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.
Ronda Rousey Returns After “Biggest Upset in Combat Sports History”? Not By a Long Way
Ronda Rousey Returns After “Biggest Upset in Combat Sports History”? Not By a Long Way
By: Matt O’Brien
Friday night sees the long-awaited comeback of“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey following her shocking defeat to Holly Holm last November, in a result infamously described by UFC commentator Joe Rogan as, “the biggest upset in combat sports history”. Prior to her defeat,Rousey had demolished a string of 12 opponentswith only one of them making it out of the first round – a devastating record by any standard, and there’s no doubt that Holm’s knockout was a truly enormous upset, with the challenger overcoming odds of up to 12-1 against her.
That being said, it takes two people to make a fight, and the bookies’ published odds are not the only ingredient that goes into a big upset – the wider context of the underdog’s role is also vital. Ronda’s record was indeed formidable, but keen observers had noted that it could be a far more difficult task than anything she had faced before, with Holm being a former world-boxing champion and arguably the first bona fide world-class striker “Rowdy” had faced off against.
So while Rogan’s assertion that it was the “biggest upset of all time” might be right as far as UFC or even MMA history goes, once we include the sweet science the scale of Ronda’s defeat falls a few rungs down the list of “greatest ever upsets”. Here are five of my favourite shocks in boxing history that eclipse Holly Holm’s upset victory over Ronda Rousey:
1. James Douglas KO10 Mike Tyson, Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship, February 1990
This is the grand-daddy of upsets: not just the biggest upset in the history of boxing; not even the biggest upset in the history of combat sports. This one is arguably the biggest upset in the history of sports, period.
The reason for the scale of Douglas’ shock was twofold: firstly, “Iron” Mike was a destructive force the like of which had rarely, if ever, been witnessed before. Carrying an undefeated 37-fight record, all but four of Tyson’s victims had been knocked out, 17 of them in the first round. Tyson made a habit of making accomplished world-class boxers look like bunny rabbits caught in the headlights of a freight train. Secondly, Tyson’s awesome aura was set against Douglas’ far less-than-fearful persona. A competent yet unspectacular heavyweight, Douglas’ physique was rippled rather than ripped andhis style plodding rather than punishing.
Weeks before the contest though, Douglas’ mother had died, providing him with the kind of motivation and discipline he’d previously lacked. Meanwhile Tyson had fallen into the age-old trap of believing his own hype; his preparations consisted largely of hosting Japanese women in his hotel room and he was knocked down in sparring by Greg Page.
Even so, a listless Tyson was able to floor the challenger and almost pulled off a knockout victory in the eighth round. Douglas beat the count and continued to pummel the champion with a solid jab and powerful right hand. In the tenth, “Buster” unloaded a vicious combination punctuated by a huge right uppercut that sent Tyson sprawling. As he scrambled to put the gumshield back into his mouth, referee Octavio Meyran waved the finish and signaled the greatest upset in history, as the 42-1 outsider stunned the world.
*To his credit, Joe Rogan later admitted that this was actually a bigger upset than Rousey-Holm.
2. Evander Holyfield TKO11 Mike Tyson, WBA Heavyweight Championship, November 1996
It is a testament to Tyson’s fearsome aura and the magnetic grip he held on the public consciousness that six years after the Douglas defeat and following three years of incarceration, he was yet again considered invincible – despite Douglas’ evidence to the contrary. Tyson had demolished four challengers in just eight rounds since his release from prison, though he had yet to face anyone offeringmuch resistance. Frank Bruno looked scared stiff as he walked to the ring and Bruce Seldon put forward probably the meekest capitulation in the history of heavyweight championship boxing, surrendering in just 109 seconds. Evander Holyfield was a different proposition altogether, though few credited him with this distinction at the time.
Once again, the monumental scale of Holyfield’s upset was not just a measure of how highly Tyson was regarded – it also came from a foolish under-estimation of what “The Real Deal” had left to offer. A glut in recent performances in the ring, including a KO defeat to arch nemesis Riddick Bowe and a health scare regarding a heart condition had effectively erased memories of Holyfield’s fighting skills and warrior spirit.Many pundits argued that Holyfield was not just going to lose, but that he was in danger of being seriously injured.
The former champ opened as a 25-1 underdog, but his ironclad self-belief, granite chin and counter-punching strategy troubled “Iron” Mike from the outset. When Holyfield took Tyson’s vaunted power punches, retained his composure and kept firing back, it soon became evident that “the Baddest Man on the Planet” had no back-up plan. They say a picture tells a thousand words, but when Tyson was lifted off his feet by a left uppercut in the sixth round, far less than that were needed to describe the look on his face. Holyfield proceeded to administer a beat down until a dejected Tyson was finally rescued by referee Mitch Halpern in the eleventh round.
3. Hasim Rahman KO5 Lennox Lewis, WBC/IBF/Lineal World Heavyweight Championship, April 2001
Lennox Lewis had been knocked out before, but going into his fight with Hasim Rahman he was in the process of establishing himself as one of the most dominant heavyweight champions in history. He’d already made 12 defences over two reigns as WBC championand was making the fourth defence of the lineal and unified title he won against Evander Holyfield. He had also cut a swathe through potential heirs to the throne, blasting Michael Grant in two rounds and thoroughly outboxing dangerous New Zealander David Tua.
