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Chael Sonnen reinvented the mixed martial arts game, at least from a promotional point of view, during his decade-plus career as a perennial UFC contender. Known for his motor mouth, even more so than his nonstop pace and powerful takedowns, Sonnen turned himself into one of the most popular and interesting fighters in a sport filled to the brim with characters of all kinds.
He’s stayed close to the sport since his 2013 retirement, joining the media horde he once wrapped around his finger as part of ESPN’s MMA crew. Now, however, he turns his attention to what could very well be his true calling: fight promotion.
On Sunday, Sonnen debuts ‘Submission Underground’, a submission grappling event at the Roseland Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, that will air exclusively on FloCombat.com. Sonnen sat down with Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Snowden to talk about his latest venture and the challenge inherent in launching another new sport into a very busy combat sports landscape.
Bleacher Report: You know people have always said ‘Chael Sonnen, he’d be a great promoter.’ Because you were so great at promoting your own fights. I know you’ve promoted locally forever in Oregon. But what are you learning about this side of the business, as you kind of step into the Dana White role for this Submission Underground thing on a national level?
Chael Sonnen: I knew what I was getting into. The side of it that I enjoy is the promoting, but there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it before you get those opportunities. You’re an event coordinator on top of everything else. You’ve gotta get a whole event together. So as far as the planning and the coordinating go, you know, we’ve got great help, we’ve got a great staff and all that good stuff.
But the promotion is the fun part. Dana has got certain guys he wants to work with; we got certain guys that we want to work with. And if somebody is a pain in the ass, we don’t want to work with them. It’s as simple as that.
You know it’s an Olympic year. I’m teamed up with Olympic guys, with wrestling guys. And the right guy always steps forward. The right guy doesn’t let anything get in the way. There has never been an Olympic gold medal put around someone’s neck for sitting at home watching. The right guy comes forward every single time. And you know that’s all we’re looking for.
B/R: What can people expect when they tune in? Will this just be a few cameras pointed at some mats? There’s not really a template for what a grappling event will look like?
Sonnen: We’ve got a great environment. We’ve got every bell and whistle you could think of, but people don’t know that yet. It’s a first show, so we’ve gotta deal with certain struggles that we won’t have in the future, in the second and the third event.
We can come out and tell everybody what a special and great event this is, but you’ve gotta prove it, and that’s what the first one is. So that’s where we’re at. We’re cognizant of that; we’re patient with it. From a promotional standpoint, there is no stone unturned. What happens after that, man, we give the guys an opportunity and it’s up to them.
B/R: I don’t mean this to sound insulting, but the entirety of the show, when you have one of these events, is the part of an MMA fight where people scream ‘stand ’em up.’ That’s like the entirety of a grappling event. Is there a challenge when it comes to selling this?
Sonnen: Is there a challenge there? Sure, there is. Everybody knows what a fight is. Not everybody understands grappling. But I disagree with the idea that people don’t like grappling. We’ve been misled to believe that for a while now. We’re told that people want to see people stand up and bang.
Well, people wanted to see Brock Lesnar and they loved every second of it. He is the last thing for stand up and bang. The biggest star ever aside from Brock Lesnar is Georges St. Pierre. He doesn’t stand up and bang with anybody. So, we have been misled over time and then somehow we fought it, but it’s not true and it’s not the only thing people want to see.
As far as the groundwork goes, there is an educated crowd out there that knows what they’re doing and what they’re seeing. I belong to a gym. We’ve got 200 members. Of those 200 members, when it’s MMA practice, six guys show up. The other 194 members show up when it’s grappling practice.
MMA fans outnumber grappling fans 20 to one. Participants of grappling outdo participants of MMA 20 to one. So there’s a big base out there and those athletes need somewhere to compete. There’s not a lot of opportunity.
B/R: I think that the audience for these grappling events does consist of a lot of participants, and I think in some ways that makes it a very good fit for FloSports, where, you know, they’ve had great success with sports like wrestling and track and field, where I think they are attracting an audience of participants who also are fans of their sports at the very highest level.
