(Little did Zach Galifianakis know that this would be the most awkward episode of “Between Two Ferns” to date.)
As has become public knowledge by this point, there are two sides to Chael Sonnen. Two sides that, while vastly different from one another, combine to form a charismatic, well-spoken, yet incredibly polarizing mixed martial artist. The fact that Sonnen manages to effortlessly shift between these two paradigms when hyping a fight, giving a post-fight interview, or relentlessly tearing apart a Canadian reporter is only a testament to his ability to enthrall while repelling, to pique one’s interest while simultaneously drawing their ire. This may sound like a bit of “nut-hugging” as the MMA blogosphere likes to so eloquently put it, but there’s no denying that Sonnen is truly a unique individual, and one who could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves without batting an eye.
But the Chael Sonnen that sat down with Joe Rogan as part of his infamous (as far as podcasts go) “The Joe Rogan Experience” was not the fight-hyping, pro rasslin’ “Oregon Gangster” that many fans can’t bear the sight of. Instead, for over two and a half hours, Rogan managed a feat that perhaps no other interviewer, journalist, or low-level blogger has even come close to: He managed to bring out the sincerity in Chael Sonnen.
And it was nothing short of fascinating.
Not fascinating in a “what’s he going to say next?” kind of way, but rather in a “man behind the myth” kind of way, and to put it simply, it stands above any other Chael Sonnen interview I personally have ever seen. The two dished on everything from Sonnen’s turning point as an MMA fighter (which came as a result of hypnotherapy, believe it or not), to Dan Severn’s infamously terrible work against Shannon Ritch, to Chris Leben’s batshit crazy childhood. But none of it felt forced, or fabricated. The Chael Sonnen that sat down with Rogan was endearing, empathetic, and above all else, realistic, and a kudos is due to Rogan for managing to bring that out of him.
Take this tidbit, in which Rogan asks Chael what he honestly would have expected had his rematch against Anderson Silva taken place in front of the eighty-some thousand fans in Rio as originally planned:
It would’ve been a scene. I don’t think they could’ve controlled it. They swore that they could, they’d have presidential security there, they were planning on having the President of Brazil there, so they’d have their secret service. It’s like, ‘guys, you can’t do it.’ There was just a soccer game and 73 were trampled to death. You can’t control a crowd when they decide to storm, you just can’t. It’s displaced responsibility. You can’t control that, especially when I’m the main event. And the relevance to that is, it means the beer started pouring five hours earlier. So now your not only talking about an insightful crowd, you’re talking about a drunk crowd.
Rogan pushed on, asking Sonnen what he thought would have happened had he beat Silva in his home country, and it was here that Sonnen truly opened up.
I think it would have been bad. I think it would have been very, very bad. And I would not have backed off one bit. Because I’m not gonna change; I’m gonna dance with the one that brought me. I’m going to be aggressive, I’m going to be in your face…I’m going to do my job as soon as Bruce Buffer gets out of my way. And I can’t change, I don’t know how to change. This is what I’m programmed to do. I hate to talk like one of those maniacs, ‘I’d have given my life blah blah blah,’ but Joe, I swear to you, hand to God, I’d have given my life to win that championship if I had to.
Let’s not forget, this isn’t tough guy talk. I signed the contract to go to Brazil to do the fight, and in my heart I thought, ‘I don’t know how this is gonna go.’ I made my mother promise she wouldn’t go. My mother doesn’t get it, she’s an older woman. She’s got a ruby or a diamond on every finger, you know, you don’t go into South America like that, let alone a fight. It was just one of those deals, but look, this is what I’m gonna do.
Check out the full podcast below. The conversation in question starts somewhere around the hour and a half mark, but I’d recommend you check out the whole thing.