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Chael Sonnen Biography

MMA Biography: Chael Sonnen

By Loot, MMA Handicapper,

Chael Sonnen was a veteran MMA fighter in the middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. He fought in the UFC and is credited with giving pre-eminent Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva his first really tough fight in the UFC. Sonnen was on his way to victory when Silva sunk in a triangle in the last round. Despite that loss and another defeat to Silva in the rematch, Sonnen remained one of the more recognizable figures in MMA.

Sonnen earned his bones in the world of Greco-Roman wrestling. He is a former Division I All-American and decorated wrestler. At 19, he made his professional MMA debut in 1997 and in his second fight beat Jason “Mayhem” Miller. For an extended stretch, Sonnen fought in some of the lower-end MMA organizations in the U.S., honing his craft. He lost by submission to Trevor Langley, drew with Akihiro Gono in Japan, and then was choked out by future UFC standout Forrest Griffin.

After five consecutive wins, Sonnen appeared to right the ship, but he was still a work in progress and took his share of lumps on the way up the ladder. He lost 4 of his next 5 fights, including two inside-the-distance losses to veteran Jeremy Horn. After being TKO’d by Terry Martin in 2004, he got back on the winning track, but hard times were not over.

Sonnen was submitted by dangerous Renato “Babalu” Sobral in his UFC debut in 2005, beat Langley in a rematch for his first UFC win, and then was beaten for a third time against Horn--again by submission in UFC 60. This was a tough time for Sonnen, as he was released by the UFC after losing to Horn.


Sonnen then had 4 appearances with Bodog Fight, winning all 4 of his fights--3 inside the distance. After another win, he made his debut for World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), taking on their Midleweight Champion, Paulo Filho. Though he didn’t tap, the referee controversially awarded the win to Filho. Sonnen shook off the loss and beat Bryan Baker, before beating an out-of-shape Filho in the rematch. The win was enough to earn him another shot at the UFC.

Sonnen lost his 3rd of 4 UFC fights when he was submitted by Demian Maia via triangle choke. It would be Sonnen’s 7th career submission defeat. To his credit, however, he faced some of the best submission fighters of his era. Sonnen finished 2009 winning two important fights--unanimous decisions against Dan Miller and Yushin Okami. 2010 got off to a good start, as well, with Sonnen winning a middleweight title eliminator against dangerous Nate Marquardt--again by unanimous decision.

On August 7, 2010, Sonnen mostly got the better of Silva. Fans and media were so used to seeing Silva dominate that the sight if Silva getting pounded for 4+ rounds was quite a shock. But the great champions always have something up their sleeves and Silva sunk in the triangle with under 2 minutes remaining in the final round to save the title. The aftermath of the fight would not paint Sonnen in a positive light, as he failed the drug test--for elevated levels of testosterone. Appeals were filed and Sonnen also got caught up in a legal issue involving his real estate business practices. All of these issues would keep Sonnen out of the ring for 14 months.

Sonnen returned in October 2011 to submit Brian Stann in the second round. His next fight, he took on Michael Bisping in a middleweight title eliminator. If he won this, he would get another chance at Anderson Silva. Sonnen didn’t seem to be in great shape and Bisping hung in there pretty well for 3 rounds. The decision went to Sonnen unanimously.

At UFC 148, he got his chance to settle the score against Silva, but it wasn’t meant to be. After having a good first round, he fell victim to the striking prowess of the champion and fell by TKO in the second round. It was one of the more eagerly-awaited fights in UFC history. Despite his losses, Sonnen remained one of the top contenders in the UFC and perhaps its biggest draw outside of the champions.

Sonnen moved up to light heavyweight and took on champion Jon Jones in 2013, getting stopped in the first round. He came back to score a first-round submission over Mauricio Rua, before suffering a first-round TKO loss to Rashad Evans. Sonnen looked to continue his career. He coached on The Ultimate Fighter with Wanderlei Silva and a rivalry emerged. But as the fight approached, Sonnen again ran afoul with the commission, testing positive for banned substances. The incident would lead to his retirement.

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