Almost a year to the week the career of Chael Sonnen launched into the stratosphere with his sparkling performance at the UFC 114 Fight Club Q&A, the California State Athletic Commission on Wednesday voted by a margin of 4-1 to suspend for the remainder of the middleweight fighter’s license.
As confirmed today by the Executive Director George Dodd, while Sonnen’s license expires before the end of June, he will have to wait until May 18, 2012, before he can apply for a new one in California.
The judgement brings to a sudden halt a roller-coaster ride that made Sonnen a bona fide star in mixed martial arts.
It began with his one man verbal war against Anderson Silva and peaked when he surprised everyone by backing up his trash talking by coming agonisingly close to defeating “The Spider”.
He was rewarded by Zuffa for his efforts with an unprecedented instant rematch against Silva.
And then it all went wrong.
First he tested positive for testosterone, an offence that normally carries a twelve month sentence, and caused his world championship rematch to be cancelled.
Then in an epic display of dissembling, he went before the California State Athletic Commission in December and managed to convince them to cut his suspension in half.
He regaled the commissioners with the tale of his childhood struggle against a hypogonadism that delayed his puberty and so requires him to have frequent testosterone injections.
He claimed California officials and the current head of the Nevada State Athletic Commission Keith Kizer had informally agreed to him having a therapeutic use exemption (T.U.E.) from the normal rules surrounding using testosterone.
He would not however get to enjoy the fruits of his performance as the story broke he had pleaded guilty to charges of federal money laundering due to a real estate scam he perpetrated in the mid-naughties.
The UFC responded by suspending him indefinitely and cancelling his return fight against Yoshihiro Akiyama.
There was worse to come for Sonnen when Dave Meltzer revealed a meeting between the fighter, UFC top brass and Keith Kizer had ended badly with Sonnen forced to admit the testimony he had given in December contained falsehoods.
It came to light Kizer had never had a conversation with Sonnen on the issue of testosterone, let alone informally granted the fighter a T.U.E.
Kizer upped the ante by going public with his unhappiness with Sonnen’s behavior. He made clear that as Sonnen’s Nevada license had expired he would have to reapply, and such an application would not be rubber stamped.
And in a sign Kizer was ready and willing to throw the book at him, the head of the Nevada Commission said in addition to Sonnen’s California testimony, he also wanted to look at issues such as the fighter’s attempt to pretend he didn’t submit to Paulo Filho at WEC 31.
Despite the strong likelihood he would be rejected, Sonnen applied for a licensing hearing only to have Nevada cancel after California announced in light of Sonnen’s felony conviction and his seemingly false testimony in December his suspension was reinstated.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Sonnen repeated his defense that his testimony had been misleading as opposed to dishonest.
He claimed he was merely relying conversations his manager Matt Lindland had with Kizer and there had been no intention to mislead.
Kizer made clear that not only had he never spoken to Sonnen about the matter, his first conversation with the fighter was at the meeting reported by Meltzer.
And while Kizer admitted he vaguely remembered Lindland ringing up about securing a T.U.E. for one of his fighters, he was adamant that he never signed off an informal exemption and pointed out that in any case Lindland disputes Sonnen’s version of events.
The State raised Sonnen’s money laundering convictions with the CSAC’s representative asking the commissioners whether they felt Sonnen’s behavior had shown remorse or rehabilitation following his fraudulent activities.
Sonnen argued that whatever he had done wrong he had served his time and UFC President Dana White had told him an indefinite suspension would end his career.
Sonnen also confirmed the UFC wanted him to coach the next season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite British striker Michael Bisping. a prime gig that necessitates Sonnen getting a second’s license from Nevada.
The coaches’ fight would have been a final eliminator for Anderson Silva’s middleweight title. His pleas left the commission unmoved.
What happens next is unclear. Sonnen is only suspended until June 29th, after which he goes on the watch list where CSAC asks other states to not license him until they’ve discussed the matter with California first.
In essence that means George Dodd et al are asking every other state commission to not even hold a hearing to consider giving Sonnen a license for another twelve months.
Dodd also made clear that Sonnen would have to prove he had reformed as a person before California would relicense him, and of course the whole issue of his apparent medicinal need for fearsome levels of testosterone would also have to be fully resolved.
With California adamant and Nevada clearly lined up behind them, the ball is now back in the UFC’s court.
In theory they could search for a weak commission willing to relicense Sonnen, but they’ve never done that sort of thing in the past, and with the organization’s close links to the Nevada Commission it is difficult to imagine this would be the issue where they would start.
Equally they could decide that at 34 and not being able to fight in the two biggest MMA states for another twelve months (and in all probability longer given the issues already raised by Dodd), Sonnen is simply not worth the trouble and should be cut.
That’s unlikely, as their willingness as of this week to make him a coach in The Ultimate Fighter suggests they still consider him an extremely valuable fighter.
The UFC is remaining unusually quiet on the matter, a silence that suggests in all likelihood they will wait it out and let Sonnen return in 2012.
Whatever happens, it is surely beyond all possible doubt that Chael Sonnen will never become the star that many predicted he would be the night after UFC 117.
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