Bisping, Sonnen shouldn't coach TUF14
Its been an open secret for sometime that the UFC had been looking at Michael Bisping and Chael Sonnen as a contender eliminator. It's a fight that simply makes sense for the promotion — Bisping would be a compelling heel to American fans for Sonnen to play off against while Sonnen is exactly the sort of yank that would antagonize Bisping’s British fans.
The Wrestling Observer officially broke the story last week with the added twist that tBisping and Sonnen were the favorites to coach the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
“First of all, I’m glad that the Ultimate Fighter is getting back on track by putting two guys who are going to be absolutely entertaining on the television” was how Jason “Mayhem” Miller greeted the possible pairing on The MMA Hour. “It’s going to be great.”
And he’s undoubtedly right, it would make for a very entertaining season. So why do I have this instinctive reaction against the idea? Well, quite simply, because being a coach on The Ultimate Fighter is a tremendous platform for a fighter. Thirteen weeks of international television exposure helps increase their profile, opening up greater opportunities for sponsorship and money fights down the line. And obviously the coaches battle will be the biggest fight either man could hope to have this year, even more so if a title shot is on the line.
Its a privilege that both men have earned in the ring — Bisping is on a three-fight win streak while Sonnen took the otherwise untouchable champion Anderson Silva to his absolute limit. As far as in-ring accomplishments it is hard to argue against this fight being booked as a top-draw final eliminator.
But (and it's a big "but") both men have recently behaved in a way that is quite simply unbefitting of a world-title challenger.
A worrying indiscipline has crept into Bisping’s game recently. His performance against Jorge Rivera was nothing short of shameless. He came worryingly close to getting disqualifed after throwing an illegal knee to a grounded Rivera, a foul for which he has shown no remorse. What was missed in the post-fight analysis is that a similar situation had occured in the third round of his fight with Yoshihiro Akiyama where he landed a hard lowblow in the third round.
I can accept both fouls were accidental, but to be on the brink of being disqualifed in two successive fights shows an alarming lack of care and concern for the welfare of his opponents. To add insult to injury, Bisping did not only show a lack of remorse but angrily remonstrated with Rivera’s corner after winning the match, going to the depths of spitting in their direction.
Of course, compared to Sonnen, Bisping is a boy scout. Many fighters have been caught testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs but few have mishandled the fallout as badly as Sonnen. At his hearing in California he repeatedly lied under oath while concocting a story that he had received a therapeutic use exemption from not only California, but also the head of the Nevada State Athletic Commision, Keith Kizer.
According to the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer, when challenged on these lies in a meeting with Kizer organized by the UFC, Sonnen admitted he had never spoken to the head of the most powerful commission in the land, instead trying to claim that his manager Matt Lindland had been the one to discuss the matter. Add to this possible perjury, Sonnen has recently pleaded guilty of money laundering in federal court. He currently awaits sentencing.
The UFC has taken admirable steps to educate its fighters about the need to act like professionals, but these efforts would be completely undermined if both fighters weren’t seen to be properly punished. Bisping recieved a significant fine after UFC 127 while Sonnen was not only suspended for six months by California, but is currently suspended by the UFC and faces a difficult relicensing battle hearing in Nevada.
Maybe these penalties are enough, but if the UFC was to reward the infamy these fighters now enjoy thanks to their misdemenors over the past year, then they would simply come across as half-hearted sops to public opinion that Dana White undermined as soon as he could.
Such a reckless act would send a very clear message about the behavior that the UFC tolerates from its employees. Worse it would set example to fighters about how they can best attract the publicity they need to become stars in today’s MMA.