So is that what you’re hoping here is that the 194 people from each major gym all across the country, the ones who are interested in doing this stuff, are also willing to put some money down and watch it being performed at a high level?
Sonnen: I think that’s a fair way to say it. You know we’re bringing excitement and grappling is very exciting, particularly when there has to be a finish. Under the Eddie Bravo Invitational rules, which is what we will be contested under, somebody is going to win.
B/R: That’s pretty compelling, because as a fan of the grappling arts, one of the most frustrating things is the prevalence of the draw. Especially, apologies in advance, because of the American wrestler’s predilection to simply grab a position and hold it.
Sonnen: And I can just tell you, as a grappler, I’ve been in matches where I’ve been in over my head. I just wrestled Babalu, purely grappling. And about 40 seconds into it I knew I was in over my head. And there’s always this parachute you can deploy if I can’t beat him, if I can’t find position or a submission that’s better than what he’s trying to do to me, I’ll just run out the clock. And that’s a reality.
But under these rules, you don’t get to do that. You are putting it on the line. Somebody will win. The goal is to just find out who is the best submission grappler alive. That’s it.
We’re not dangling carrots and trying to find out who the most popular guy in grappling is. We’re trying to find who the best is. Forget about belts and everything else. If you think it’s you and you raise your hand, we will give you a chance to prove it.
B/R: In the old days of grappling competitions, somebody, would get that top position and just hold it forever. Maybe they would occasionally pass to half guard so they would get a point. It was dreadful. It sounds to me like you fixed a lot of that, to minimize stalling and encourage action.
Sonnen: That’s what we’re trying to do. And you know the one that did it first was Eddie Bravo. We took a look at his rules, and they were perfect.
When you’re trying to build a division, you have to have a winner. You have to. There has to be a winner to have any kind of competitive architecture. If you want to call somebody a champion, somebody has got to get their hand raised.
And I talked to Eddie about this and just said ‘Hey, we’re jumping in this space.’ Eddie is the one who said to me ‘Listen, why don’t you take my rules?’ He said, ‘Chael, it’s not just about an event, it’s about an industry.’
You make one set of rules, you get everybody on board, you have every gym training the same set of rules, and that’s when you actually have a sport as opposed to an event. You walk into any basketball practice in the country, they’re all doing the same thing. Four quarters, this is worth two points, this is worth three.
You can’t have four or five guys over in the corner because they’ve got Abu Dhabi trials coming up and then three or four guys over here because they’re doing this guy’s show and two or three guys over here because they’re doing Eddie Bravo and another group of guys over here because they’re doing Submission Underground. There’s got to be one set of rules.
B/R: So, how will these matches work? Instead of a draw, this has kind of like a college football setup, where when you move into overtime both guys get the opportunity to score. And if only one does, they’re the winner. And then, if not, you go onto another overtime. Is that roughly how this works?
Sonnen: It’s precisely how this works. It’s nasty.
So here’s the deal, there’s eight minutes. No scores, no judges, no points. They have eight minutes to go play a game of uncle with one another. There’s nothing off limits. You can do anything you want besides strike him or bite him. Any choke, any manipulation, all the way down to foot locks and heel hooks, which are often banned. Everything goes.
If they can figure it out within eight minutes, then that guy wins. If they can’t, the referee will stop them, they’ll go into overtime. And they start in overtime with a very precarious position on one another. You can start with a guy’s back, you can start spider guard, you can start with an arm and go.
B/R: It’s not easy to stop a great grappler from those positions is it?
Sonnen: There are positions that you get in with high level black belts where you yell ‘Go,’ and two seconds later there is a tap. They’re that vulnerable of positions. Six seconds later there’s a tap, eight seconds later, you know, they’re very vulnerable positions.
