Reading Between the Lines with ESPN MMA Analyst Chael Sonnen
By: Jesse Donathan
There is an old proverb commonly known throughout much of the United States that states you should only believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. There are no truer words that exist in the world of mixed martial arts, where determining fiction from reality has become an increasingly difficult task to undertake due to the realities of the sports entertainment industry. With the well known choreographed and rehearsed nature of pro wrestling, many mixed martial arts fans point to their own sport of choice as the antithesis of modern-day professional wrestling. But there are well known and respected personalities within the mixed martial arts community who are saying wait a minute, not so fast!
According to a November 21, 2018 YouTube video from former UFC middleweight contender and ESPN MMA analyst Chael Sonnen titled, “Ronda Rousey understood aggression, but she was not a fighter…” the Bad Guy Inc. CEO had a number of very interesting talking points to consider in the midst of his underhanded roasting of Rousey that contained a masterful blend of reverse psychology, truth and innuendo that no doubt was designed to provoke and stimulate intellectual debate from not only Rousey herself, but anyone else capable of critical of thought with even the most remotest of familiarity with some of the many overlapping terms used in professional wresting and mixed martial arts.
In referencing an August 18, 2016 complex.com article titled, “The Secret Language of Pro Wrestling, Decoded, “ author Kevin Wong defines 20 terms in professional wrestling that may be eye opening to some, old news for others, but are nonetheless as relevant today as they will be a hundred years from now. A babyface, according to Wong, is the good guy where as the heel, as they are affectionately known, is the bad guy, you can never have a story without a bad guy. Heels, described by Wong as “scary monsters” or even “super cocky and arrogant,” are characters that fill a particular role, kind of like Conor McGregor for example, who are the stars the fans love to hate.
A jobber is a wrestler who is paid to lose; their job is to get other wrestlers over on the audience, to make them look good in a convincing fashion and thus, according to Wong, “Any successful professional wrestler owes his career to jobbers.” Replace the terms professional wrestler with mixed martial arts fighter and the relevance and direction in which Sonnen is ultimately going with this should become readily apparent later.
Marks, as they are known in the business, are those fans, observers and even pundits alike who actually believe what they are seeing is real. In professional wrestling circles, true marks are said to be few and far between in the modern age. Whether or not the same can be said to be true in mixed martial arts is “another” matter entirely, and one the reader will be left to their own devices to figure out.
And finally, the term “work” is defined by the report as, “A show incident that appears to have been unplanned, but was actually scripted. This is increasingly difficult to pull off successfully, wrestling fans are a suspicious bunch, and are more likely to assume any event, however tragic, is part of the show.” As opposed to the term “shoot,” which is an unplanned, unscripted, real-life event which is the opposite of the Hollywood-esk “works” which make up the vast majority of content witnessed within the modern day professional wrestling ranks. If you were to shoot on an opponent in a match, you’ve essentially broken script and decided to make a pre-rehearsed, scripted event a real life physical encounter.
As Sonnen would lead off the video to explain, “Ronda Rousey is in some verbal dustup with some jobber wrestler that is accusing her, accurately, bringing real life into the story line, accusing her of hiding under her blanket and taking her ball and going home as soon as she had a defeat in mixed martial arts … and I think that’s a really good story line,” said Sonnen as he laid the foundation for the ultimate message he was about to deliver to Ronda Rousey and everyone else fortunate enough to receive his transmission.
“But whenever you have a worker, and I would provide you with her name if I had the foggiest idea of what it was,” continued Sonnen on MMA turned WWE superstar Ronda Rousey’s “dustup” with another professional wrestling actress, “But whenever you have a worker that starts to bring in real life and reality, it is usually incumbent of the other worker to have to answer for it with a truthful answer. When one person shoots on you its very hard to work back, if they shoot on you, you got to shoot on them, that’s the general rule. So, if Ronda is going to be forced to answer for her departure from MMA, she’s going to have to tell the truth.”
