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Old 10-09-2013, 04:46 PM
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Default Sonnen on importance of promotion/why to never say 'I'll fight whoever the UFC wants'

From MMAFighting.com (By Shaun Al-Shatti @shaunalshatti on Oct 5 2013, 1:00p):
In light of the UFC's recent release of Yushin Okami, the narrative for next week's UFC Fight Night 29 event becomes a little strange. Prior to 2013, it'd be easy to assume Jake Shield's job security was anything but in danger. After all, he's fighting in the main event, he's a former Strikeforce champion, and he's won his last three UFC fights (one of which was later overturned into a no-contest).

But following the abrupt cutting of Okami, and Jon Fitch before him, it's difficult not to draw parallels between the situations. All three men are former title challengers who fell short and now serve only to derail burgeoning contenders with their own grinding style. All three are in their mid-to-late thirties, none of the them could be considered fan favorites, and at least Okami and Fitch had the benefit of being ranked within the UFC's own top-10 at the time of their release.

This is not, at all, to imply that Shields will lose his job if he falls short against Demian Maia on Wednesday. That's obviously not a decision I'm privy to, nor do I pretend to claim otherwise. But rather, the very notion that Shields' release now seems like a plausible outcome, even in the slightest bit, has to hold some significance.

Earlier this week I spoke to Chael Sonnen, himself a former grinder who over the course of the past four years developed his brand into that of a legitimate pay-per-view star. Sonnen, too, sees the similarities between Shields' situation and the other two UFC casualties. He explained his belief that other fighters are missing opportunities to avoid a similar fate simply by playing the game. A transcript of the conversation can be seen below. (Portions of this interview have been edited for concision.)

Shaun Al-Shatti: Jake Shields has won his last three, but then again, so did Yushin Okami. Cuts come so erratically these days, and there's a pretty strong parallel to draw between both guys. As a fighter, if you're Shields, how does concern for your job security not seep into your head?
Chael Sonnen: It's there. Don't kid yourself that it's not. A fighter will get asked that; they lie constantly. I don't know if Jake's been asked that question, but every fighter gets asked about the pressure and a lot of people lie to put a positive spin on it. Look, don't be afraid to say, ‘Yeah, this spot stinks. This keeps me up at night. I hate being here. I'm panicked about being here.' I think those are much more real (reactions), for Jake at least.

Al-Shatti: For the older guys, it seems like being a star or a fan favorite is the only way to truly feel safe right now. And in the case of Shields, like Okami, he's not at all a star, even despite winning every fight but two since 2005. If winning doesn't do it, what makes fighters enter that rarified air?
Sonnen: You never know. If you were to ask me, ‘Hey Chael, what's it take to be a star in the UFC?' I could give you a pretty good guess, but that's all it would be. I don't really know.
Every year there's something called a Fighter Summit. And the very first one we went to, Dana White touched on this topic, and I'll quote Dana, because he was right. Dana said, ‘I don't know what it takes to be a star. It's a very strange formula.' You take a guy like Conor McGregor, it's overnight. You take a guy like Brock Lesnar, he just walks into the spot.
But the one constant the stars have is they win their fights. Every time you win, you get another fight. Every time you get a fight, you get promotion, marketing and media. Those things are what makes stars. It's the same thing with football. It's not whoever throws the most touchdowns. It's whoever makes it on ESPN or FOX Sports 1 the most that becomes the most famous quarterback. That's just how it works.

Al-Shatti: That's a good point, and you're basically speaking from experience. Then let me ask you, do you think it behooves grinders like Shields