It might not be a full pledge to return, but Chael Sonnen is taking the steps that could lead to a UFC comeback.
Sonnen told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that he has been placed in the USADA drug-testing pool and, if he passes the screenings, could be eligible to return to the Octagon this year. Sonnen did not commit officially to a comeback, but there is a plan in place.
"I definitely have that itch," Sonnen told Helwani. "I fantasize about it. But it's one step at a time. I'm not holding back from you. I'm not acting like my return is some kind of breaking news. I'd tell it to you right now. But I have to pass this first test, quite frankly. It's still out there. I've gotta pass it. If I pass that, I'll pass all of them. But I have to know that everything is out. Boom, step one down.
"Step two, get in shape, get ready to go — I'm there. I'm in shape, I'm ready to go. Step three, be the baddest dude in the world. C'mon, Ariel. C'mon, buddy. I dominated — this is just a fact. I dominated middleweight. There has never been a middleweight like me. The next closest guy is Anderson Silva. I've got two 10-8 rounds against Anderson Silva. That's just the truth. I have no equal at middleweight."
Sonnen, 39, was serving a two-year suspension for performance-enhancing drugs from the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) until just a few days ago. In May 2014, he failed an out-of-competition drug test when anastrozole and clomiphene were found in his system. Sonnen then tested positive in another drug test a few weeks later for human growth hormone (HGH), recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) and anastrozole again.
At the time, Sonnen was slated to face Wanderlei Silva at UFC 175. In July 2014, he was handed a two-year ban from the NAC. He subsequently announced his retirement and has stuck by that, saying repeatedly that he was not coming back.
Sonnen joked in a recent episode of The MMA Hour that he was "basically clean" of all banned substances. On Monday, he said he said he'd prefer to be tested by USADA "on a curve."
"I don't want to be tested like everybody else," Sonnen said. "I want it to be on a curve. I'd like a curved system. Oh, you had seven things last time, this time you've only got three. That's pretty good. That's the kind of test I'm looking for. And I'm not sure that's out there."
Sonnen (29-14-1), who challenged for UFC titles at middleweight and light heavyweight, has never denied performance-enhancing drug use. He has always opined on the murkiness of what is banned and what is not, which is why he wants to be sure there are no leftover prohibited agents in his system before even mentioning an official return.
"I took a bunch of stuff that you can't take and I want to make sure [it's out]," Sonnen said. "I thought that made sense. Like yeah, I don't want to jump in this thing if it's just all gonna blow up in my face. [USADA] laughed like what I was saying was crazy. No, that's exactly what happened."
Sonnen was on a cocktail of banned PEDs the last time he tried fighting in the UFC. He was also a past user of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) when commissions allowed that with a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). So can he still compete without anything prohibited in his system? Sonnen is not sure, either.
"That's where it gets tough," Sonnen said. "In the testosterone days when we were allowed to take testosterone, that made really good sense. Now, of course that got murky and guys took advantage of it and it completely backfired. But it made good sense, because the world of sport right now belongs to 18- to 25-year-olds. Science has stepped in and goes not so fast, we can actually continue to give you what your body gave you naturally at a later time. So you're seeing guys that are able to extend their careers. That's a pretty cool. Guys started to manipulate that and they had to do away with it."
It's a waiting game now for Sonnen. He said if he passes the first test, he should be in the clear. USADA's website says he's been tested two times so far. An athletic commission would still have to license him before he would be allowed to compete.
A potential return would happen after the UFC's return to Portland, his hometown, in October, he said. But could "The American Gangster" be back fighting in 2016? Sonnen left the door open, with the drug test result still to come.
"I'd sure like to have that option," Sonnen said. "That's the whole point is to have that option. I believe that I'm done with MMA and that's just candidly. But I don't have that option. I am done. I am done unless you can get a license. It's like anything else. You've gotta be approved to do it. So, I would like to have the ability to choose."