Most fighters who test positive for a performance-enhancing substance have two options: 1) they can deny it all the way to the grave, hoping that a fervent and lengthy appeal will bolster the case for their innocence, or 2) they can own up to it, do the mea culpa dance, and spend the next year laying low.Chael Sonnen
isn't most fighters. He likes to keep us guessing. When an apology or at least an explanation seems like the most rational course of action – remember when he claimed that Lance Armstrong gave himself cancer? – he instead opts for the completely implausible denial. When you think he's going to be as virulently obstinate as ever, such as after his loss to Anderson Silva
at UFC 117
, he throws you a curveball and acts like a dignified gentleman, declaring that the better man always wins.
So now that he's been branded a cheater by the California State Athletic Commission
and the MMA world awaits his reaction, what path will he choose? Will he blame supplements or over-the-counter medication? Will he explain that he needed help pushing through an injury? Will he say he did it and he's not at all sorry? Will he blame some guy with a Hispanic accent?
We have yet to find out, but it's worth noting that in times like these it sure would be nice to have a reputation for something other than being the guy who's willing to say absolutely anything.
Not that we haven't all enjoyed his insult comedy tour over the last few months. The Q&A he did before UFC Fight Night 22 was easily the best pro wrestling promo I've seen since Ric Flair was in his prime, and he remains the only fighter who can turn mundane interview questions like 'How did your training camp go?' into fodder for a seven-minute riff.
Still, while Sonnen was busy entertaining the masses he wasn't taking great care to keep his credibility intact. His is the sort of act that requires a certain suspension of disbelief, and whether it's lying about his Twitter account or insisting that he'd slap Brock Lesnar in the face if he saw him, Sonnen has made it clear that he's not going to let the truth get in the way of a good sound byte.
Only now things just got serious. Now he could use a little credibility, assuming he plans to do anything other than own up to steroid use and take his punishment. Too bad he already traded it in for air time and a share of the spotlight.
Fighting a positive drug test is an uphill battle to begin with. Fans are so disillusioned with the competitive purity of pro sports that they'll often just assume certain guys are on the juice even if they never pop positive.
Trying to talk your way out of the instant damnation of a positive result is almost impossible even if you don't have the kind of credibility problem that Sonnen wore almost as a badge of honor in the lead-up to his fight with Silva.
The unfortunate thing is that Sonnen did such a masterful job of building himself into an anti-hero, he actually managed to win people over by acting like an insufferable jerk. Fans loved the way he jumped from one outrageous statement to another, all with a nod and a wink toward the absurdity of it all.
That's fine when it's just good, clean fun. But if Sonnen really did enlist some illegal chemical help, it's neither clean nor fun. It's cheating. It's also the kind of thing fans are going to remember you for, even after they've forgotten all those clever quips.