THE SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT 1/22: Chael Sonnen vs. Tito Ortiz Controversy – Did it look like a shoot or more like a fix?

By D.R. Webster, MMATorch contributor

Last night we witnessed the last fight in the career of UFC Hall Of Famer and former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Tito Ortiz, and the return of one of the sport’s biggest talkers and fellow former UFC fighter, Chael Sonnen.

There was a good amount of hype going into the fight despite both men being aging stars. It was to be Ortiz’s retirement fight as well as Sonnen’s first since 2013, his return to the sport and his debut in Bellator.

Add to that some decent sound bytes mostly provided by Sonnen during the build up, in which he attempted to add some bad blood into the clash and we had a big main event.

After all of this, a decent fight was expected, with both men looking to prove a point – Ortiz looking to end his career on a high note and Sonnen looking to make a statement upon his return, which would lead into more big fights, possibly against Wanderlei Silva or a possible run at a Bellator Title, perhaps at Middleweight or Light Heavyweight. However, only one man got what they wanted here.

Ortiz managed to end his 20 year career with a first round submission of Sonnen via Rear Naked Choke, allowing the California native to soak up the glory in his home state with his family in tow, one last time.

It all seemed a bit too perfect for Tito and, after all of the talk in the build, Chael Sonnen didn’t really show up for his Bellator debut.

For a man with so many wrestling accolades, he was easily outworked and out maneuvered by Ortiz, who managed to escape Sonnen’s submission attempts fairly easily – despite looking dangerous – before managing to tap out Sonnen with a Rear Naked Choke, which he didn’t even manage to get under Sonnen’s chin.

Looking at past Bellator main events – among them Ortiz vs. Shlemenko, Kimbo vs. Shamrock – there has been talk of fixes going on and questions about the legitimacy of these “freakshow” type fights that Bellator book.

This fight didn’t look like it would be one of those Bellator “freakshow” fights going in. Afterward, however, it now has this tag on it. Many people are talking including several fighters and MMA journalists. Everyone is wondering if this fight could have been fixed in order to give Ortiz his big send off and to have the big story to end the night on a high note.

These are big accusations to make, obviously, and only a handful of people will know the truth for sure. That said, it did very much have that feel to it as a viewer. Footage has even surfaced of what looks like Ortiz tapping to a submission which caused Sonnen to change position.

Of course, you can see why, if someone could choose the outcome of the fight, that Ortiz would be the winner. It’s a better story, it was his last fight, it was the end of a HOF career, and it was in his home state and so on.

For Sonnen, though, after the way the build went, it would be hard to see why he would want to throw this fight.

Sonnen spoke in interviews about how he had promised his father, before he died, that he’d beat Tito Ortiz. This fight for Sonnen was just the first in a line of big fights in Bellator. He seemed focused and the money seemed to be on him for this one in many people’s eyes. It was his big return and just the start of bigger things for him in Bellator.

However, after this fight and the way he performed, it’s hard to feel excitement about seeing him in the cage again anytime soon and, if something fishy went down here, surely the build should have gone differently.

Surely Sonnen wouldn’t have brought something as personal as a promise he made to his father on his death bed into prominence to build a fight that he was about to throw, right?

Like most things, especially for casual viewers, when he does fight again, this will be mostly be forgotten about and he will talk people into watching him again, in what will likely be another “legends” fight anyway, a draw in itself. However, last night’s fight took some shine off Sonnen’s Bellator run already.

Had he came in focused and beat Tito in even a decent fight, he could have built some good momentum for the company going into a big grudge match with Wanderlei Silva and so on, something better in the long run for the company rather than having a man who is leaving getting the win and momentum with nothing to come afterwards.

It also doesn’t look great that a man at the end of his career made Sonnen eat his words. That’s different from talking a good game then being beat by prime talents like Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, etc. and still being able to carry on. Maybe this loss is the start of the end for Sonnen as well. If he loses his next fight to, say, Wanderlei Silva, what would be left for him inside the cage?

Sonnen commented after the fight that he felt like “a deer in the headlights” during his first fight back in several years and he did seem to have that look, with Ortiz seeming the more confident one. Maybe this is what got the better of Sonnen. Either way, it’s probably the best stance for him to take in terms of mitigating damage to his marketability.

It was his first fight back, the nerves got to him, he had rust from time off, something which he also mentioned in a post-fight interview, where he talked about needing to “get the minutes in” and being underprepared from lack of training after coming out of retirement. For his next fight, he really he has to win or at least put in an impressive showing in order to keep the interest.

Aside from the fact that it wasn’t in the UFC, Ortiz had an almost perfect sendoff. He beat a big name in the main event at the legendary Forum in California with his family watching.

The talk of a fix may have soured his last moments in the cage for fans and critics alike, perhaps not for him, though, as he seemed happy with the outcome, of course.

If his victory was indeed fixed, after all of the great things Ortiz has done and earned in his career, to go out that way would be a poor and disappointing end.

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: THE SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT 1/15: The Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor potential superfight undergoes public “feeling out process”

(D.R. Webster writes “The Sunday Supplement” for MMATorch each week and also authors the MMATorch Daily Trivia feature. He has written for Daily Record Sport, WrestleTalk TV, Sports Kings, and a variety of other combat sports sites and publications, including review shows and DVDs, news reporting, columns, and fantasy articles.)

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