LOS ANGELES — Chael Sonnen is coming back to the cage, and he’s doing it with Bellator.
Sonnen will return to mixed martial arts with the UFC’s biggest competitor, the veteran fighter told The Associated Press on Thursday night.
The 39-year-old Sonnen signed a multiyear, multi-fight deal with Bellator, the promotion also confirmed to the AP.
Sonnen hopes to begin in November by taking on fellow UFC alumnus Tito Ortiz, but the talkative ex-wrestler known as the “American Gangster” says he has no other preferences about opponents, fight locations — or even weight classes.
“This is the only game I know how to play,” Sonnen told the AP. “This is what I do. This is also my social life. Going into the gym and seeing the guys and training. Being around the coaches, and going out there and competing and having a goal, all the way from making weight to sacrifices in camp to going out there and shaking hands. This is just the only life I know.”
Sonnen has fought for the UFC middleweight and light heavyweight titles during a tumultuous MMA career. The versatile, tenacious competitor became one of the sport’s most popular fighters before he received a two-year suspension in 2014 for failing a drug test.
The Rulers Back.
— Chael Sonnen (@ChaelSonnen) September 16, 2016
Sonnen announced his retirement after that most recent positive test, and he repeatedly denied interest in returning. When asked Thursday why he took that stance, Sonnen said: “I’m a heel. Heels lie.”
“There might have been a blink of the eye where I thought it was time to transition behind a desk, but for the most part, I never meant it,” Sonnen added. “I was never prepared for it. I knew I was coming back, and there were more guys to beat up. … I appreciate that you all read the book, but I can see that I left a few chapters out, so it’s going to continue.”
Sonnen had been a devoted UFC fighter with two stints and 14 fights for the promotion since 2005. He remained vocally supportive of the promotion during his suspension, but Bellator apparently made a financial offer that the UFC didn’t match.
When asked why he chose Bellator, Sonnen solemnly joked “Zero apostrophe S,” referring to a large financial offer.
“Chael is an incredible athlete that has competed at the very highest levels of the sport, and I know that he is going to continue to do just that here at Bellator,” said Scott Coker, the promotion’s president. “He has that entertainer X-factor that can’t be taught. When we were talking, Chael was adamant that he wants to compete in three divisions here. He already has unfinished business with Wanderlei Silva, but he also wants to fight Tito Ortiz, Fedor Emelianenko and even Rory MacDonald at middleweight. These are all fights that I’d be very inclined to watch, so hopefully we can put some, if not all, of these matchups together.”
Sonnen said he won’t ask for a specific opponent beyond Ortiz, but he intends to fight early and often with Bellator.
“I signed with Bellator a matter of minutes ago, they’ve got a card in Austin tomorrow, and I’m (mad) that I’m not on it,” Sonnen said in reference to Bellator 161, which pits Cheick Kongo against Tony Johnson in the headlining heavyweight bout.
Bellator 161 and most of the promotion’s fights largely air on Spike TV, although a Sonnen-Ortiz matchup seems to be a possible pay-per-view candidate. While the fight isn’t set, Sonnen would love to take on the Huntington Beach Bad Boy, who has been with Bellator since 2014.
“The Bad Boy versus the Bad Guy in November, and that’s a quote,” Sonnen said.