Chael Sonnen’s long journey toward a return to competition had already slowed to a crawl in recent months. On Wednesday in Los Angeles, it was dealt what some think might turn out to be a death blow.
Already out of action more than nine months – and suffering through numerous high-profile setbacks – Sonnen appeared at a pivotal special meeting of the California State Athletic Commission this week after the governing body slapped him with an indefinite suspension (his second administrative reprimand in that state this year) on May 11.
This latest suspension came as a bit of a surprise, since Sonnen had just completed his previous six-month wrist-slap for elevated levels of testosterone at UFC 117, plead out some federal charges in Oregon and was in the process of trying to get right with the athletic commission in Nevada. Sonnen’s media appearances during the last month or so had been upbeat and he appeared to believe he was just an easily-jumped hoop or two away from resuming his MMA career.
All that came to an end on Thursday, when the CSAC voted 4-1 to uphold his indefinite suspension, despite pleas from the fighter, his attorneys, supporters and (weirdly) his mom. It seemed the commission has decided to rethink the recent trajectory of Sonnen’s life, deciding it was more bothered than first thought about his controversial testosterone replacement therapy, statements he’d made at their last hearing about Nevada commission honcho Keith Kizer and about his recent guilty plea on federal mortgage fraud charges.
In the immediate aftermath of the hearing, it’s hard to know how dire the commission’s vote actually is for Sonnen. In literal terms it just means he’ll remain suspended until his current license expires on June 29. He can re-apply at that time in the Golden State and can apply to fight elsewhere whenever he likes. However, he’s also been placed on a sort of “watch list” to inform other commissions of his suspension and California is asking states to confer with it before granting him a license.
Sonnen himself – who we know has a penchant for the dramatic – made the situation sound even more grim during his testimony, saying he’d be “effectively retired” if the commission didn’t grant him license and that this mandate “came from the boss, Dana White.” He further claimed that he’d already been offered a coaching spot on the upcoming season of “The Ultimate Fighter” as well as an eventual No.1 contender bout against opposing coach Michael Bisping. He called it an opportunity he’d “worked his whole life” for and became uncharacteristically emotional when discussing the possible ramifications of the commission’s vote.
“I don’t want to retire today,” Sonnen said.
On the topic of his recent federal guilty plea, Sonnen claimed he never profited from the years-old real estate transaction that led to the charges. About his testosterone replacement therapy, he said it was necessary for his “survival” and that without it he has the testosterone of a “93-year-old man.” Several others spoke on his behalf, including his mother (who was also tied to the aforementioned real estate scheme) and his lawyer, who said he was “fundamentally a good person.”
For once however, the commission appeared immune to his appeals, both logical and emotional. Members laid into the fighter pretty hard, saying it was hard for them to "believe in his second chance" and that Sonnen "always has someone else to blame."
"I don't know how you can ever trust him," commission member Karen Chapelle said.
In the end, they decided they couldn’t.
While it’s hard to imagine this blow could really mean the wholesale end of Sonnen’s career, it obviously makes his fighting future even more uncertain than before. For now, fans are left to wonder if the latter part of Sonnen’s career – during which he made a name for himself making outrageous statements and stretching the truth – may have finally caught up to him.