Bellator MMA’s heavyweight grand prix continues this weekend with Fedor Emelianenko vs. Chael Sonnen Saturday at Bellator 208.
The American Gangster
If you’re a fan of Conor McGregor or Colby Covington’s antics, you have to thank Sonnen for being the first fighter in the modern era to develop a WWE-like personality to sell fights. Long before McGregor’s famous “we're not here to take part, we're here to take over” speech, Chael was hyping up fights and earning himself title shots with nothing more than trash talk all while being a fairly average fighter. Despite what some think about the similarities between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts, there is no doubt that MMA would not be where it was today if it wasn’t for Chael P. Sonnen and his antics.
Chael is as pure a wrestler as you will see in MMA and is a former NCAA Division 1 talent, as well as an Olympic Greco-Roman trialist. He started boxing in 1996 in hopes of joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship after graduation, but his MMA career didn’t officially start until 2002 when he made his debut against Jason Miller. Chael’s wrestling background translated perfectly to the ground-and-pound era of MMA and he quickly developed a 23-9-1 record before joining the UFC in 2009. Chael has a wide variety of takedowns, but his go-to is a power double or a single-leg knee tap.
Sonnen was never a super aggressive ground striker but he knows how to strike just enough to not get the fight stood up while conserving energy. Chael famously controlled Anderson Silva for nearly five full rounds in their first title fight and outstruck him an obscene 320-64 before being caught in a triangle late.
This brings us to Sonnen’s most glaring hole, submission defense. His loss to Silva wasn’t the first time he dominated a fight on the ground before getting submitted late in the fight. The exact same sequence happened to him against Renato Sobral, Jeremy Horn (twice) and Paulo Filho. Since Chael likes to strike from full guard, he is open to armbars and triangles. Nine of his 15 losses are via submission. At this point in his career, he will probably never be adept at defending, which could cause him trouble against a underrated submission specialist in Fedor.
Chael has spent very little time on the feet in his MMA career and after watching a couple of his fights it's clear why. Although he has had moments of competent striking, he’s honestly very bad on the feet for someone who has been boxing for 21 years. He rarely feints or sets traps and generally just swings wild in the pocket, hoping for a Hail Mary punch before shooting.