There’s no going out on top for “The Bad Guy”.
Chael Sonnen is one of eight men taking part in Bellator’s upcoming Heavyweight Grand Prix that will crown its first champion since the division’s title was vacated in May 2016. He has never competed in a weight class higher than 205 pounds, but he is taking the move up seriously and insisting that a tournament and title win won’t result in a triumphant ride off into the sunset.
“I get split a little bit about that,” Sonnen said on a media call for Bellator 192. “I definitely would not go anywhere else or use that as a negotiation tool, I want to make that really clear. I’m completely loyal to Bellator and would not consider anything else. I really believe - and I’m a traditionalist, I’m a fan first - I really believe that you’ve gotta defend it.”
The 40-year-old Sonnen has never won a title in a major promotion, though he had a memorable two-fight feud with UFC middleweight legend Anderson Silva, and prior to that defeated WEC champion Paulo Filho in a match that was only changed to a non-title bout when Filho failed to make weight.
Now competing in a tournament that includes the likes of all-time heavyweight great Fedor Emelianenko, former UFC champions Frank Mir and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and current Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader, “The American Gangster” sees this opportunity as the potential crowning achievement of his 20-year fighting career.
“It would be my greatest accomplishment,” Sonnen said. “I’m a tournament guy, that’s what I grew up doing. Four or five guys in one day, every single Saturday, and I love this tournament. I wish it was all in one night, that’s old school, I think that’s something it sounds a little better to say than to actually do. I couldn’t really see anybody in this tournament fight three other guys in this tournament in one night, but that is the old school, it sure would be fun as a fan and to get to be part of.”
As excited as Sonnen is about the thought of collecting three significant scalps over the course of this tournament, he was open about the anxiety he feels when he thinks about competing with opponents that are larger than he’s faced in the past.
“I’ve got some teammates that I go with that are as big as ‘Rampage’ or bigger and a lot of my techniques just don’t work,” Sonnen said. “I’ll do everything perfect and hit those guys and boom, I just get stopped because of the size.”
Still, Sonnen is not overly worried about tasting defeat; if anything, he’s well aware that there will come a day when he can clearly no longer fight at a high level. So whenever his final fight occurs and whether it’s at heavyweight, light heavyweight, or middleweight, he’s certain that his exit will be in defeat.
“I don’t feel anybody should go out on top, Georges St-Pierre is one of ‘em, but he gave them every chance in the world to beat him,” Sonnen said. “He gave guys rematches and some guys got three matches, he did everything he could do to get beat and pass that torch, he was just that damn good and aside from him and Lennox Lewis, I can’t think of anyone that goes out on top.
“All our careers end the same: Facedown and embarrassed.”
Sonnen fights “Rampage” in the first bout of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix at Bellator 192 on Jan. 20 at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif.