Chael Sonnen’s larger-than-life persona has resulted in him receiving admiration and attention as well as ire and ridicule.
He experienced both after Saturday’s Bellator 208 main event in Uniondale, N.Y., with some praising him for his gutsy performance against heavyweight legend Fedor Emelianenko, and others criticizing him for a somewhat sloppy grappling game plan that resulted in him being finished by first-round TKO.
Sonnen’s inability to capitalize on the advantageous positions he was able to establish prompted a contingent of online observers to wonder if there was something fishy about the fight result, a suggestion that was brought up to Bellator president Scott Coker at the evening’s post-fight press conference.
A slightly amused Coker swiftly dismissed the idea, bringing up a previous Sonnen loss to Tito Ortiz as another example of a bout that he felt was the subject of undeserved skepticism.
“Come on, that doesn’t even deserve a response to the people that are saying it,” Coker said. “Listen, Chael got clipped. He told me, ‘Man, he hit me and he hit me really good,’ and he was done. So that’s it. With Chael, the thing with Tito, ‘oh, he let him go’ or something, come on, why would you do that? You’re a professional athlete and you’re a fighter. He wants to continue, he wants to go to the next round of the tournament. That’s just all rubbish.”
“To me, they see Chael, he’s got this character and I think they just feel like with Chael it’s just like this character, so maybe that’s what they’re thinking,” Coker continued after being asked why Sonnen was such a lightning rod for controversy. “But If you had Fedor punching you and kicking you and kneeing you like he was doing today — that was real, that was not fake.”
Though the Bellator 208 main event ended just inside of a round, the action between Emelianenko and Sonnen was entertaining while it lasted. “The Last Emperor” showed glimpses of the fighter who was unbeatable for almost the entirety of the 2000s, battering Sonnen with hard punches and tossing him to the mat in disdain when Sonnen tried to take him down.
To Sonnen’s credit, he took as much punishment from Emelianenko as one could before eventually succumbing to ground-and-pound. Coker was pleased with what both men brought to Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night.
“I think they both looked good,” Coker said. “Chael can take a punch. He took some shots and I tell you I have not seen those two guys scrap like that in a while, they were going at it. In fact, Herschel (Walker) said to me, ‘Is Fedor mad at Chael? Did something happen?’ I said they’re trying to fight for the same prize to get to the finals.
“But in all seriousness, Chael showed me why he is who he is and Fedor, he just stepped in and I think that it was a great win for him.”
Coker made it clear that he had no rooting interest in the grand prix semifinals, which would determine who would go on to face Ryan Bader in the finals on Jan. 26. He also mentioned that Sonnen may end up facing Bader in the future anyway, since Bader is currently the Bellator light heavyweight champion and Coker sees 205 pounds as a good option for Sonnen in the future.
For now, Coker is more than pleased with the end result.
“I feel like as a promoter, whoever wins the matchup wins and that’s it,” Coker said. “If (Fedor) would have lost, Chael is a great promoter himself and that would have been a great fight with him and Bader. Both of them, I think would have been interesting matchups, but anytime Fedor steps into the cage it’s a special, historic moment, and I think we’ll have another piece of history on the 26th of January.”