Some traits that coaches look for in potential fighters to provide tutelage under their wings include speed, heart, strength and “coachability”among others. Some traits a promoter looks for in potential fighters to put on their shows include an exciting fight style and the ability to self-promote.

The last part is perhaps becoming more important than a fighter’s ability to fight.

Chael Sonnen has revolutionized the way fighters go about self-promoting themselves prior to a bout. Sure, there’s been trash talkers before, but nobody has gone full WWE in the MMA scene to promote a fight. Sonnen’s hype machine has mainly been targeted at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva for the past two years, and it’s led to some of the most intriguing fights in UFC history.

Now, Sonnen steps up to a weight class he hasn’t fought in for well over five years. Not only is he changing weight classes, but he also will be facing the UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones. As an added bonus of facing the champion without facing any competition, Sonnen will coach opposite Jones on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Sonnen was able to jump ahead of the line without facing anyone at 205 pounds and coming off a loss to Silva at UFC 148. The move has caused a number of top contenders, including Sonnen’s friend, Dan Henderson, to come out and question UFC President Dana White’s method of thinking.

“Giving him that fight [right] now degrades the sport of MMA,” Henderson said to MMA Junkie. He continued with a tweet aimed at Dana White, suggesting,“I guess I should just quit training to win fights and to be exciting for the fans and just go to shit talking school.”

The recent happenings in the light heavyweight division have both fans and fighters concerned about the future of the sport. There were already worries created in September when the champion, Jones, refused to face Sonnen on eight days’ notice due to it being a “bad business move.” Now, UFC fans will find Sonnen in the midst of another title shot that he only received because of his ability to sell a fight. It appears as if the ability to entertain and promote will out-weigh a fighter’s ability to compete and their ranking in the division.

Well, let’s set the record straight, MMA has always been about sports and entertainment. You can’t be successful without both. In the early days of the sport, promoters chose to focus on the “blood and guts” portion of the sport to provide entertainment to fans. In modern times, people like White and other promoters have chosen to embrace the sport itself and the amazing athletes who compete in it as a way to provide entertainment.

Sonnen is an anomaly in the MMA world. Fighters have tried to emulate his style, but there’s only one “Chael P. Sonnen.” It’s for that same reason that fights like Jones vs. Sonnen will never become the norm.

Thus far into the career of Jones, there’s always been one “weakness” that fans have openly pointed to: his mental ability. I don’t mean to say Jones is a dumb fighter—far from it actually—but rather that his young mind is unable to successfully navigate being a world champion at such a young age. If there’s anyone who can get inside the head and possibly take the champion out of his comfort zone, it’s Sonnen. That’s why fans are so excited for the build-up to this fight.

We know Sonnen is going to go full broadside with a barrage of verbal shots towards Jones, something the champion hasn’t really faced thus far in his career. Former teammate Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson attempted to get inside the head of the champion, but it’s clear Jones entered the contests with a focused mind. Will he be able to do so against Sonnen?

Regardless of how one-sided this fight may be on paper, fans will be willing to tune in due to Sonnen’s ability to hype a fight. But it’s not a business model the UFC will follow. Dana White has always been against the “freak show” fights that were so popular in Japan. There have been a few examples of White ignoring that thinking—James Toney vs. Randy Couture comes to mind—but in the overall scheme of things, fans should calm down. The best fighters will still fight one another; the UFC isn’t going to turn into the BCS anytime soon.

Instead, sit back and enjoy Sonnen verbally picking apart the champion at every turn with Jones attempting to maintain his “nice guy” image while defending himself against the master of mental warfare.

Photo: Chael Sonnen (Paul Thatcher/Fight Magazine)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.