To most people Chael Sonnen is undoubtedly best known as the hilarious UFC veteran who had a very successful MMA career, but fans of professional grappling also know him as the man behind Submission Underground. The promotion started all the way back in 2016 and they hit the ground running with their first event, with Vinny Magalhaes, Jake Shields, and Nathan Orchard all competing. Over the next five years they managed to book some of the best grapplers on the planet and some of the most popular MMA fighters around to compete in their cage.
They produced an impressive 29 events in that space of time and eventually introduced a men’s absolute championship that was held first by Craig Jones, and then Mason Fowler. Chael Sonnen and the rest of the team at Submission Underground did more than that though, they also introduced a women’s absolute championship that was eventually held by Amanda Loewen and even a tag-team championship that changed hands incredibly regularly.
Their most recent event, Submission Underground 29, took place on December 21st, 2021 and after a fun and exciting event, everything went silent. The promotion didn’t stage a single event in 2022 and at the time of writing, there is no news on SUG 30. Naturally fans had a lot of questions about the absence of Submission Underground, and Chael Sonnen was actually asked about it by Craig Jones on the first episode of his new podcast ‘El Segundo’:
“Oh man, well that’s such an open wound. I loved it and it was such a passion. It’s hard you know, just to get two guys to come into town and get a venue set up and be able to show it to the world.”
He did go on to explain in more detail though, and Sonnen revealed that a lot of the fault actually came from outside his organization:
“There’s only so many places you can go, and we had a deal with (UFC) Fight Pass and, you know, we had hard feelings. Basically we had hard feelings. We brought them content during a pandemic. There’s a lot that goes into that and… we had made a deal. We also made a deal of ‘oh, here’s how we’re going to do it’ and, you know, they forgot the deal. They told us ‘you got that in writing?’ and that is not what it’s like to do business with Dana White. You do not have to have it in writing, you just have a verbal. So I could have gone to him and said ‘man, these guys…’ but I didn’t, I let it go. I think for ego reasons.”
For those that don’t know, UFC Fight Pass actually functions much like a separate entity to the UFC itself. It’s got it’s own management team and although White and the rest of the UFC brass have significant influence over it, they aren’t involved in any of the day-to-day decisions. Chael Sonnen was keen to point that out himself and he explained that there were other avenues he tried to pursue for streaming Submission Underground as well:
“These two knuckleheads that run Fight Pass on the position of ‘who’s worked or got where’ in an industry. I mean, these two? These are knuckleheads. So I couldn’t allow my ego to show that they had ruined my day. Because I couldn’t do that, I lost a distribution partner. I thought I was going to have a new one, we were talking with Flo(Grappling), then Khabib (Nurmagomedov) looked like he was going to take it through Eagle FC. They were doing it and they had that app, they were putting on events all the time, and I thought we were going to go over there and one thing got stalled to the next, and to the next, and here we are… Still looking to satisfy that.”
Although there’s no news on when, or even if, Submission Underground will ever make a comeback, Chael Sonnen hasn’t closed the door on that stage of his career entirely and is actually eager to return to it soon:
“We didn’t break up the team, the team is still here. We had a whole bunch of dates, we just converted those to MMA. So we’re holding MMA events on those same dates, with the same cage, with the same team and we would like to then go back and have the Submission Undergrounds but we gotta get that worked out.”
The full episode of El Segundo with Craig Jones, including the segment where Chael Sonnen explains what happens to Submission Underground, was uploaded to the official YouTube channel of B-Team Jiu-Jitsu: