Chael Sonnen knows a thing or two about navigating the fight game. In his heyday, “The American Gangster” was one of the biggest stars in the sport, even despite never winning a UFC title. Instead, Sonnen’s promotional skills and business acumen for MMA made him a can’t-miss draw, as did his willingness to take on all comers despite the circumstances.
It’s a formula that has also worked similarly well for YouTuber-turned-boxing sensation Jake Paul, but never has Paul been asked to live the gimmick more than when Tommy Fury dropped out of his scheduled December 18 match with Paul at the eleventh hour. With Fury out and less than two weeks to save the event, Paul ultimately called upon former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley to rematch the pair’s August bout, which Paul won via split decision. It’s a decision that Sonnen believes is the wrong one — even if he enjoys the fact that Paul is willing to put himself into an inherently tough position.
“I think it is [a mistake],” Sonnen said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “And don’t forget, this mistake is what I respect about it so much. This is a real fighter move, and Jake Paul has been resisted by our community for reasons that I don’t fully understand. And this is common. This has happened with announcers. Just to use recent examples, but Todd Grisham, who did a damn good job, was resisted. Stephen A. Smith, who came over, he was resisted. There’s something that the MMA community specifically wants before they welcome you into the club, and people pushed back on Jake because of the Disney, because of the YouTube, because he acted corny for so long.
“But the truth is, this is a real fighter move. He has nothing to gain here, but this is a very big risk. There is nothing that could help you more in a fight than not having dwelled on the fight for a training camp. If you’re in pretty good shape and you get that last-minute call, I can you a number of athletes [who that’s] where the big upsets come.”
Sonnen speaks from experience because not every fighter would’ve been willing to put themselves in the position Paul is now in. Back in 2013, Sonnen stepped up on short notice to replace an injured Dan Henderson in a UFC 151 title bout against then-champion Jon Jones, however Jones turned down the matchup and the card was ultimately cancelled.
Sonnen went on to point out that some of the biggest upsets in MMA history happened because of last-second opportunities, with the most memorable likely being Michael Bisping’s remarkable title win in a rematch against Luke Rockhold at UFC 199. Bisping accepted the fight on short notice less than two years after losing decisively to Rockhold, only to stun the world with a first-round knockout to capture the UFC belt.
“We were talking about [Michael] Bisping a moment ago,” Sonnen said. “Not only was Bisping in that spot where he had a clear mind — it’s not just a clear body where you’re peaking, your mind is clear. He didn’t know it was going to happen. This is a huge risk by Jake. Not to mention, what a cool spot for Tyron Woodley. Tyron Woodley’s going to make more money this year, or at least the same money, as he did in his prime — and that wasn’t expected. That’s not what guys who leave the UFC have to look forward to.
“So Tyron’s a bit of an inspiration in that regard, and if Tyron beats him, you can bet your ass they’re going to go to part three, which would be even bigger.”
Sonnen added that part of his respect for Paul’s willingness to keep the event intact derives from exactly the same situation Jones faced at UFC 151 — when the livelihoods of other fighters are resting on your shoulders, it can be a difficult thing to make the hard decisions.
“Jake Paul does not need this fight,” Sonnen said. “However there’s 20 other men and women on that card whose Christmas will be ruined, whose holidays will be ruined, if they don’t get to go out there and compete. And Jake Paul followed the golden rule of show business, which is the show must go on. And that is a gangster move — and he deserves credit for it. I really respect it. I think he’s up against it. I think he really is. And I think that Tyron has gone to bed every single night thinking about Jake Paul, praying on his hands and knees that this opportunity comes. I think that Tyron’s in a very good spot.”