Chael Sonnen’s Indefinite Suspension Upheld, May Prompt Retirement

May 18, 2011

Chael Sonnen at the May 18 CSAC hearing

Chael Sonnen at the May 18 CSAC hearing

The long and winding road of Chael Sonnen’s career just careened down a steep descent of switchbacks on Wednesday, possibly signaling his retirement from mixed martial arts competition.

Sonnen, who just recently thought he would be reinstated as a fighter in both California and Nevada, was back before the California State Athletic Commission on Wednesday. He was trying to alleviate a recent indefinite suspension handed down by California, but the end result was a continuation of that suspension.

CSAC Executive Director George Dodd, in speaking with last week, confirmed the two factors behind the current suspension: Sonnen’s guilty plea for his money laundering case in Oregon, and also the possibility of false testimony during the UFC fighter’s hearing before the commission on Dec. 2, 2010, to appeal his last suspension.

“What we’re going to be looking at is his testimony (about) his discussion that he had with the Nevada State Athletic Commission,” Dodd explained. “Because that could have led some of the commissioners to change or sway their vote as far as… the testosterone use. So, we’re going to look at that.”

And that is exactly the tack the commission took, under the representation of deputy district attorney general Karen Chappelle, and with testimony from Keith Kizer, the executive director of Nevada’s athletic commission.

Sonnen was questioned heavily about his Federal money laundering conviction in Oregon, and the statements he made not only to the athletic commission at a December hearing, but also comments he made in media interviews.

The commission argued that Sonnen had been misleading in some of his statements both at the December hearing and in the media, particularly about his interaction with the Nevada commission regarding his testosterone therapy for hypogonadism.

Sonnen responded by saying he had relied upon poor information from others, both in regards to whether or not he was clear to fight while under the testosterone treatment and in regards to the money laundering charge. He said that he had since taken the step of handling such matters directly, not leaving issues such as matters with the athletic commission to his manager, Matt Lindland.

“If I am not granted a license to fight, I will be effectively retired,” Sonnen pleaded, the emotion evident on his face. “I don’t want to retire today.”

At the end of the day, the hearing about whether or not to license Sonnen in California boiled down to his alleged inconsistent statements and the money laundering conviction.

During deliberation, the consensus among commissioners was that the inconsistent statements were the primary consideration regarding Sonnen’s licensure in California, not so much the money laundering conviction.

The commission openly doubted the sincerity of Sonnen’s statements; commissioner Eugene Hernandez referenced a comment Sonnen made during Wednesday’s hearing as to part of the reason why.

“When I am on stage I am performing. No different than any other actor. I charge for those interviews,” he had said in regards to the media interviews that were called into question.

Following closing testimony, Hernandez motioned for Sonnen’s current suspension to be upheld indefinitely. The motion was quickly seconded by commissioner Christopher Giza.

After hearing public comment, which included a plea from Sonnen’s mother, the commission voted 4-1 to uphold the indefinite suspension. That means that Sonnen is under suspension until June 29, 2011, when his current license expires. The soonest he would be allowed to re-apply for a license in California would be June of 2012.

CSAC Executive Director George Dodd told that the action is under his jurisdiction only, and that Sonnen could try to get licensed in other states, similar to Josh Barnett, who has not regained his license in California, but will be fighting in Texas in June. It is up to the other state commissions to decide whether or not California’s ruling has any effect on their consideration of granting Sonnen a license.

Sonnen was believed to be under strong consideration to coach on Season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The outcome of Wednesday’s hearing effectively knocks him out of any further contention for the position.

(Reporting by Nick Solomon,

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Ken Pishna is the managing editor of
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