It is no secret that the Nevada Athletic Commission's suspension of Chael Sonnen expires in July 2016.
Sonnen was once one of the biggest stars in all of mixed martial arts. He announced his retirement in 2014 amid two failed drug tests and has since insisted that his gloves are hung up for good, even as his manager Mike Roberts has maintained that's not entirely true, and that Sonnen would return to MMA if the right opportunity presented itself.
On Monday, the world got the closest indication yet that Roberts may be on to something. Over the course of an hour-long appearance on The MMA Hour, Sonnen talked often and openly about potential scenarios for the comeback fight that Sonnen swears isn't going to happen. While much of it was said with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, as is classic Chael P. form, the 39-year-old Sonnen certainly did not sound like a fighter who had called it quits, and by the end of the interview he had listed five opponents who could potentially pique his interest.
One of the first choices on that list? The greatest welterweight of all-time, Georges St-Pierre.
"I would love to kick Georges' ass," Sonnen said. "I'll tell you this. This is a true story. I got a call one day and it was from Kenny Florian, and he says ‘hey, you want to work out?' I was in LA and I said yeah, and he goes, ‘okay, well Georges is in town. Do you want to work out with Georges?' And I said yeah. So we go to this gym.
"We went hard. I think I could've gone harder, but we went hard, and I came in second. And it drove me nuts, man. It drove me nuts. But I really think I could've done better. It was close. It was fine. If you ask him, he might try to put me over. I'm not trying to put him over right now, I'm just telling you what happened. He won that go, but I could've done better with him, and it's driven me nuts ever since. I thought, man, I could've gotten that guy. I could've done better.
"He knew he got the best of me," Sonnen continued. "So at the end of the workout, he tried to pay me a compliment. He goes, ‘thanks for not using your size; if you would've used your size, you really could've crushed me,' which was really his way of saying, ‘hey man, I just beat you.' And I knew what he meant, and I knew it was meant to be a nice thing. It stuck with me, man. This is a workout that was years ago and it stuck with me."
St-Pierre, much like Sonnen, left the sport of mixed martial arts in 2013, however the Canadian legend has spent a majority of the past few years with one foot still holding the door open for a potential return. There were whispers of the UFC trying to bring St-Pierre back for a blockbuster fight on July 9 at UFC 200, although a deal never materialized. Still, St-Pierre has said that an opportunity against the right opponent -- rather than a title fight -- might be able to bring him back, and a St-Pierre-Sonnen dual comeback would certainly make for one of the most lucrative cards of 2016.
"Everyone would watch that," Sonnen said. "... I'm not trying to hype a fight with Georges here. I'm just saying. But yes, as far as a fight, if you're just looking at what could sell tickets, yeah man. I mean, these guys (current UFC fighters) are doing a good job right now, but they're really not. I'm being nice, man. These guys are terrible. It's so hard. It's so hard sometimes. Like, what do you want to do here? You guys, you're just terrible."
In his heyday, Sonnen built a reputation as one of the greatest promoters to ever fight in the UFC, largely on the back of a dramatic three-year rivalry against then UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Though Sonnen lost twice to Silva, their two meetings turned both men into superstars and still stand to this day as one of the most memorable rivalries in company history.
If Monday was any indication, the gift of gab has not left Sonnen, and not surprisingly, he included a third match against Silva on his list.
"It'd be real hard to not go in and whip Anderson's ass a third time," Sonnen said. "That's a tough one. Anderson was never a hard fight for me. It was hard to get my hand raised. That son of a b*tch always knew how to get his hand raised, but I whipped that guy, man. I whipped that guy so easily. Look, I fought 49 men. I've had three 10-8 rounds. They're all against him. I mean, I tip my hat. That guy, he beat me fair and square and he got his hand raised. I don't mean anything about it, good for you Anderson. But it's hard. It's hard to not want (it back)."
Sonnen rounded out his list with two more of the usual suspects: old rivals Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort. Sonnen was scheduled to fight both of them during latter stages of his career. He actually coached against Silva on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter Brazil, where the animosity between the two middleweights bubbled over in a notorious mid-season brawl.
Sonnen then threw one last name into his sights -- one which may initially surprise many fight fans, but makes sense once the history between the two is considered.
"I'm a big believer, if you're going to do it, man, you go after number-one," Sonnen said. "That's it. You go after number-one. You don't be a bully and a dick and do all these things. I really think that, but again, if we're doing this, I would add 'Lil Nog' (Antonio Rogerio Nogueira) to the list. 'Lil Nog' is back, I don't know how. He's back from the dead. He looks like he's dead, but he went out there and he won. He beat Patrick Cummins, who's a former teammate of mine. Patrick Cummins is a tough guy and he beat him. So I would add Lil Nog to that list, if we're just playing make-believe right now."
Sonnen has feuded with the Nogueira brothers in the past, once infamously claiming that he witnessed "Lil Nog" try to feed a carrot to a bus while the elder Nogueira brother tried to pet the vehicle under the mistaken belief that it was a horse.
Sonnen said everything he said on Monday with the caveat that he is not coming back to fight in the UFC, although one can never truly tell where the truth begins and the show ends in the world of The West Linn Gangster. The only thing Sonnen promised for sure is that if he does decide to come back, it is going to be big, just like it used to be.
"Man, I'm just shooting with you straight," Sonnen said. "I have no tickets to sell. I got no pay-per-views. The facts are the facts. I'll come and build these other guys up as much as you guys want. The truth is, I will sell out these arenas faster than anybody, the same as I used to. I will sell out the t-shirts. I will sell them all out faster than anyone. Look, it's the reality of the situation. A comeback fight is a tremendously big fight and you only get one of them. I'm not coming back. But if I did, if I were to do it, I would know how to do it.
"I would pick an opponent. I would know what to do, I would have the whole thing built up. There's not very many people that can do this business very well. It's a unique business. Conor (McGregor) does a really good job. He read the playbook, he gets it, and then he's added to it. Conor's got stuff where I would be like, oh, I see what you did there. But there's just not very many guys who get it. And as far as competitively goes, man, come on. Who are you going to take over Chael P. at 185?
"You line them up, I would run through them all. What are you going to do? You're just going to throw me right back into a title (picture)? I would take the title at 185. I mean, come on, it's nothing personal but that was my weight class until I decided to leave that weight class. There is no doubt about it. There is no way to doubt that statement."