Unfortunately, Lewis had also spent time during preparation for his title defense schmoozing on the Hollywood film set of Ocean’s Eleven, while unheralded challenger Hasim “The Rock” Rahman grafted in the intense heat and high-altitude of a South African boxing gym.But while Rahman was a motivated and respectable contender, he’d done little in his career to indicate he posed a serious threat. Indeed, two years prior he had been brutally knocked out by Oleg Maskaev.
In the ring though, the difference in each man’s preparation showed, as a complacent Lewis blew heavily and struggled to assert himself. In the early rounds, there were warning signs that Rahman’s overhand right posed danger, but even so the end came suddenly and unexpectedly in the fifth round, as Lewis backed against the ropes and the 20-1 outsider unleashed a haymaker that landed flush on the jaw. The champion crumpled into a heap and minutes later was still in disbelief about what had occurred. To his credit, Lewis returned the favour when properly focused for the immediate rematch, knocking out Rahman in the fourth round to reclaim his title.
4. Muhammad Ali KO8 George Foreman, World Heavyweight Championship, October 1974
The 4-1 odds on Ali for this fight really don’t do justice to the monumental scale of the task he overcame on this momentous night. Foreman – much like Tyson years later – was considered to be an unstoppable force that had brutally manhandled some of the most dangerous heavyweights in the world. Joe Frazier, the undefeated heavyweight champion, conqueror of Muhammad Ali and one of the finest fighters the division had ever seen, was bounced around the ring like a rag doll and brutally stopped in two rounds.Ken Norton, a fighter who’d also taken Ali to the wire on two occasions (going 1-1 with The Greatest) was similarly dispatched by Foreman in less than 6 minutes.
In contrast, Ali was 10 years removed from his initial title-winning effort against Sonny Liston, had barely squeezed by Norton in their second fight, and looked sluggish in a dull rematch victory over Frazier.
A 32-year-old Ali offered his usual, charismatic, confident predictions before the bout, but few took him seriously, and even his own camp appeared to fear the worst. Norman Mailer described the atmosphere in Ali’s dressing room as, “like a corner in a hospital where relatives wait for word of the operation.” The dark mood failed to stop the irrepressible Ali, who boxed one of the most brilliant, bold fights ever witnessed to recapture the Heavyweight Championship and cement in his place in history with a truly unbelievable upset of epic proportions.
5. Ray Leonard W12 Marvin Hagler, WBC Middleweight Championship, April 1987
In 1982 “Sugar” Ray had retired following surgery to repair a detached retina, returning to the ring in 1984 in what should have been a routine victory over Kevin Howard, but announced his retirement again following the fight after suffering his first ever career-knockdown. Now, having only boxed once in five years, Leonard was moving up two weight classes from his favoured welterweight division to take on one of the greatest middleweight champions of all-time. It looked liked Mission Impossible on Viagra.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler hadn’t lost a boxing match since dropping a majority decision to Bobby Watts over a decade earlier, had won 13 consecutive middleweight title matches, and was ranked as the No.1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by KOMagazine. It’s therefore a testament to Leonard’s star power that he opened only as a 4-1 underdog, and had even shortened these odds to 3-1 by the time of the fight. Among the “experts”, few gave the challenger a chance though, with 18 in a poll of 21 writers picking Hagler to prevail.
The eventual split decision in Sugar Ray’s favour is still bitterly disputed to this day. While there is a strong argument that Hagler did enough to win, there is no denying the success of Leonard’s psychological games, and the fact that he pulled one of the greatest examples of mind over matter in the history of boxing.
The fights above comprise my personal favourite selection of huge boxing upsets greater than Holm’s defeat of Ronda Rousey, though there’s arguably a host of others than should make the cut. Here’s a brief selection of the best of the rest…
Randy Turpin W15 Ray Robinson, World Middleweight Championship, July 1951
Englishman Turpin probably caught the original “Sugar” Ray at the perfect time, as he came to the end of a busy European tour. Still, defeating arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time was a stunning achievement.
Cassius Clay TKO7 Sonny Liston, World Heavyweight Championship, February 1964
On paper the 8-1 odds were even steeper than when the older version of Clay [Ali] defeated George Foreman, as the Greatest “Shook up the World” for the first time in his amazing career.
Frankie Randall W12 Julio Cesar Chavez, WBC Super Lightweight Championship, January 1994
Chavez was lucky to escape with a draw against Pernell Whitaker four months earlier, but was still officially undefeated after 90 fights, 27 of them for world titles, and he entered the fight as a massive 18-1 favourite.
Max Schmeling KO12 Joe Louis, June 1936
The young, undefeated “Brown Bomber” was widely perceived as unbeatable, but the German had studied his style and exploited his weaknesses to great effect. A more experienced Louis destroyed Schmeling in a single round in their famous rematch two years later.
Lloyd Honeyghan TKO6 Donald Curry, Undisputed Welterweight Championship, September 1986
Curry was considered one of the elite fighters in the sport and was being groomed for super-stardom, but he was struggling desperately to make the weight limit. Meanwhile Honeyghan paid short shrift to the champion’s undefeated record and bet $5,000 on himself at odds of 5-1, shocking the bookies and the boxing world in the process.