But let’s say it doesn’t happen. Let’s say you and I are wrestling, I get away, and you get away. We go to the next set and the next set and then eventually we’ll just look at the time. Did Jonathan escape those positions quicker than Chael escaped those positions? If the answer is, yes, then you win.
B/R: So there’s sort of like a riding time component?
Sonnen: There you go. Yes. You understand amateur wrestling. I would have used that example, I just thought nobody would get it. Yes, just like riding time.
I mean that’s pretty clear once you see it. Somebody wins and somebody loses. There is no default button and there is no draw, there’s no golden parachute. Someone is going to lose. The guys are putting their name and their reputation on the line here.
B/R: For a lot of the guys you’ve got signed up, Chael, that’s kind of a big deal, right? You’ve convinced some fairly major mixed martial arts stars to compete in this other sport where they do have a lot to lose. What is it about these men that compels them to go try to prove they’re the best at this, even though maybe it could hurt them in their other sport?
Sonnen: Here’s all I can do. All I can do is follow the golden rule, treat other people the way you want to be treated. I just ask myself, what would it take?
I want to compete. I’ve never said no. If somebody calls me to grapple, I never say ‘Who’s the opponent?’ I just say yes. I want to do this. But as willing as I am, and as much as promoters would love to have me, I’ve wrestled twice in two years. There’s just no opportunity. There’s just nowhere to go do it at.
All we did was set up the environment. It’s like that movie, Field of Dreams, with Kevin Costner. You build it and they will come. We had a match today that tried to get on the card for Sunday. It’s a hot match, Uriah Hall versus Dan Miller, and there’s just no time. And we told them no, but they were calling us. We didn’t call them.
Ulysses Gomez, Tony Ferguson, Mike Chiesa, Frank Mir and Lyoto Machida—I mean the list goes on and on of guys that want somewhere to do this sport. And I get it, I’m the same way. I’m the same way. It’s like, hey, I’m practicing this every day, let me go show it off.
Or on the other side of it, show me a better way. You know, it’s okay to go out in these kind of events and get beat if there’s something you can learn and take with you to whatever it is you want to do in MMA.
B/R: It’s attracting some guys we haven’t seen for awhile too, like former UFC champion Ricco Rodriguez and Chris Lytle, last seen running for political office.
Sonnen: Ricco is one of these guys that just left. He was a world champion, biggest prize in all of MMA, the world heavyweight championship, and one day he just stopped doing it. He was never cut. It wasn’t that Dana didn’t want him, it wasn’t that Pride wouldn’t take him in a heartbeat, he just stopped doing it. He never retired, he never announced anything, he just walked away.
When we announced that he was gonna wrestle, everybody was calling me and going, ‘Hey, that’s the same name of the guy that beat Randy Couture.’ I’m going, ‘It’s not just the same name, that’s the guy. It’s that Ricco Rodriguez.’
And people couldn’t believe it. They’d be, you got to be kidding. What the hell? What’s Ricco been doing?
Lytle is coming out of retirement to take on Jake Shields, who Georges St. Pierre says is the best Jiu Jitsu player in all of MMA. And Lytle has never called me once. One text message, I’ve never heard from him since.
I hear from all these guys. ‘I heard the place is sold out, how do I get my mother in?’ My phone goes off all day long. I’ve never heard from Chris Lytle. And he’s walking into a hell storm against Jake Shields. He jumped at it. I mean, come on, these are the kind of guys that you want to get behind.
B/R: You’ve told me several times how much you would enjoy getting in there. Why didn’t Chael Sonnen the promoter contact Chael Sonnen the athlete?
Sonnen: I was a little reluctant to do it because, again, if I go in, it takes away an opportunity from somebody else, and we are trying to push opportunities.
I wanted a match with Tim Kennedy and Tim accepted. But Tim is doing some very important work with the state department, and I’ll have to leave it at that, but he gets a full pass, right?
You don’t get to pick on Tim. ‘Oh, you chickened out.’ Not when you’re doing that kind of honorable stuff for the nation. So if you’re in my shoes, you step aside. But Tim did agree to the match and has agreed to a future one. He said any time after August 1, I’m there.
