Bellator 208 ended on an entertaining note with a gutsy fight from Chael Sonnen against Fedor Emelianenko (watch the highlights here). Few gave the middleweight much of a chance against the heavyweight GOAT, but Sonnen dug deep and kept getting back to his feet and chasing more takedowns after multiple knockdowns and throws.
That aggressive momentum created some unique looking scrambles and breaks, which led to some MMA ‘fans’ on social media to question whether the fight was faked. There was enough rumbling that the press actually asked Bellator head Scott Coker about it during the post-fight press conference.
“Come on, that doesn’t even deserve a response to the people that are saying it,” Coker said (via MMA Fighting). “Listen, Chael got clipped. He told me, ‘Man, he hit me and he hit me really good,’ and he was done. So that’s it. With Chael, the thing with Tito, ‘oh, he let him go’ or something, come on, why would you do that? You’re a professional athlete and you’re a fighter. He wants to continue, he wants to go to the next round of the tournament. That’s just all rubbish.”
“To me, they see Chael, he’s got this character and I think they just feel like with Chael it’s just like this character, so maybe that’s what they’re thinking. But If you had Fedor punching you and kicking you and kneeing you like he was doing today — that was real, that was not fake.”
Chael himself was happy to confirm that statement.
”I don’t know why he hit me so hard,” Sonnen joked, his face covered in bruises. “I don’t know what ol’ Chael ever did to that guy but he sure felt like laying ‘em into me.”
”I would call him explosive with his punches,” Sonnen continued. “There wasn’t a ton of setups, they just came and came hard. And even on the ground, I had some good positions on him and he would just explode, it wasn’t necessarily technique based but it was impressive. He’s an impressive athlete. I don’t think I’ve ever been grounded and pounded like that.”
There were several moments in the fight where Chael seemed close to defeat, but each time he managed to regain position or stand back up. Well, until the final moments of the first round, anyway. As Fedor hit him with withering ground and pound, Sonnen covered up and the ref stopped the fight. According to Chael, that was strategy gone awry.
”The referee warned me, he said if I didn’t move they’d stop the fight,” he said. “I didn’t think he would because they were going into my hands, I thought I was blocking them. I thought I was having a rope-a-dope moment, I thought I was luring him in. That was a bad strategy, as it turns out. That was a bad plan.”
Emelianenko now moves on to the finals of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, where he’ll face light heavyweight champ Ryan Bader on January 26th in Inglewood, California. As for Chael, maybe he’ll return to 185 pounds, but more likely we imagine he’ll remain a Bellator moneyweight, fighting across three divisions against any opponent that catches his fancy. Not a bad way to close out your career.