2016 has been a year of consistent surprises. We’ve seen shocking upsets, dramatic title changes, Conor McGregor retire for 24 hours, on and on. But when you really sit down and think about things…this is probably the most shocking news of the year so far.
On Thursday night, news broke that Chael Sonnen was coming out of retirement. Just as importantly, news broke that Sonnen was coming out of retirement with Bellator MMA.
At face value, that’s not especially surprising. A number of UFC fighters have left for Bellator in recent years, from legitimate title contenders like Rory MacDonald and Ben Henderson to aging old timers like Tito Ortiz and Matt Mitrione. But there’s something that makes something very, very different. He’s always been a big company man.
It’s easy to read into Sonnen’s departure in a number of ways. Sonnen has a number of interests outside MMA, from his clothing line Bad Guy, Inc. to his own grappling promotion, Submission Underground. Does the UFC not like that? Did the UFC refuse to let him rep his own businesses? Was this the Reebok deal ruining yet another good thing?
Unfortunately, we won’t get those answers. But here’s what he had to say about joining Bellator:
“I’m consistently blown away by the product and presentation that Bellator is bringing to the fans. I’m not nearly done competing and I’m coming after everyone, everywhere. I’m not sticking to one weight class either, I fight at ‘Gangster Weight’ and nobody is safe.”
Naturally, Scott Coker had something to add:
“Chael is an incredible athlete that has competed at the very highest levels of the sport. I know that he is going to continue to do just that here at Bellator. When we were in the process of signing him, 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 guys like 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 starting before the end of the year.”
Coker brings up a number of interesting possible matchups there, including a number of MMA legends. Worth noting is that the deal was labeled as “exclusive multi-year, multi-fight contract” so he won’t be going anywhere else anytime soon, and will likely wrap up his career in Bellator.
Of course, it’s worth wondering who he could fight next. Bellator has made a habit of putting together big fights that never quite came to fruition like Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock and Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie 3. Wanderlei Silva vs. Chael Sonnen, the TUF Coaches’ Fight that never happened, would make a lot of sense for a first fight…
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