Chael Sonnen worked hard during fights, but he spent just as much energy talking himself into them. If that seems like a gimmick that is considered unsportsmanlike, one would have to wonder why they know who "The American Gangster" is and if they watched his fights. Granted, he never fought to lose but if fans tuned in because of what was said leading up to the fights then he won on the business end of fighting.
Conor McGregor, Colby Covington, Henry Cejudo and even new to the game fighters like Dillon Danis all get accused of stealing the trash talk gimmick. However, Sonnen sees it differently. "I think I had a hand in the entertainment era we're in now," said the fighter and he would be right.
It is a necessary ingredient to market a fight in the combat landscape today. The levels at which it is done can vary from humorous to offensive but if it gets people to tune in and buy a ticket then it works. Even Floyd Mayweather Jr. says things that are pompous and ridiculous but fans still tuned in to watch on the chance he might lose.
Professional athletes in the combat sports space never plan to lose. They compete because they love competition. However, if the fight watching public has no interest in seeing one person fight another, there's no money in it. Someone has to be the bad guy and Sonnen knew that.
The 2014 documentary film "The Sheik," was about one of the most popular heels in pro wrestling from the 80s features many of the heroic figures talking about how their success. The success of wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and the success of their industry at the time would not be possible if it weren't for Khosrow Vaziri, better known as The Iron Sheik. He made their careers by putting them over as the hero, by being the villain.
While pro wrestling is predetermined, Sonnen knew that if he wanted to compete he had to get the attention of fans, promoters and his opponents. Someone had to be the bad guy to get folks interested. After all, he is a competitor and the fights won't get made if no one is interested.
It worked and it still works, rankings be damned (because they already are), and Sonnen set the model when he talked himself into three Ultimate Fighting Championship title fights with Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Credit where it's due as he won fights to get there, and came close to beating Silva, but if he didn't make himself the bad guy it could have been one and done. He never would have become one of the sport's most polarizing figures.
Sonnen said he hopes that more competitors existed in the current landscape of the sport. Ones that care more about fighting then they do about money. However, if money is to be made, and everyone wants to make money, then someone has to be the bad guy.
Edward Carbajal serves as the lead MMA analyst for Frontproof Media and holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in Ishin Ryu karate. He has covered combat sports since 2014 and has been a fan of MMA since the first UFC. You can follow him on Twitter @Carbazel or at his website TheBlogBoardJungle.com.