He didn’t say it quite as nice as I just said it. There is some heat there. But the bottom line is, yes, that was talked about, and yes I have an opponent, and yes that will happen down the road. And Jonathan, I will whip his ass.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.
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Even when he was staring down Josh Koscheck, Bellator welterweight Paul Daley had his doubts whether they would ever actually fight.
Despite the Viacom-owned promotion’s efforts to build toward a showdown between the longtime rivals, six years after Daley (38-13-2 MMA, 3-0 BMMA) infamously sucker-punched Koscheck (17-10 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) and was cut from the UFC, the British veteran suspected his American counterpart wouldn’t face him a second time.
In fact, Daley wondered whether Koscheck ever will fight again.
“Maybe it was a bit of an anchor, if things didn’t work out with his other business ventures, or whatever else that he’s got going on that he can fall back,” Daley, who now meets Douglas Lima (26-6 MMA, 8-2 UFC) on Saturday at Bellator 158, told MMAjunkie. “He had some security with Bellator. He still has. Maybe things have gone better than he thought they would go with whatever he set up after fighting.”
It’s no secret Koscheck lives a comfortable life after more than a decade in the industry-leading UFC. So he can’t fault the MMA veteran from stepping away – he might do the same if given the same opportunity.
“That’s why I say best of luck to him,” Daley said. “I would definitely do the same thing. I’d be driving a Ferrari.”
As of yet, Daley’s mode of transportation is a lot more modest. But as ever, his career plans are ambitious, with Lima serving as a dress rehearsal to a title shot. Although he’ll never be mistaken for Koscxeck’s advocate, Daley isn’t particularly bent out of shape about the way things turned out for the ill-fated headliner at London’s The O2, which airs on Spike via tape-delay.
“It was a slight disappointment, but I kind of got the feeling that he didn’t really want to fight,” Daley said. “I was surprised he came to the press conference. I got the feeling he was pretty much done with fighting. He seemed really on edge. He seemed to be a little scared, like genuinely scared.
“I wish him the best of luck if he doesn’t want to fight any more. You’ve got to want to fight, especially against a guy like me. You can’t do it half-heartedly.”
Lima was Bellator’s welterweight champ before losing a decision to current titleholder Andrey Koreshkov, who’s now the No. 13 ranked fighter in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA welterweight rankings, and Daley thinks he’ll be in line for the belt if he wins on Saturday.
If the fight with Koscheck never materializes, Daley claims he’s made peace with it. That, or he’s perhaps trying a different way to motivate his rival to join him in the cage.
“I’m going to take Douglas Lima out, and the thing I’m waiting on is a title shot against Andrey Koreshkov, or whoever is the champion when my title shot comes around,” Daley said. “We’ll see if (Koscheck is) going to fight. If he fights, and he’s doing well, and they put us in line again, then yeah. I’ve never been one to turn down a fight.”
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Brock Lesnar came, he conquered, and now he’s heading back to his day job.
UFC’s Megan Olivi caught up with “The Beast Incarnate” backstage shortly after his successful Octagon return and dominant performance against top-ten ranked UFC heavyweight contender Mark Hunt in the co-main event of what will likely go down as UFC’s biggest event in history.
Lesnar spoke about his thoughts on his performance against the dangerous striker, noting that he managed to take some of his shots and keep implementing his game en route to what was ultimately a dominant return to the Octagon after more than five years away from the sport.
When asked what is next following such an impressive victory, Lesnar, with a giant smile on his face, “Well, I think it’s SummerSlam [and] Randy Orton for right now!”
Lesnar makes his return to the professional wrestling world at the WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view event on Sunday, August 21, 2016 from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, where he will face WWE Superstar Randy Orton.
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For the first time in the history of “The Ultimate Fighter,” two opposing coaches off will face off for a title on the finale card where their team members fight for a UFC contract.
