Sonnen Suspension An Important Step Towards Mainstream Acceptance

UFC middleweight Sonnen

Dana White handles Sonnen difficulties the right way

When the day comes where the UFC is viewed as a legitimate mainstream sport by the masses, there will be all kinds of well-known and well-discussed events that are mentioned as markers along the way. One such event that will probably be overlooked amidst the notable historic moments is Tuesday’s suspension of Chael Sonnen.

Though it will be mentioned far less frequently than the TUF 1 Finale and the creation of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, the decision to keep Sonnen on the sidelines is a very important step towards greater acceptance.

Less than five months after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, and two months after having his one-year suspension reduced to six-months, news broke that Sonnen had pleaded guilty to money laundering charges. Around the same time, it was announced that the former middleweight title contender would make his return to the Octagon against Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 128 in March.

Before I was able to sit down and unleash a stream of consciousness editorial about how preposterous the UFC would look by failing to punish Sonnen for his transgressions and providing him with one of ten places on the UFC 128 pay-per-view card, Dana White announced that the organization had suspended the self-proclaimed “gangster from Oregon.”

In a statement to, the UFC President said that the 185-pound competitor’s contract has been “frozen” in an effort to allow Sonnen to “get his personal life back together” before worrying about his fighting career. While it may not seem like much to some, this move is a milestone of sorts for the company and a positive step in the quest for legitimacy.

There is always going to be a segment of the population that are opposed to MMA (it is people punching each other in the face after all) and failing to act in this situation would have supplied them with further ammunition in their assault against the sport. While the opinion-based objections and frequent use of tired complaints already proven to be invalid are easy to overlook, a failure to take action against Sonnen would have been a public relations nightmare and opened up a whole new route to take in the quest to keep the sport from truly reaching the mainstream.

Despite the fact that countless athletes who have appeared on a police blotter or two (or worse) are gainfully employed in other professional sports, mixed martial arts is currently held to different standards than the NFL, for example. As such, keeping Sonnen in the mix would have been deemed evidence that the sport is populated with nothing but convicts and criminals while next to no one objects to Donte Stallworth, Santonio Holmes, or Gilbert Arenas collecting a multi-million-dollar salary each year (all served league imposed suspensions as will Sonnen).

By scrapping Sonnen’s scheduled fight with Akiyama and putting him on the sidelines for an indefinite period, the UFC is following in the footsteps of the other major professional sports organizations and showing that legal penalties are not the only consequences fighters need to be concerned about in these types of situations.

In taking this course of action with Sonnen, Dana White and company are setting an important precedent for the organization and its athlete: that your ability to earn a living in the UFC doesn’t rely solely on what you do inside the cage and your personal conduct will be taken into consideration.

While nowhere near as memorable as Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar slugging it out on Spike TV or GSP getting his own “This is Sportscenter” commercial, the decision to suspend Sonnen should be remembered as one of the steps along the path to mainstream acceptance for the UFC.

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