Back in July, when Chael Sonnen first announced he was mulling a return to mixed martial arts, he noted that his comeback plans depending entirely on his dealings with USADA, the UFC's anti-doping partner who ultimately tested Sonnen four times out-of-competition. As long as those tests came back clean, Sonnen reasoned that there would be a good chance he returned to competition in the UFC.
As it turns out, Sonnen was telling the truth -- or at least partly. Sonnen did indeed end up returning to the fight game, only on a multi-year contract with Bellator MMA, rather than the UFC. And according to Sonnen, the UFC's ongoing relationship with USADA ultimately had zero bearing on his decision.
"It didn't have anything to do with it," Sonnen told MMA Fighting on a Friday conference call. "Now if I would've gotten flagged by USADA, (Bellator president Scott) Coker's not talking to me either. And I get it, I would be toxic. I don't like those things I did. They embarrass me. I steer into it sometimes with the ‘basically (clean)' and all of that kind of stuff. The truth is, man, that stuff embarrasses me. It was a different world with different times.
"You've got to change with those times or you're outside of the lines, and I was outside of the lines. I should've been suspended. I was. I did my time, but I can tell you that I'm not going back."
Sonnen, 39, infamously tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in two out-of-competition tests ahead of his scheduled UFC 175 fight against Wanderlei Silva in 2014. The testing failures resulted in Sonnen receiving a two-year suspension from the Nevada Athletic Commission -- a suspension which expired in July. Sonnen was also an admitted user of testosterone replacement therapy before the controversial practice was banned by the NAC in early 2014.
While it is no secret that the drug testing protocol in Bellator is substantially less stringent than that of the UFC -- Bellator still relies on commission-mandated testing, while the UFC uses USADA as a year-round third-party overseer -- Sonnen indicated that he not only passed all four of his USADA tests, but also that Bellator included special provisions in his new contract that are designed to punish him if he slips back into his old ways.
"If I was to fail a test under my Bellator contract, it would cost me 100 percent of my purse and $500,000. That is in writing," Sonnen said. "Now, I understand for you guys, that's not as good as a clean test, but boy, that's got to mean something. If you think I didn't read that part of it before I signed it, I did.
"I don't know if that was unique to me or if that was boilerplate and everybody's got it. I don't know, but I saw that. That's before you deal with your commission issues and everything else, but it was right off the top: full purse, $500,000. That's just to Bellator. That's before we start dealing with commissions, and again, I don't know if that was boilerplate or if they set that aside for me. But I'm on the other side of the tracks now, and you wouldn't believe it if you saw it, I've still got the biggest arms in the business."
When asked about Sonnen's claim, Bellator president Scott Coker declined to discuss specifics of the former UFC contender's contract.
Sonnen went on to reiterate that while he occasionally makes light of his past wrongdoings, he remains deeply ashamed of the situation.
"Some guys, they use some of those things and they go, ‘well, it didn't enhance me, it helped with recovery.' It did with me. I got an enhancement," Sonnen said. "I felt better, period. I needed less sleep at night, I had more energy. The recovery thing, that's true too. It was absolutely an enhancement. I get asked that by people, ‘hey, did you ever take anything that was an enhancer?' I never took anything that wasn't an enhancer. That's the only reason I would take something, if I thought it would enhance me.
"But I'm on the other side now, and there's still tests and there's commissions. If we go fight in California, which is what I'm lobbying for, (CSAC executive director) Andy Foster is number-one -- there is nobody stricter, and he will bring in USADA. So if people are married to those letters, they're probably going to have it. That's up to him. I'm not speaking for him, but I've watched him in the past. Foster follows WADA, he brings in USADA, he does for his own commission."
Bellator has yet to set a date for Sonnen's promotional debut, but for now "The American Gangster" is hoping for a November meeting against UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz at 205 pounds. Sonnen is also angling for that fight to take place in California -- a state which, under the direction of commissioner Andy Foster, is currently one of the leaders in the push for increased regulation.
Nonetheless, when asked if Bellator plans to implement a year-round drug testing policy in the future, Coker only demurred, reiterating that the promotion will continue with its current strategy while also singing the praises of Foster.
"Our policy has been we always abide by what the state athletic commission requires us to do," Coker said. "And like Chael said ... we do a lot of fights in California, and Andy Foster is a tough, tough regulator, and we go by his rules. And honestly it's like, when hiring an independent company, my position has always been that I'm not sure if that really works, because, in my opinion, unless it's a federal agency that's regulating testing, I'm not sure it's going to work."