It’s been a few months, but I’m confident you still remember the feeling.
Anderson Silva, the most successful UFC champion in history, was once again underneath Chael Sonnen, eating punishment as he had for the majority of the previous half hour. Silva’s unprecedented winning/title defense streak was mere minutes away from a staggering 50-44 decision loss. Then, it happened: Sonnen, as he is wont to do, neglected his submission defense just long enough for an opponent in inferior position to sink something in. Silva slapped Sonnen into a tight triangle and, after a brief controversy surrounding the tap, he had extended his run at the top. And STILL…
While Sonnen was not the anointed contender going into the bout (having lost to previous contender Demian Maia before besting Okami and Marquardt in back-to-back bouts), interest in a rematch was immediate and pervasive. The reasons were not solely related to ensuring another successful Silva-headlined PPV. Anderson Silva’s unprecedented (and, frankly, unlikely to be repeated) UFC winning streak has never been tested as it was that night by Chael. The same man that did the Jedi rain dance on Forrest Griffin’s jaw and saw fit to play air guitar during his previous title defense had lost every round, and decisively. The sole, gaping hole in Anderson’s game – wrestling – was laid bare for the world to see. The game plan to defeat Silva had been demonstrated, and Chael appeared to be the best man to attempt to implement it again.
Of course, we all know what happened next – Sonnen came back positive for an elevated testosterone level and the CSAC slapped him with a year long suspension and $2,500 fine (the maximum allowed). The merits and specifics of yesterday’s theatrics notwithstanding – I’ve been very careful not to condemn nor defend Sonnen until all the facts were out and I am more confused now than ever (I don’t think he’s making up the hypogonadism angle) – California ultimately voted to cut Sonnen’s suspension in half while maintaining the fine. The idea of giving Sonnen an immediate rematch had died a quick death following the original CSAC suspension, necessitating giving Vitor Belfort (0-0 at middleweight since returning to the UFC) the slot and replacing him with Nate Marquardt to battle Yushin Okami for the next one. It appears that yesterday’s decision breathed some life back into the notion.
I’m here to snuff it out.
Whether or not Chael had a legitimate, defensible reason for having an elevated testosterone ratio is irrelevant. While a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription should be all an American needs to get access to the medicine they need, there are protocols and procedures for informing the athletic commission before being allowed to compete, and they were not followed in this case, as Chael essentially admitted under cross-examination yesterday. Would I like to see a division of punishment between legally obtained supplements/therapy and illegally obtained ones? Sure – but barring that, each must be treated equally by commissions whose sole purview is to put on competitive, fair and safe mixed martial arts bouts. Sonnen made that harder by not being more explicit.
While I’m not wholly on board with the Josh Gross “zero tolerance” policy relating to steroids, I sympathize with the sentiments it expresses (and concerns it addresses). I suppose I rest somewhere between that stance and Mike Fagan’s “as many needles as they can fit” attitude; I’m against PED usage, but not to the point of abandoning my belief in redemption. A number of MMA fighters have one positive test at some point in their career – if you make a mistake, admit it and change your behavior, I’m on your side, and that holds true for people I’ve never met as well (except Michael Vick). I do NOT, however, wish to see you go straight from probationary status to main event material. Sonnen should have to win a fight or two to get back in the mix, no matter how much us fans (and his bosses) may want him there now. Ultimately, it’s about more than that – it’s about sport – and I’ll be shocked to see Sonnen leapfrogging Okami or anyone else to get another shot at Anderson.
Sonnen’s fine may seem pitiful (indeed, it’s less than 5% of the fight-of-the-night bonus he shared with Anderson after the offending bout), and going six months without a payday isn’t something that’s going to generate a lot of tears from the long-term unemployed such as myself (approaching the two year anniversary of having a job). The punishment meted out by the AC isn’t exactly harsh. Losing out on the rematch – the endorsements, the exposure, the viewership (Sonnen-Silva was probably Anderson’s most-watched fight) and the very real possibility of actually winning – is, and should be, Sonnen’s main punishment for his transgressions. Allowing him to go from suspension to rematch for the belt would be shortsighted, immoral and counterproductive for a division that, sooner or later, will be looking for a new champion.