The best talker in mixed martial arts history, two-time title challenger Chael Sonnen fights the incomparable Tito Ortiz at Bellator MMA 171 on January 21 in Los Angeles, California.
The announcement came via ESPN SportsCenter’s Brett Okamoto and was confirmed via Bellator MMA president Scott Coker.
The two fighters took long, strange trips to the meeting.
Sonnen was suspended for two years for the use of performance-enhancing drugs and announced his retirement in June of 2014. He repeatedly said he was done with fighting, and when he suddenly announced his unretirement was asked why he had so long maintained he was never returning to the cage. The reply was a classic.
“I’m a heel,” he explained. “Heels lie.”
His wrestling-inspired persona was given to saying things like he would fight any opponent, at any weight. But here’s the thing – he would.
In the space of a single year, Chael Sonnen challenged the two greatest pound for pound fighters in mixed martial arts for their titles, losing to Anderson Silva at UFC 148 on July 7, 2012, and Jon Jones at UFC 159 on April 27, 2013.
Now 39, Sonnen will be taking on a 41-year-old Tito Ortiz, who has found new life in Bellator. ‘The People’s Champ’ went 1-7-1 in the UFC, but while that record is not good, it does not tell the full story.
During the sport’s darkest period, Ortiz was a major reason the sport was able to survive, connecting with fans like no other. The debut of The Ultimate Fighter ensured the sport’s survival, and in 2005/2006, Ortiz won split decisions over Vitor Belfort and Forrest Griffin. Then time and injuries piled on.
In 2007-2009, he drew with a prime Rashad Evans but was penalized 1 point for holding onto the fence, lost a split decision to Griffin, and lost a three rounder to a prime Lyoto Machida.
In 2011 he tapped Ryan Bader for the submission of the night. However, time and perhaps media duties then started to catch up with him in earnest. By the end of the year, he had lost via TKO to Rashad Evans and Little Nog. The next year he lost a decision to Forrest Griffin.
That was not the end of his career, however. Tito signed with Bellator MMA. There he tapped promotion middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko, and won a split decision over Stephan Bonnar in a fight that got huge views, and featured heavily pro-wrestling inspired pre-fight antics.
Ortiz was acquitting himself well in a title fight with Bellator light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary, but was tapped at 4:41 of the first via an inverted triangle choke on September 19, 2015.
And now he gets a big fight with the also wrestling-based Sonnen, and the punishment goes on.