UFC's Chael Sonnen hired by ESPN after Fox firing
Nov. 11, 2014
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Four months after Chael Sonnen's performance-enhancing drug use got him kicked out of the octagon and off television, the ex-UFC middleweight is getting another chance to tell the world about his sport.
Sonnen has joined ESPN as a mixed martial arts analyst, returning to broadcast media after he was fired by Fox and suspended from fighting by the Nevada Athletic Commission during the summer.
"I love to break down fights," Sonnen told The Associated Press. "I love to watch them. The fact that ESPN will allow me to do that on the air in a fancy suit and call it a job, it's what I would be doing at home anyway."
Sonnen was dropped by the UFC's official broadcast partner last summer after he failed two drug tests in three weeks, leading to his retirement from fighting.
Although Sonnen said he voluntarily walked away from Fox to avoid further drama for the network, the loquacious former fighter is eager to get back on the air with studio commentary and on-site analysis for ESPN.
"I had stubbed my toe pretty bad," Sonnen said. "I knew it, and I was willing just to take my medicine and go away. But when the phone call (from ESPN) came in, I was very quick to answer."
Sonnen will debut Friday with commentary on ESPN's coverage of UFC 180. He will appear regularly on "SportsCenter" and other network platforms, and he said he won't ignore his drug-tainted past while discussing the sport's future stars.
"I wouldn't shy away from a topic, even if it's one that brought me shame," Sonnen said. "There are topics like that, and there are opponents I'm going to have to cover that have also embarrassed themselves, but that's part of the sport, man. I cherish those moments."
Sonnen did his first major broadcasting work with ESPN in 2010, and senior coordinating producer Glenn Jacobs said the network wasn't concerned by Sonnen's checkered history or his unceremonious departure from Fox.
"We know Chael has made some mistakes in the past," Jacobs told the AP. "He's been honest. He's been up-front about it. He has paid for the mistakes that he has made, and he's moving forward. ... The insights that he has on the sport and the ways he sees it, our fans are going to be so much better from watching him on the air. They're going to be able to watch the fight and look for totally different things than they would have otherwise."
Before his two careers disintegrated, Sonnen was one of MMA's most prominent voices as a host of Fox Sports 1's "UFC Tonight" show and a talented fighter known as much for his prodigious trash-talking skills as his vaunted wrestling. He lost three UFC title fights during a largely successful career as the self-styled "American gangster from West Linn, Oregon."
Sonnen realizes he destroyed much of his goodwill with three failed drug tests in the last five years. He sounds more contrite about his decisions than he did immediately after he was caught last summer, although he still claims his downfall was partly a failure to understand the World Anti-Doping Agency's rules.
"I am for clean sport," Sonnen said. "The rules have changed during my career. The rules have changed during this year, which landed me in a tough spot because I didn't change with them. But the reality is, the rules are good, and to have clean sport is good.
"There are times when you can turn to science and medicine, and that looks like a pretty seductive route. But if I had to choose one of the two, I would not choose the side that I was on. I would support the other side. We need clean sport, and we've got to follow the rules, and that's it. I accept the consequences."
The 37-year-old Sonnen confirmed he has no plans to resume fighting when his suspension ends in 2016, although he has taken a renewed interest in jiu-jitsu in recent months. The former University of Oregon wrestler trains at a gym near his home — and he even entertains dreams of yet another career.
"I've considered trying out for the 2016 Olympic team in Greco-Roman wrestling," Sonnen said. "My goals would be different. I would not make the team, but I think I could be one of the guys. I could be right in there, top four or five. Give me a good opportunity to train and be active and still be a part of something while my body is still holding up. But no, I'm done with competitive mixed martial arts."