The pre-fight tape session when something like this for Chael Sonnen.
“Jeez, I didn’t realize this guy was this good. I just couldn’t see any weaknesses – good wrestling, good defense, good submissions, good fists, good kicks, good knees. Everything was there – he’s in shape, he’s flexible, he’s athletic, the whole thing.”
The opponent was Dan Miller. Result? Sonnen wins a unanimous decision at UFC 98 in May of 2009.
Next up, Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt.
“I got past the Miller fight, moved on to Okami, I started watching him fight and it was the same thing,” said Sonnen. “I just don’t know where the openings are gonna be. These are solid fighters. Move on to Marquardt and it’s the same thing. These guys are so good. There’s just no overwhelming area that you want to get the fight to.”
Do you start getting the impression that Sonnen is one of those ‘worst case scenario’, ‘glass half empty’ kind of guys when it comes to scouting reports? Well, he is, and despite scoring victories over Miller, Okami, and Marquardt in his last three bouts to earn a shot at the UFC middleweight title this Saturday night in the main event of UFC 117, he’s got the same outlook when it comes to Anderson Silva.
“He adds a couple of new dimensions because he’s very long and lanky – he’s got a really odd body type for the weight class – and he’s got an odd style,” said the number one contender. “There’s nobody to mimic him. He fights in a sport called Muay Thai, which isn’t even a real sport, it’s something somebody made up in a garage somewhere. And apparently Anderson got a membership to that guy’s garage because he got pretty good at it.”
So how does the switch go from ‘this guy’s got all the tools’ to ‘he may have all the tools, but I’ve got one hammer, and it’s bigger than his’?
“You just throw everything out completely,” said Sonnen. “It’s one of these deals where you do your level best, you watch, but at the end of the day, it’s still who’s gonna punch the other guy more times. I just can’t walk into an atmosphere like this thinking about that guy. I’ve got the things that I do really well. I’ve got tools that I have to make sure are sharp and that I’m ready to use and I do. My focus is on Chael Sonnen.”
Leading up to the biggest fight of Sonnen’s eight year pro MMA career, the focus of the world is also on the Oregon native, whose verbal gymnastics and pointed barbs at Silva have captivated fans and media for weeks. And while the upturn in public profile for the 33-year old may have come as a surprise to some, it hasn’t to the man himself.
“Surprised is not a word I would use,” he said. “These are pre-calculated moves by me and I understand human psychology and people very well and I can play ‘em both like a fiddle, so to say that I’m surprised would be an understatement of my own intelligence. So no, these are all orchestrated events in a calculated timeline presented by yours truly.”
And it’s getting bigger by the minute, with Sonnen’s quips and quotes getting plastered all over blogs, websites, and message boards. He says he’s playing everyone like a fiddle, and he’s right, because he’s hitting all the right notes at the right time, and the promotion has taken on a life of its own.
“The point is, what are you going to drop and when are you going to drop it,” he said. “As far as psychological warfare, the only ones I’m after are the fans. They’re the only people I care about and I’m out here to entertain the fans. The fans have been really receptive to knowing what goes on behind the scenes and the secrets of the locker room are at the forefront of the fans’ minds. I’ve caught on to that, so I continue to share and it’s been a lot of fun.”
There is a downside though, and for Sonnen, carrying the bulk of the promotional load has made his life hectic at times.
“Well, it’s one of those deals, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it,” he said. “Photo shoots and interviews seem like a really fun thing to do until you have to go out and do ‘em. There are so many things going on that a distraction here and there is nice. It cuts into your sleep time when you have to do an interview on the east coast that starts at 7am, so before you know it you’re in a studio somewhere at 4am and that’s something that can be tough to balance when you’re training really hard. Sleep’s important just so you don’t get sick, let alone for recovery. So there’s a lot to balance there, there’s more that goes on than just being in studios – it’s a time crunch.”
