Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. The two are easily among the most savvy and successful self-promoters the sport of MMA has ever had.
But one topic they probably don’t see eye-to-eye on is regarding McGregor’s future.
In a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Sonnen admitted that he doesn’t foresee another situation in which the former two-division champion fights for a UFC belt again. And that belief gets even stronger if McGregor’s latest rival, Dustin Poirier, dethrones Charles Oliveira on Saturday to capture the promotion’s 155-pound title in the main event of UFC 269.
“No, I don’t think so – I really don’t,” Sonnen said when asked if McGregor will ever fight for a UFC title again. “Look, if you ever have a No. 1 guy, and he slides down to No. 4, he slides down to No. 5, he’s never getting his spot back. And that’s across the board in sport. Now Conor has already done — much like Jon Jones, in fairness — he’s already done a lot of things that no other man can do. So I’m very open to the idea. I just know that Conor lost a level of discipline, it appeared, when he got to a different position in life, to a different status. It looked like he lost some discipline from where I was sitting.
“Now it’s not a choice. It was a choice to go to the gym and train hard back when he was healthy, and he didn’t do enough of it. Now, it’s not a choice. And I can tell you no human being can get better at something by not doing it. I think that Conor is still wonderful. I think he’s got a very special place. It’s not only within the sport, which is at the very top, but also within the rankings, this a damn good fighter. But you’re talking about a ‘55-pounder, which is the hardest and deepest division this sport has ever seen. Not just the organization, the industry as a whole — 155 is the deepest that it comes.
“Conor’s pretty set on fighting Dustin Poirier,” Sonnen continued. “If Poirier beats Oliveira, as the oddsmakers think he’s going to do, I don’t think there’s a scenario where Conor comes back, even for a grudge match, into a title fight. That’s a tough sell.”
McGregor is currently sidelined while recovering from the grisly leg injury he suffered in his third bout with Poirier in July at UFC 264. The fight was the second of back-to-back losses McGregor sustained at the hands of Poirier in 2021, and dropped the Irishman to a paltry 1-3 record in the five years since his crowning moment against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205.
The injury layoff hasn’t stopped McGregor from lashing out at his critics, though, and in that regard, even Sonnen hasn’t been spared. The two traded barbs over the media in November, with Sonnen proclaiming that McGregor was on the verge of turning into “a little, rich weirdo,” and “The Notorious” responding with heated words of his own.
The exchange left a bad taste in Sonnen’s mouth.
“I’m not ready to admit it, I think that Conor looks up to me,” Sonnen said. “I treat Conor like he’s a little brother, and I think he looks up to me. I could be a fool. If he does not think, ‘OK, Chael was my mentor at some point in this career,’ and I’m out defending him left and right like I am, I’m a fool. And that is an option that’s on the table. Conor has never broke bad on me publicly before. It irritated me that he did it this time. I said what I just said, which is as candid and plainly as I know how to speak, and I said, ‘Stop and stop now.’ And he did.
“Now I took that as a sign of respect. Maybe he just had other things to do and didn’t even know that I said that but it was purely coincidence. I’m going to need to talk with Conor and see where we stand, because if there’s a fight going here, I’m going to fight back. And he will remember why he looked to me in the first place. But if it was a misunderstanding, he thought I said something, he needed to defend himself, all good.”
As for UFC 269’s main event, which Sonnen believes could play a role in determining McGregor’s future, “The American Gangster” favors Poirier to win in a close matchup,
“I am picking Dustin,” Sonnen said. “I’m not bullish on that. He’s going to lose a lot of this fight. He’s going to lose exchanges if Dustin gets taken down, and Oliveira did show us a brand new skill set in his fight with Tony Ferguson, which was to walk him to the cage, get to that double [leg] — never missed. He saw five shots in that fight, he got five takedowns. That’s meaningful, because I didn’t know the wrestling of Oliveira was quite that good.
“If he does get on top of Poirier or anybody else, they are likely to stay for the duration of the round and lose said round. So Poirier really needs to get it done on his feet, and that’s not just with the kicks and the knees and the elbows. It’s specifically with left and right hands. And I think Oliveira’s a lot better than people give him credit. He’s inconsistent, at least compared to Poirier. This fight could go either way. You’re asking me, I’m putting the [Sonnen picks] curse on Poirier. But boy, it’s a lot harder fight than people know.”