Friday’s The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena sees Joanna Jedrzejczyk (11-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) put her strawweight title up for grabs in a rematch with longtime rival Claudia Gadelha (13-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC). It’s a rematch of a December 2014 bout that Jedrzejczyk won by controversial split decision.
Jedrzejczyk has been dominant since besting Gadelha and wants to prove their first meeting was no fluke. Gadelha, meanwhile, is eager to avenge the only loss of her career and subsequently capture UFC gold for the first time.
The main event isn’t the only compelling matchup on the card, however. Check below for 50 pre-fight facts about The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale.
* * * *
Jedrzejczyk became the first Polish-born champion in UFC history when she defeated Carla Esparza at UFC 185.
Jedrzejczyk became just the ninth fighter in UFC history to win a championship belt with an undefeated pro record when she won at UFC 185.
Jedrzejczyk’s competes in her sixth UFC strawweight bout, the most appearances in divisional history.
Jedrzejczyk’s five-fight UFC winning streak in strawweight competition is the longest active streak in the division.
Jedrzejczyk’s five victories in UFC strawweight competition are the most in divisional history.
Jedrzejczyk’s two stoppage victories in UFC strawweight competition are tied for the most in divisional history.
Jedrzejczyk has earned six of her 11 career victories by decision. That includes three of her five UFC wins.
Jedrzejczyk has outlanded her past three opponents 399 to 132 in significant strikes landed.
Jedrzejczyk outlanded Jessica Penne 126-25 in significant strikes at UFC Fight Night 69. Her +101 differential is the second greatest advantage in a UFC championship fight behind Rich Franklin’s +106 advantage against David Loiseau at UFC 58.
Jedrzejczyk’s 220 significant strikes landed against Valerie Letourneau at UFC 193 are a UFC title-fight record.
Jedrzejczyk’s 220 significant strikes landed at UFC 193 are second most in a UFC fight behind Nate Diaz’s 238 significant strikes against Donald Cerrone at UFC 141 in December 2011.
Jedrzejczyk’s 70 leg kicks landed at UFC 193 are the single-fight UFC record.
Gadelha earned the first victory in UFC strawweight history when she defeated Tina Lahdemaki at UFC Fight Night 45.
Gadelha competes in her fourth UFC strawweight bout, tied for the second most appearances in divisional history behind Jedrzejczyk (six).
Gadelha has earned both of her UFC victories by decision.
Gadelha completes 5.33 takedowns per 15 minutes of fighting in UFC competition, more than three times the UFC average of 1.75.
Remaining main card
Ross Pearson (19-10 MMA, 11-7 UFC) is 6-4 with one no-contest since he returned to the UFC lightweight division in December 2012.
Pearson has alternated wins and losses over his past eight UFC appearances.
Pearson’s five knockout victories in UFC lightweight competition are tied for third most in divisional history behind Melvin Guillard (seven) and B.J. Penn (six).
Will Brooks (17-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) will make his UFC debut after being released as Bellator lightweight champion in May.
Brooks has earned six of his past seven victories by decision.
Doo Ho Choi (13-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC) enters the event on a career-high 11-fight winning streak. He hasn’t suffered a defeat since June 2010.
Choi has earned 10 of his 13 career victories by knockout.
Choi has earned both of his UFC victories by first-round knockout in a total fight time of 1:51.
Choi’s 18-second knockout of Juan Manuel Puig at UFC Fight Night 57 stands as the second fastest debut in UFC featherweight history behind Makwan Amirkhani’s eight-second win at UFC on FOX 14.
Thiago Tavares (20-6-1 MMA, 10-6-1 UFC) is 2-1 since he dropped to the UFC featherweight division in August 2014.
Tavares has earned both of his UFC featherweight victories by submission.
Tavares has completed at least one takedown against 15 of the 17 opponents he’s faced in UFC competition.
Tavares’ 39-second submission of Clay Guida at UFC Fight Night 77 is the third fastest submission in UFC/WEC featherweight history.
