MMA original Chael Sonnen almost became a professional wrestler.
He discussed that and more during a phone interview to promote Bellator 170: Ortiz vs. Sonnen.
An accomplished amateur wrestler, Sonnen nearly ended up in WCW rather than UFC.
“When I was in college [University of Oregon], WCW was still around, and in the summer of 1998, between my sophomore and junior years, I went to a tryout at the Power Plant,” he recalled. “Of all the guys who were there -- there were 14 or 16 of us; it wasn’t a huge number -- only two of us made it. Essentially all you had to do to make it was be there standing on the last day. They just worked you into the ground, and as soon as you had enough, you walked out.”
Under the direction of The Masked Assassin (Jody Hamilton), Paul Orndorff and Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker, the WCW Power Plant served as the training ground for potential WCW wrestlers.
“I was in a great shape and still barely made it through,” Sonnen said. “It was a really hard process.
“I planned on taking that invitation to train in pro wrestling. I had another two years before I graduated [college], but before then, [WCW] went out of business, and I went a different route.”
Sonnen, who earned a college degree in Sociology, received All-American honors, was a two-time PAC-10 runner-up, was a silver medalist at the 2000 Greco-Roman World University Championships, and was a two-time Dave Schultz Memorial Institutional Greco-Roman. He began his MMA career in 1997 at age 19 and later competed for Bodog Fight, World Extreme Cagefighting and UFC.
After serving a suspension, he returns to continue his in-octagon/in-cage career for Bellator, matching up with Ortiz.
“I never wanted to leave,” the 39-year-old said. “I got hit with a suspension [when in UFC for failed drug tests]. So I had to out-run that clock first and foremost, and that’s a hard thing to do. Two years is a long time, and they threw the book at me. I was facing about 10 months and ended up doing two years. It was just one of those deals.
“As time ticked by, I was still in the gym. I was still practicing. I was still hungry. So that was really it. It wasn’t a huge decision as much as it was just I got to get through the bureaucracy. I got to get through my timeline to become eligible to get a license.”
Sonnen is always busy, even during that time. He not only trained, but he is a student of the game. He called the action for World Series of Fighting and served as an MMA analyst for ESPN.
Pro wrestling also entered the picture, becoming a commentator for Global Force Wrestling, under the direction of the legendary Jeff Jarrett.
“That was awesome,” he said. “I was a fan [of pro wrestling], and I had never been on the other side of the curtain. So I had fun. The guys were great. I learned stuff in the back. I had fun going out and participating, performing in front of an audience. Great crowds. The shows I participated in were in Las Vegas. Great city. Great time.
“And Jeff Jarrett is just a smart cookie. He’s always a couple of steps ahead. He’s planning for the next event and the one after that...It was fun. It was very limited for me, but I enjoyed it.”
Outspoken UFC fighter Conor McGregor took some jabs, shots at pro wrestlers.
Sonnen delivered a different message: “That’s a rough and tumble business. They’re definitely athletes. That’s like saying Cirque de Soleil aren’t athletes. It’s one of the most athletic performances there is. So I respect pro wrestling a lot.
“From a competitive background, of course, we get it. In the late 80s, I think it was 1989, they revealed the fourth curtain that they are not offering resistance to one another and not actually competing for a pinfall, but they’re athletes. And that’s a tough life, too. They’re on the road constantly. They’re grinding. They’re staying in shape. They’re away from their families. That’s a tough way to go. They got my respect.”
Bellator 170: Ortiz vs. Sonnen
It’s a fight that many mixed martial arts fans thought they’d never see, but on Saturday, Jan. 21, Tito Ortiz (18-12-1) and Chael Sonnen (28-14-1) will fight inside the beautifully renovated Forum in Inglewood, Calif. to headline “Bellator 170: Ortiz vs. Sonnen.”
“It’s the biggest fight of the year. It’s the biggest fight in Bellator history,” Sonnen said. “It’s at the Forum.”
In college, the two met on the wrestling mat in a matchup that Sonnen won by pinning Ortiz on his birthday. Now, Ortiz will have the opportunity to avenge that loss when they compete in the Bellator MMA cage.
“It’s Tito Ortiz, getting the dream come true for him, finally,” Sonnen said. “Of all the experiences he’s had, finally, he will stand across from the greatest fighter of all-time, Chael P. Sonnen...and the ‘P’ stands for Icon.”
The event will be broadcast live and free on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
“I’ll start to weight cut and go through that process which is never pleasant,” Sonnen said, “but it’s all part of the sport, and I missed it. Complaining about it. It’s a tough thing to do, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Preliminary action will stream on Bellator.com and the Bellator Mobile App. Additional main and preliminary card bouts will be announcing in the coming weeks.
Since shocking the world with his surprise signing with Bellator MMA, Sonnen has made it clear he wants to fight anyone and everyone – regardless of weight class, or anything else that could stand in his way. He believes it is a six-fight deal with Bellator, starting with the man that has sat atop the sport of MMA practically since its inception, Tito Ortiz.
Not one to shy away from any sort of challenge, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” wasted zero time welcoming “The American Gangster” to the fray as only he can, by responding to Sonnen’s call-out with open arms on his social media account.
Sonnen spent a vast majority of his 43-fight career with the UFC, a run where he competed against names the likes of Jon Jones, Anderson Silva (2x), Rashad Evans, “Shogun” Rua, Demian Maia, Brian Stann, and current middleweight champion Michael Bisping. In addition to his exploits inside the cage, the West Linn, Ore., native has mastered the art of being in front of the camera, doing major broadcasting work for ESPN and Fox Sports. Now, after a three-year hiatus from active MMA competition, Sonnen looks to add to his impressive resume by defeating Ortiz.
“I’m ready to get into an ass-whipping contest,” Sonnen said. “I don’t think there’s going to be much talk involved...I’m going to go in there like a gangster firing every bullet.”
Known to the masses as “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” or “The People’s Champion” Tito Ortiz is a fan favorite all over the world. The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion has always been one of the toughest competitors in the cage, utilizing his wrestling background; Ortiz is a grinder who defended his title an impressive five times. Always with a flair for the dramatic, Ortiz had intense rivalries in the cage with guys like Ken Shamrock, Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, and Randy Couture. Most recently, Ortiz challenged current Bellator MMA 205-pound champion Liam McGeary at “Bellator: Dynamite 1.”
Sonnen is also known as The People’s Champ, and then there’s that other guy. The former WWE Superstar, current big-time movie star.
Who is the real People’s Champ?
“The Rock had it around 2000,” Sonnen said. “I went by that in college. People were calling me that in the late 90s..I might have beat him to it, but he definitely made it bigger than I did. So he should be the one who has it.”
Bellator is a leading Mixed Martial Arts and Kickboxing organization featuring many of the best fighters in the world. Under the direction of veteran fight promoter Scott Coker, Bellator is available to nearly 500 million homes worldwide in more than 140 countries. In the United States, Bellator can be seen on Spike, the combat sports television leader. Bellator is comprised of an executive team that includes top industry professionals in television production, live event orchestration, fighter development/relations, venue procurement, sponsorship creation/development, international licensing, marketing, advertising, publicity and commission relations.
Bellator is based in Santa Monica, Calif. and owned by entertainment giant Viacom, home to the world's premier entertainment brands that connect with audiences through compelling content across television, motion picture, online and mobile platforms. About Spike: Spike is available in 98.7 million homes and is a division of Viacom Media Networks. A unit of Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA, VIAB), Viacom Media Networks is one of the world’s leading creators of programming and content across all media platforms.
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