(Video courtesy of YouTube/ChaelSonnenTV)
Chael Sonnen gave this recent interview in which he sort of explains why he developed his new cocky persona that was born some time after his fight with Yushin Okami. Prior to that bout, Chael was praising upcoming opponent Paulo Filho for working through his mental and substance abuse problems to get back into the cage to compete, going as far as to say that he “admired” the embattled Brazilian who had beaten him a few months prior.
It turns out that Sonnen consciously began forcing himself into “walking the walk” as well as “talking the talk” after coming to the realization that he was selling himself short psychologically.
“I’m just learning about mental toughness. I’m just getting into it. I’ve like actually started to study it and find out, you know sports psychology and all the things I went through when I was a young person. I thought I was the only one so I was very embarrassed if I would get tired and want to quit – like hit a wall – and so I never discussed it with anybody,” he reveals. “It was like they say about alcoholism and with any addiction that first you have to admit is that you have a problem. So once I started to discuss it with old teammates, I realized, ‘Oh my goodness. I’m not only not weird, I’m completely normal.’ Everybody’s got these insecurities. I’m just learning about mental toughness from like a sophisticated educational standpoint and I like it. It makes a big difference. But I found that to build mental toughness, you need to inconvenience yourself. The early-morning runs if you hate early mornings. The late night runs if you hate late nights. The snowy cold…the worst conditions you can get, put yourself in those and really make it inconvenient and you start to get a genuine expectation of winning for the price you have to pay.”
According to Sonnen, he drew on the inspiration of a fellow wrestler who didn’t believe in himself until he had lost a number of fruitful opportunities to turn his own circumstances around.
“You start brainstorming with guys and you start to realize, ‘Oh my goodness, everybody goes through the same mental battles. It’s a few guys that can work through it that reach their goals.’ That was really the beginning phases. I want to get too into it. I want to give my secrets away because I really feel that I stumbled onto something great here. I opened up a mental side that now I can push through,” Sonnen says. “If you look at the best example we have in this country in recent years is Jamill Kelly who fell short of all of his goals. I was the same year as Jamill. We all knew that Jamill was the best wrestler in the country, except him. He didn’t know he was. He got out of college and he went through a lot of this stuff himself. I’ve heard that he worked with Daniel Cormier and they went back and forth and he worked out some of his kinks and represented our country to a silver medal in the Olympic games. You start to learn from those g guys and think, ‘Geez, if he can do it, maybe there’s something to this that I should be looking at.’”
So Chael dug deep, examining himself as introspectively as possible and realized that the issue was that by losing fights he was otherwise dominating — mostly against Brazilian opponents — he began to subconsciously feel that he was somehow an inferior fighter.
“I have lost 10 fights –10 professional fights and I was dominating every single fight. I was never in a war. It was never back-and-forth and I lost every single fight by submission in the second round –all of them – and I was ahead on all of the cards. And I started to look at it and say, ‘Man, something’s going on here. This isn’t a physical problem. Physically, I’m dominating.’ I don’t say that to be a jerk. I was dominating the top guys out there, but I would lose,” he points out. “And it kept happening and I finally realized that there was something going on here that isn’t physical and I started to look into it.”
Instead of letting the internal issue manifest into one that he couldn’t overcome, Sonnen created his straight-shooting “American Gangster” persona — a cocky, brash, borderline Xenophobe, who seemed to have zero respect for those fighters who have jiu-jitsu and Acai in their blood and who have a hard time distinguishing an ‘r’ from an ‘h’. Since then, he has been on a tear.
He explains that when you believe you can’t be beaten, the only person who can defeat you is typically yourself.
“With that comes confidence. It becomes even an expectation of winning. I remember Les Gutches was in the semi finals against Ray Brinzer. They went into overtime at two apiece. That match was even supposed to be close and ended up in overtime and Gutches got to takedown and won and he said he just knew he worked too hard and sacrificed too much that he wasn’t going to give it away,” Sonnen recalls. “Once you really start to truly, truly work hard like that like Gutches did, you get that confidence, but you also get an arrogance about you where you expect to win. You demand to win. But you got to work really hard to feel that inside. That’s something I learned late in life. I wish I had learned it 15 years ago. Would have changed my whole life if I had.”
Proof that “The American Gangster” isn’t the same character he portrays in interviews and on the Internet shows when he is asked whom he considers to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
“It’s either Anderson or George St-Pierre,”Sonnen explains in earnest. “I lean toward St-Pierre because he can push harder than any athlete I’ve ever seen in any sport.”