonnen hopes to begin in November by taking on fellow UFC alumnus Tito Ortiz, but the brash, loquacious, self-styled “American Gangster” says he starts the next chapter of his remarkable career with no other preferences about opponents, fight locations – or even weight classes.

“I want to fight right now, and I don’t fight in any weight division,” Sonnen told the AP. “I fight at gangster weight. Wherever the competition is, I will show up. (Bellator President Scott) Coker has got guys under contract from 185 to 205. He’s signing guys at heavyweight. If he’s got guys that want to fight, then let’s fight.”

Sonnen has fought for the UFC middleweight and light heavyweight titles during a tumultuous MMA run, narrowly losing a memorable matchup with Anderson Silva. He also honed world-class fight promotion skills that turned him into a pay-per-view draw on the sheer strength of his charisma.

With a reputation for versatility and tenacity even in defeat, Sonnen became one of the sport’s most popular and polarizing figures before he received a two-year suspension in 2014 for failing a drug test.

Sonnen announced his retirement after that positive test, which wasn’t the first of his MMA career. He repeatedly denied interest in returning to his sport, instead starting a family and beginning a thriving career in commentary and podcasting over the past two years.

When asked Thursday why he claimed he wouldn’t return, Sonnen said: “I’m a heel. Heels lie.”

“There might have been a blink of the eye where I thought it was time to transition behind a desk, but for the most part, I never meant it,” Sonnen added. “I was never prepared for it. I knew I was coming back, and there were more guys to beat up. … I appreciate that you all read the book, but I can see that I left a few chapters out, so it’s going to continue.”

Sonnen had been a devoted UFC fighter with two stints and 14 fights for the promotion since 2005, and he re-entered the USADA testing pool earlier this year – a required precursor to fighting in the UFC, whose anti-doping policy is administered by USADA. Sonnen remained vocally supportive of the promotion during his suspension, but Bellator apparently made a financial offer that the UFC didn’t match.

When asked why he chose Bellator, Sonnen solemnly joked “Zero apostrophe S,” referring to the numbers written on his new paychecks.

“Chael is an incredible athlete that has competed at the very highest levels of the sport, and I know that he is going to continue to do just that here at Bellator,” Coker said in a statement from Budapest, where Bellator is staging its next kickboxing show next week.

“He has that entertainer X-factor that can’t be taught,” Coker added. “When we were talking, Chael was adamant that he wants to compete in three divisions here. He already has unfinished business with Wanderlei Silva, but he also wants to fight Tito Ortiz, Fedor Emelianenko and even Rory MacDonald at middleweight. These are all fights that I’d be very inclined to watch, so hopefully we can put some, if not all, of these matchups together.”

Ortiz, Silva and MacDonald are former UFC stalwarts who moved to Bellator in recent years, along with former UFC champion Benson Henderson and other well-known names. Emelianenko is widely considered the best heavyweight in MMA history, but the 39-year-old Russian has fought only twice since 2012.

Sonnen said he won’t ask for a specific opponent beyond Ortiz, but he intends to fight early and often with Bellator.

“I signed with Bellator a matter of minutes ago, they’ve got a card in Austin tomorrow, and I’m (mad) that I’m not on it,” Sonnen said in reference to Bellator 161, which pits Cheick Kongo against Tony Johnson in the headlining heavyweight bout.

Bellator 161 and most of the promotion’s fights largely air on Spike TV, although a Sonnen-Ortiz matchup seems to be a possible pay-per-view candidate. While the fight isn’t set, Sonnen would love to take on the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, who has been with Bellator since 2014.

“The Bad Boy versus the Bad Guy in November, and that’s a quote,” Sonnen said.

Sonnen believes he can jump back into competition quickly. He has sparred aggressively during his time off, even setting mock fight dates to prepare.

“But as far as dealing with the competition and the adversity and the pain and the things you have to go through to be successful, I haven’t done that,” Sonnen said. “My body still feels good, and I’m still having some good moments in the practice room. Everything is fine. I’ve had some personal bests. But as far as going in there and actually doing it, you’ve got to have those reps. I’m jonesing. November can’t get here quick enough.”


Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.


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