The racist, xenophobic remarks should have given them pause, but the UFC needed to sell fights. The elevated hormone levels should have put him on the shelf, but how could the UFC take away a man's living? Now, the guilty plea in a federal money laundering case should have gotten him the axe, but instead the UFC gives him a rebound fight.
Chael Sonnen is a made man.
I can't say that I'm surprised by news of Sonnen's guilty plea breaking on the same day his fight with Yoshihiro Akiyama was reported. No, I'm rather amused at the predictability of it all. The UFC has, after all, allowed repeat DUI offender and PED violator Chris Leben to have high-profile fights after his transgressions. They signed Gilbert Yvel to multiple fights after he assaulted a referee. Same goes for Phil Baroni, who just got a fight on-air despite assaulting an official and having a record hovering over .500.
None of the aforementioned have the bankability of Sonnen, however, who gave middleweight champion Anderson Silva his first compelling fight in years. Those guys don't have a legion of fans clamoring to see them on a season of The Ultimate Fighter. Those guys don't have the rare combination of promotional ability and elite talent. Those guys just don't affect the UFC's bottom line so positively like Mr. Sonnen, but still, Zuffa didn't spurn them. That's why the announcement of Sonnen vs. Akiyama drew such cynical laughter from me: if Sonnen isn't getting jail time, I'd have been surprised if he didn't have a fight lined up before Valentine's Day.
Don't get me wrong: a man's debt to society is determined in the court of law. But MMA has no laurels upon which to rest in its pursuit of regulation and general acceptance, a pursuit with the UFC currently as its figurehead. That's why I don't think it's prudent to give a felon another shot at your championship, a scenario that will likely happen sometime this year.
If the UFC wants to be taken as seriously, to be as revered as the NFL in this country, they're going to have to adopt some semblance of a strict, consistent disciplinary policy. I understand that it is the athletic commissions' responsibility to dole out suspensions, but the UFC has the power to "ice" fighters or cut them outright. Instead, they push criminals to the forefront of their promotion.
A threshold must be established, a line drawn in the sand to declare to certain individuals, "You're not the kind of man we want in our organization." Currently, there isn't a line to step on, even though Sonnen is what might be referred to as "A Habitual Line-Stepper". If history has taught me anything, I expect Chael Sonnen, admitted felon, to be trotted out as a face of the company in 2011.