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Chael Sonnen hired by ESPN

Former UFC middleweight Chael Sonnen has joined ESPN as a mixed martial arts analyst.

"The industry leader in sports ... and ESPN have finally joined forces. You're welcome, wait! These mics hot? The biggest thing to happen to ESPN since ... well nothing really comes close," he said in a statement.

"In all seriousness, to ESPN, to Disney, to the Hearst Corporation and to all the viewers ... you're welcome. From one industry leader to another, I look forward to the opportunity of bringing my stories, insight and unique perspective of mixed martial arts to the network."

Sonnen will debut Friday with commentary on ESPN's coverage of UFC 180. He will appear regularly on "SportsCenter" and other network platforms, and he said he won't ignore his drug-tainted past while discussing the sport's future stars.

Sonnen was suspended from fighting by the Nevada State Athletic Commission during the summer for performance-enhancing drug use. Sonnen told The Associated Press he voluntarily walked away from his broadcasting job with Fox to avoid further drama at the network.

"I had stubbed my toe pretty bad," Sonnen told the AP. "I knew it, and I was willing just to take my medicine and go away. But when the phone call [from ESPN] came in, I was very quick to answer."

Sonnen did his first major broadcasting work with ESPN in 2010, and ESPN senior coordinating producer Glenn Jacobs said the network wasn't concerned by Sonnen's checkered history or his unceremonious departure from Fox.

"We know Chael has made some mistakes in the past," Jacobs told the AP. "He's been honest. He's been up-front about it. He has paid for the mistakes that he has made, and he's moving forward. ... The insights that he has on the sport and the ways he sees it, our fans are going to be so much better from watching him on the air. They're going to be able to watch the fight and look for totally different things than they would have otherwise."

A talented fighter known as much for his prodigious trash-talking skills as his vaunted wrestling, Sonnen lost three UFC title fights during a largely successful career as the self-styled "American gangster from West Linn, Oregon."

Sonnen realizes he destroyed much of his goodwill with three failed drug tests in the last five years. He claims his downfall was partly a failure to understand the World Anti-Doping Agency's rules.

"I am for clean sport," Sonnen said. "The rules have changed during my career. The rules have changed during this year, which landed me in a tough spot because I didn't change with them. But the reality is, the rules are good, and to have clean sport is good.

"There are times when you can turn to science and medicine, and that looks like a pretty seductive route. But if I had to choose one of the two, I would not choose the side that I was on. I would support the other side. We need clean sport, and we've got to follow the rules, and that's it. I accept the consequences."

The 37-year-old Sonnen confirmed he has no plans to resume fighting when his suspension ends in 2016, although he has taken a renewed interest in jiu-jitsu in recent months. The former University of Oregon wrestler trains at a gym near his home -- and he even entertains dreams of yet another career.

"I've considered trying out for the 2016 Olympic team in Greco-Roman wrestling," Sonnen said. "My goals would be different. I would not make the team, but I think I could be one of the guys. I could be right in there, top four or five. Give me a good opportunity to train and be active and still be a part of something while my body is still holding up. But no, I'm done with competitive mixed martial arts."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.