The professional wrestling terms worker, work and shoot prominent throughout Sonnen’s message as he focused on the former women’s mixed martial arts icon’s wise decision to leave MMA in pursuit of a professional wrestling career. The masterfully crafted message expertly woven between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts by Sonnen as to leave the reader left to their own devices to distinguish between which circumstances that are an inherent, known commodity of the two professional sporting disciplines.
So, what exactly is the truth surrounding Ronda Rousey’s departure from mixed martial arts? Stepping in as a substitution for the everyday fan, the truth, according to Chael Sonnen’s perspective is that, “The fans wanted it made very clear that Ronda was never a good fighter, she was never the best in the world, she was a flash in the pan in a division that was forming.”
“She was taking out girls who were called number one contenders that never had to prove it, because it was too new. And as soon as people started to settle into the division, and as soon as we started to see who the top fighters were, put them opposite Ronda, they ran through her. For some reason the fans want that said by Ronda and I think that is asking a little bit too much,” explained the ESPN MMA analyst from West Linn, Oregon.
“Ronda never did anything wrong; Ronda took the fights that Ronda was asked to take, without turning them down. And there is a bit of a rewriting of history that Ronda turned down Cyborg, that absolutely never happened. Ronda has said yes to Cyborg repeatedly, she just said you have to come to my weight class. Which to remind you guys historically, was the only female weight class, which was 135-pounds. There was no 145-pounds, there was no 125-pounds for that matter.”
The substance of Sonnen’s claims being debatable at best, likely intentionally designed with holes big enough to drive a truck through as to suggest some sort of mixed martial arts Jedi mind trick at play according to a September 19, 2015 Fox Sports article by author Damon Martin titled, “Misha Tate hints Ronda Rousey fled 145 to avoid ‘Cyborg.’
“’I just know from her whole career it was 145 and 145 only at the beginning,’ Tate said recently. “It seemed like when the talks of ‘Cyborg’ became more serious it was like ‘No, I’m dropping to 135.”
“So historically, Ronda never ducked anybody,” said Sonnen in a liberal interpretation of the events purposely designed in my opinion to contribute to Sonnen’s overall roast of Rousey. “She went in there and did the heavy lifting but she was caught up in it as much as the media and the promotion and all of the fans were, in she really didn’t know.”
Didn’t know what, Chael Sonnen? That Ronda Rousey wasn’t a “real fighter?” And that she was in fact a “flash in the pan?” What are we to make of all the talk of workers, shoots and super cocky heels from the former UFC middleweight title contender and ESPN MMA analyst?
“All she knows is the reality that she has,” said Sonnen. “Which (is) she walks out there and girls can’t even make it through the first round, most couldn’t make it through the first minute.
“So, what did Ronda know? She wasn’t wrong to believe she was the best in the world, they said she was. She fought in a world title fight and she left with a belt and got her hand raised, what the hell did she do wrong?
“The other side of it was, yeah, she was a good fighter, she understood aggression. She understood to punch and kick, and stretch, and strangle, aggressively, something that wasn’t punching, kicking, stretching you back. When she dealt with that, now she’s in a fight, big difference, big difference,” explained Sonnen.
If what Sonnen is saying is true, a number of the sports babyfaces and heels owe their success to works and shoots enabled by some of the best jobbers in the industry today and some of these stars were simply not aware that they were in fact marks themselves. In other words, the biggest names in the sport have been involved in worked, predetermined, illegitimate matchups which have been used to create the stardom and hype surrounding these babyface stars and heel bad guys.
With the reality of the sports entertainment industry, it is wise to keep in mind that one should only believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. The number of variables that can be corrupted or exploited through various means in the world of professional prize fighting ultimately means the man behind the curtain is far busier than the general public presumes to be the case. While nobody wants to be thought of as a complete fool, mixed martial arts fans are destined to remain true marks as long as they refuse to draw the curtains and expose the truth.