Sonnen has managed it though, and if you ask him about being the frontman for UFC 117, it’s clear that he has taken the reigns with both hands, eager to lead the way and get in a few jabs at the champion at the same time.
“No one tunes in to see Anderson Silva,” he said. “The guy’s the worst Pay-Per-View draw in the history of Zuffa, and he’s a four-year undefeated athlete with one sponsor. There is one company on the face of the planet that’s willing to put their name on that guy. He walks into a room, he doesn’t have any fans, the media doesn’t want to talk to him, you watch the UFC promotion and it’s the Chael Sonnen show and it might as well be. Anderson Silva is about as entertaining as watching paint dry so if you can keep the mic and camera on me; I’ll sell some tickets. I can drag Anderson Silva outside the hotel any day I wanted to and beat him up, But I’m gonna wait until August 7th and I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure millions of people are watching me do it.”
Some of those people believe Sonnen’s choice of pre-fight warfare is only going to hurt him come fight time, as Silva has always been the type of fighter who is at his best when provoked. But as “The Spider” looks to silence the challenger with his fists, feet, and knees on Saturday, Sonnen is thinking about engaging in the type of punishing war that he has become accustomed to, even if he hasn’t gone the five round route like Silva has. Then again, Sonnen believes that he’s put more into 15 minutes than the champ has in 25.
“25 minutes is a long time to fight and Anderson Silva has got a real hard time doing it,” said Sonnen. “And that’s why he goes out there and looks like Michael Jackson and dances instead of fights, because he’s got to kill some time. If you go fight like I fight, that when that bell rings you go get yourself in a fistfight, you gotta be in really good shape and you gotta work really, really hard leading up to the event. He’s not in really good shape and he doesn’t work really hard leading up to the event. So he’s found a great way to compensate, which is to just eat up that clock with his movement. I don’t fault him for that. I’ve never done 25 minutes and it certainly is a long time to do anything, but my father was a plumber. He worked hard every day from sun up to sun down and he never once complained about being tired. So I would never disrespect him by complaining about being tired in a 25 minute sporting event.”
In addition to his late father, Sonnen also uses the story of 1997 FILA world champion Les Gutches as a source of motivation. When Gutches won the world title, he told Sonnen that the next day was the most depressing of his life because he had obtained the thing he worked for his entire life and now had nothing to reach for. Sonnen, who’s lone MMA dream is to win a world title, is fine with having to deal with that problem on Sunday morning.
“I thought about that a little bit and I want to learn from that, but I’m excited to feel that depression,” he said. “I remember when Les told me that, but mission accomplished for him. And even though you have to go through that and all of a sudden your goals have to change, I’m excited to feel that. If I have to feel down because I finally achieved the pinnacle that I’ve worked my whole life for, I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for me. The good news for me is that there’s a lot of dirtbags left in the locker room that still need to get beat up.”
Which begs the question, if he can upset Silva on Saturday to win the belt, what could he possibly do for an encore? Well, you know he has an answer.
“There’s a few different ways to go with it – that whole Black House team has a big bull’s eye on their chest, so I might move up to 205 to slap around (Antonio Rogerio) Nogueira and I might go on a diet to get rid of (WEC featherweight champ) Jose Aldo. There’s no telling what I’m gonna do but I’m not overlooking any one of those team members. So we’ll see what happens. I’ve got other things in mind as well that are a lot more pressing than a couple members of the Black House team that I might move on to, but I have a feeling that beating up Anderson Silva is gonna be like eating Chinese food – 20 minutes later I’m gonna want to do it again. So maybe I’ll beat him up and give him an immediate rematch and do it all over again. But my plate is full right now – I’ve got to get through August 7th and that’s the bottom line.”
Chael Sonnen - Time for Some Action
"I can drag Anderson Silva outside the hotel any day I wanted to and beat him up, But I’m gonna wait until August 7th and I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure millions of people are watching me do it.”