UFC 136 marks the return of Chael Sonnen to the UFC after serving a year-long suspension for testing positive for elevated testosterone levels follow a failing effort in his title fight against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. MMA Nation caught up with the middleweight fighter after today's UFC 136 open workouts to get his thoughts on his return.
Sonnen is generally considered one of the best or most effective wrestlers in the UFC's middleweight division. Sonnen, however, doesn't view himself as a wrestler. "I haven't been a wrestler for some time," said the former NCAA All-American. "I stopped wrestling in 2003, so I never counted on that going into a fight, being able to wrestle somebody. It's hard to win a fight wrestling. You have to go out there and fight."
Sonnen has been outspoken in his desire to rematch Silva, hoping to prove the submission loss was a fluke. He isn't taking Brian Stann - his UFC 136 opponent - lightly, though. Instead, his view is that no matter the outcome, he needs to move on with his career. "I try not to dwell on any event and Brian could beat me. I could beat him. I don't know what's gonna happen in there. I like those odds, 50/50. It doesn't matter either way. Either way you have to go forward", he says. "Time is the only thing that goes one way, forward. Whatever's next is next. I don't focus on matches, some guys do, I don't."
The outspoken middleweight is dealing with questions of ring rust and whether it could be a factor in his fight this weekend. For a man who has stayed active competitively his entire life, the layoff hasn't been the easiest fourteen months of his life. "It was tough for me," says Sonnen. "I never had to wear those shoes. I've always stayed real busy competing since I was nine years old. In wrestling I'd wrestle and compete five times a week. Every Saturday, have five, six, seven matches for my entire life. So taking 14 months with no competition was new. It was tough. It's been tough. I'm still going through it."
Sonnen was questioned about UFC President Dana White's comments regarding the future number one contender for Silva's belt at yesterday's post-press conference media scrum. According to White, the winner of this weekend's Sonnen vs. Stann match would be the number one middleweight contender. Yet, Sonnen would be willing to wait in order to give long time friend and teammate Dan Henderson the first crack at the champion. "I'm in complete support of Dan Henderson and I hope his career is great wherever he goes," Sonnen confessed. "I don't know if he has an interest in going to 185, but I imagine he could be talked into if if Dana asked him to but he could cover three different weight classes from heavyweight, 205, and 185 so I got his back either way."
Chael Sonnen enters his match with Brian Stann on the path towards redemption. How he performs Saturday will decide his future in the UFC and potentially MMA. He needs to live up to his words and prove to fans he is truly one of the best fighters in the world. Otherwise, it may all be too late.