For a fighter that ended his career with a 29-14-1 record, Chael Sonnen enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in the final years of his career.
It ended on an extremely sour note, amidst failing two random drug tests, but financially at least, Sonnen did well by carving out a niche as MMA’s heel. His star shone brightly when he took a page out of professional wrestling’s book and became the man in MMA that everybody loved to hate when he amplified his bravado and relentlessly needled his opponents.
There comes a point, however, when even the heel has to shed the shtick and man up. That day of reckoning has come for Sonnen, who readily admits he knew what he was doing when he failed those two drug tests and that he was fully in the wrong.
“The rules are clear. I broke them,” said Sonnen during a recent interview on the This is Jericho podcast. “You gotta get punished, and I was. And I’ll honor it.”
The first drug test was administered on May 24 in Las Vegas, the second on June 5 in Portland, Ore., resulting in the illumination of five banned substances: anastrozole, clomifene, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), human growth hormone (hGH) and recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO).
“I was hit on a surprise test that was 44 days before a fight. Generally in our business we’re tested fight night, so whatever it is you’re doing or you’re not doing, you gotta show up clean on fight day,” Sonnen explained to Chris Jericho. “When I talk about being dirty, I’m not talking about steroids or illegal drugs. I always have to make this distinction. At least in our sport, if you ever fail a drug test, you are automatically taking something illegal and they were steroids. That’s just the way that it works in the media and the people’s minds.
“First off, none of them were illegal, and none of them were steroids, but I’ve never offered a defense. I turned in my prescriptions. I got this from the doctor, this is valid stuff, but these are still against the rules,” he continued.
“I knew it. I didn’t think I’d be tested for another 44 days. I tried to game the system.”
Sonnen briefly argued in his own defense following the first failed drug test coming to light, since all of the substances involved were reasonably linked to his proclaimed medical condition of hypogonadism and difficulties in fathering a child.
But when the second, more damning failed test, was unearthed, he didn’t try to explain it away. The second failed drug test included the commonly abused performance enhancers human growth hormone (hGH) and recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO).
At that point, Sonnen knew he could no longer put up a façade.
“I didn’t want to say anything that could water down my guilt. I thought it was important when you’re wrong, just say you’re wrong, and I was wrong,” he admitted.
“I’m a grown man. I knew what I was doing. I thought I could have my cake and eat it too. I didn’t take anything illegal, but I’m getting technical here. I’m wrong. That’s the end of it. Be a man and walk away.”
And that’s what he did. With all the fallout from the two drug tests, Sonnen retired from mixed martial arts and was terminated from his broadcasting contract with FOX and the UFC.
Later, the Nevada Athletic Commission also suspended Sonnen from fighting for the next two years.