Chael Sonnen can’t get out of his own way. Things would seem to be going well for “The American Gangster,” and then he would do something to spectacularly screw it up.
Unbeknownst to himself, Sonnen created the perfect metaphor for his mixed martial arts career when he appeared on the seventh season of “The Celebrity Apprentice.” It’s a bit of a forgotten season, hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger after the previous host found himself attending to other business.
Sonnen did well on the season through the first seven tasks. He was on the winning team for five of the first seven tasks. When his team did lose, and Sonnen was forced to fight for his life in “The Boardroom,” he defended himself well and spoke eloquently and confidently in avoiding being “terminated” by Schwarzenegger. This was no surprise to followers of Sonnen’s MMA career. We’ve heard him take the most absurd arguments as both a fighter and analyst, and make us believe them. That’s his gift.
So by the eighth task, Sonnen had to be considered a front runner to become Schwarzenegger’s apprentice. And then he got in his own way. During a task that required contestants to create a digital brochure for a Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios, Sonnen’s team was working to finish their creation but were running short on time. Rather than help his team finish, ask for an extension, or just submit an incomplete assignment and take the ‘L,’ Sonnen chose to do something else.
Sonnen took a pair of scissors and cut the power to his team’s computer. He explained his action on the show, and he owned it all the way.
“I’m very glad we did this,” he said. “The rule says you have to finish before 7:45. At 7:43 we were not done. You get one exception which is ‘technical difficulties.’ So with a little creativity and some scissors, I gave us some technical difficulties.”
Schwarzenegger wasn’t having any of it and fired Sonnen on the spot before the winning team was even announced. Had he done just about anything except what he did, he might have survived the firing and gone deeper into the competition.
Sonnen will likely be best remembered for his near defeat of Anderson Silva at UFC 117 in August of 2010. Sonnen was able to take Silva down in each round. With less than two minutes remaining and victory seeming to be a certainty, Sonnen found himself in a Silva triangle and was submitted. It was Sonnen’s best and worst career moment all in one night.
Often forgotten about this fight is that Sonnen was destined to lose because he got in his own way. Sonnen failed a fight night drug test for having elevated levels of testosterone. 16.9:1 to be exact with 4:1 being the allowable level for fighters in California at the time. He claimed that NSAC Executive Director Keith Kizer game him the OK to use testosterone replacement therapy and that he wasn’t required to disclose it on his pre-fight medical forms. The California commission accepted this argument and reduced Sonnen’s suspension from twelve to six months. But that’s not where it ends.
Kizer came out and said that no such conversation ever happened. In a meeting between Kizer, Sonnen, and UFC representatives, Kizer was blunt in telling Sonnen “That’s a ridiculous explanation.”
Sonnen almost beat Silva, but he guaranteed his loss when he cheated. Sonnen failed drug tests again in 2014. Perhaps the only thing Sonnen learned from his boardroom meeting with Keith Kizer to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger is that if you’re going to cheat, at least own it.