Chael Sonnen, a former middleweight and light heavyweight title challenger in the UFC, will have another opportunity to claim championship gold as part of Bellator MMA’s heavyweight grand prix.
That journey will begin at Bellator 192 on Jan. 20, when he faces Quinton Jackson in a quarterfinal matchup at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The card, headlined by a welterweight championship clash between Douglas Lima and Rory MacDonald, will be televised on the Paramount Network beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
Sonnen, who opened at 14-to-1 to win the tournament, faces some of the longest odds in a bracket that includes the likes of Matt Mitrione, Ryan Bader, Frank Mir and Fedor Emelianenko, but should he emerge with the vacant heavyweight crown by the end of 2018, don’t expect him to ride off into the sunset.
“I definitely would not go anywhere else or use that as a negotiation tool, I’ll make that clear,” Sonnen said during a recent conference call. “I’m completely loyal to Bellator and would not even consider anything else. I really believe, and I’m a traditionalist, you’ve got to defend it. I don’t feel anybody should go out on top. Georges St. Pierre is one of them. He gave them every chance in the world to beat him. He did everything he could to get beat and pass that torch--he was just that damn good. Aside from him and Lennox Lewis [in boxing], I can’t think of anyone that goes out on top.
“All our careers end the same: face down and embarrassed,” he continued. “I think I’m gonna follow through on that. I don’t want to leave anything on the table, if I’ve got one more match, one more walk or one more experience, good, bad or indifferent, I’m gonna take it.”
A veteran of 45 professional bouts with wins over the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua, Michael Bisping, Brian Stann, Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami, Sonnen admits that a grand prix victory would be his crowning achievement in MMA.
“That would be my greatest accomplishment,” he said. “I’m a tournament guy. That’s what I grew up doing, four or five guys a day. I love this tournament; I wish this was all in one night. It sounds better to say than to actually do. I couldn’t see anybody in this tournament fight three other guys in one night. I love tournaments. They’re super tough.”
Now 40 years old, the West Linn, Ore., native isn’t necessarily concerned that competing against larger opponents will take a toll on his body. However, training camp has led to some sobering moments.
“I haven’t thought about it being taxing, but it is a first for me. It creates a little bit of anxiety as I lay in bed at night as I try to work this match through,” said Sonnen, who hopes to be in the neighborhood of 214 pounds come fight night. “I’ve got some teammates that are as big as ‘Rampage’ or bigger, and a lot of my techniques just don’t work. I’ll do everything perfect and hit those guys and just get stopped because of the size. It’s a first for me. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed the unknown of this process…I don’t totally know what to make about it. I’ve had a hard time in practice with some of the stuff I’ve done.”