Andrew Holbrook (11-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) has earned 10 of his 11 career victories by stoppage. He’s earned all but one of those finishes in the first round.
Gray Maynard (11-4-1 MMA, 9-4-1 UFC), 36, is the oldest of the 24 fighters scheduled to compete at the event.
Maynard drops to the UFC featherweight division for the first time in his more than nine-year career with the organization.
Maynard enters the event on a four-fight losing skid. He’s 1-5-1 in his past six octagon appearances and hasn’t registered a victory since June 2012.
Maynard has earned his past eight UFC victories by decision. He is one of two fighters in UFC history to go eight wins without a stoppage, along with Benson Henderson.
Maynard has suffered five knockdowns in his past four UFC bouts.
Maynard’s nine-second knockout of Joe Veres at UFC Fight Night 11 stands as the fastest knockout in UFC lightweight history.
John Moraga (16-4 MMA, 6-3 UFC) competes in his eighth UFC flyweight bout, tied for the third most appearances in divisional history behind Demetrious Johnson (11) and Joseph Benavidez (11).
Moraga’s four stoppage victories in UFC flyweight competition are tied for second most in divisional history behind Johnson (five).
Moraga’s three submission victories in UFC flyweight competition are tied with Johnson for most in divisional history.
Moraga is one of 16 fighters in UFC history to earn a knockout stemming from standing elbow strikes. He accomplished the feat against Ulysses Gomez at UFC on FOX 4.
Moraga was the first fighter in UFC flyweight history to be stopped between rounds when John Dodson defeated him by TKO (doctor’s stoppage) at UFC Fight Night 42.
Cezar Ferreira (9-5 MMA, 5-3 UFC) was successful in his return to the UFC middleweight division when he defeated Oluwale Bamgbose at UFC on FOX 19 in July.
Ferreira has earned four of his five UFC victories by decision.
Anthony Smith (25-11 MMA, 1-1 UFC) was successful in his return to the UFC for a second stint after he was first released from the organization in June 2013.
Smith is 8-1 since he was released from the UFC in June 2013.
Smith has earned 22 of his 25 career victories by stoppage.
Jake Matthews (10-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC), 21, is the youngest of the 24 fighters scheduled to compete at the event.
Matthews has earned all four of his UFC victories by stoppage.
Kevin Lee (12-2 MMA, 4-2 UFC) has earned four of his five UFC victories by decision.
Li Jingliang (10-4 MMA, 2-2 UFC) has alternated wins and losses over his four-fight UFC career. He suffered a defeat in his most recent bout.
For more on The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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From the outside, the 13-second knockout loss to Conor McGregor that cost Jose Aldo his UFC belt looked like a soul-crushing way to end a dominant, decade-long undefeated streak.But, if you ask the former champ, the “disappointing” moment might just have been what he needed to reignite a spark.“Before (the loss), I don’t know if I was inadvertently in a comfort zone, but I was dragging along a little,” Aldo said during a media scrum on the lead-up to his UFC 200 return. “Just sort of maintaining and coasting. Not anymore. Now I’m getting back to my WEC … Read the Full Article Here
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On Tuesday evening, UFC added a new video primer for this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 89 event in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Embedded above is “Fight Night Ottawa: Stephen Thompson — From Karate Kid to MMA,” which looks at the rise of “Wonderboy” Thompson inside the Octagon, as he prepares for his second major welterweight challenge this weekend in Canada.
Fresh off of his knockout over Johny Hendricks earlier this year, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson meets former UFC title contender Rory MacDonald in the main event of UFC Fight Night 89.
The official description for the video featured above reads:
“Stephen Thompson’s transition from karate kid to mixed martial artist has been a successful one. Thompson is one win away from a potential title shot as he fights Rory MacDonald in the main event at Fight Night Ottawa on Saturday on FS1.”
UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson is scheduled for Saturday, June 18, 2016 from the TD Place Arena in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
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