Following a loss to Fedor Emelianenko over the weekend, Chael Sonnen stood at a podium and spoke to a room full of media members. Sonnen, as only Sonnen can, had the room eating out the palm of his hand. He waxed poetic about his game plan, his career, and about being the pound-for-pound king “in a sport full of chickens.” Somehow, as he walked away from the podium, it almost felt as if Chael P. Sonnen still won the day. That just might be the secret to his success; he can lose the fight but still win the day and no one seems to question how or why it happened. On this night Sonnen was classy in defeat and seemed to shy away from looking ahead to future matchups (or so it would seem). But this run in the Heavyweight Tournament makes him relevant for Bellator and that means business is good for President, Scott Coker and team.
The fight with Fedor did not play out for Sonnen the way he had hoped. He did show flashes of success against the former PRIDE champion but each success was met with raw athleticism, which would prove too much for Sonnen to handle. Fedor showed that the speed and power that made him the greatest heavyweight of all time was still there in flashes. Thanks to those bursts of athleticism this fight might give Fedor fans hope that he could win the tournament in the end. Sonnen was complementary of Fedor but did point out that the openings he showed in their fight might very well help tournament finalist Ryan Bader secure a win against the stoic Russian. That suggestion was a subtle jab that many likely glossed right over. Sonnen simply setup the first domino in a chain reaction that could lead him into a matchup with Bader sooner than later. The second domino fell before he left the podium, as he made sure to mention that he is the number one contender at light heavyweight (a belt that Bader holds).
Therein lies the genius of Sonnen. A call out even when he is waiting to make his call out official. He is always “on” and he thinks in a way that very few fighters do. He is the thinking man’s trash talker. He says things with purpose and his charismatic nature holds your attention while he does it. That being said, Sonnen is 41 and all the trash talking and charisma in the world can’t beat father time. With nearly 50 fights in his career and the clock continuing to tick Sonnen needs to secure opportunities while they are front of him. This loss to Fedor means Sonnen has the chance to move back to his natural weight class and take on Bader or if he chooses to stay on the heavyweight diet he could certainly take on a few of the other tournament participants. Either way he will likely strike while the iron is hot.
Sonnen’s star seems to be burning its brightest in years. His show on ESPN with Ariel Helwani is a huge success, he just made it to the semi-finals of a heavyweight tournament, his podcast is incredibly popular, and somehow he owns the room like never before. Has Chael grown wiser in his old age or has he simply perfected his shtick? Regardless of how or why, Chael Sonnen’s status as a must see fighter has been renewed and his value to opponents is at an all time high. How long can he keep this up? We will have to wait and see, but one thing is for sure: He will walk away from the podium leaving us wanting more even if he has no more to offer.