Does Chael Sonnen Have Your Attention Yet?

Chael Sonnen

(‘Oh, all the free kittens are gone? That’s cool. You might want to take that ad out of the paper. Just, you know, so somebody like me doesn’t get his hopes up only to have them crushed and ground into a fine, depressing powder. But whatever.’)

If somehow you didn’t know who Chael Sonnen was before this week, chances are you do now.  He’s spent the run-up to his fight with Nate Marquardt at UFC 109 making inflammatory statements about almost everyone but his opponent.  I spoke to Sonnen for this SI.com feature on Saturday night’s bout, and as expected it turned out to be an interesting conversation.  Here, for your enjoyment, are selected outtakes from that talk.

Lately you’ve been making waves with your comments about Anderson Silva, saying he actually speaks perfect English but hates the media too much to talk to them. I guess I’m wondering, if it’s not a ploy to get attention, why go after Anderson now?

I didn’t really say anything about Anderson. All I said is what you said there, and that’s no big deal. Once I destroy Nate Marquardt in a few days I will set my sights on him and I will really let it go. Believe me, when I sink my teeth into this guy, those comments aren’t going to seem like anything. I was making a very fair observation. Anderson Silva speaks English. Any time the media comes around he has such disdain for you guys that it’s ‘se habla Espanol.’ He doesn’t have to talk to the media, and in fact he refuses to, and yet the media goes out and strokes his ego and puts him on the cover of everything. It’s the craziest thing I’ve seen.

All the guys in the locker room know it, and we all laugh about it. Here’s Anderson going, ‘I don’t understand,’ and then there’s the media going, ‘We love you, Anderson!’ when he hates you guys. So I was just pointing out that fact. The people in the media should thank me for that, but nobody did, so there’s the media for you. I don’t care about Anderson in the least. I don’t think about him for two seconds of my day. But believe me, when I sink my teeth into him it won’t be just to out the fact that he speaks English.

As you point out, he doesn’t talk to us much and doesn’t give us much to work with, so don’t you think that maybe the reason the media is so hot on him is because of how good a fighter he is and not his personality?

I don’t know if that’s it or not. I don’t know who he’s beaten in the top ten. He beat up a drunk Chris Leben and a one-legged Patrick Cote and every bum that could get a plane ticket to Ohio. He went up to light heavyweight, but how hard is that? It’s the easiest weight class in the company. He beat up some slow and unathletic guys up there. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he is that good. If he gets past Vitor [Belfort], and I don’t think he will, I’ll sing a different tune. If he can beat Vitor it will change my opinion of him, but until then, I don’t know. I don’t see who he’s beat that’s so great.

He beat Nate Marquardt.

I didn’t see that. Did he fight Nate?

Yeah. Knocked him out.

Oh, I didn’t know that.

Well, he did. And you respect Nate’s skills, don’t you?

Sure, absolutely. I respect Anderson’s too. I respect all these guys and their skills, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying let’s slow down on this stuff about Anderson being the greatest fighter ever. There’s someone named Randy Couture that you might want to put your eyes on when you’re talking about the greats ever.

Moving on to Nate, what do you think you do better than him?

I really don’t know. I think Nate does everything well. There’s only been a few times when I’ve had to sit down and watch film on a guy and come away scratching my head, saying, ‘Geez, I don’t know what I’m going to do to this guy.’ You know, I don’t know what I bring to the table that shuts this guy down. Nate’s one of those guys. I don’t know what skills I have that are going to come in super handy.

It’s one of these fights where you just have to figure it out. You get in that cage, you’re going to have to find a way to outwork the guy, outhustle the guy, outsmart the guy. Skill for skill, he creates a lot of problems for me. But that’s where the excitement comes in, too. I’m excited to see how I’m going to figure out this puzzle. I’m excited to see how I’m going to handle a guy that’s as strong as he is and as talented as he is. But how will I do it? I don’t know yet.

I’ve heard you say that you don’t have any other choice but to win this fight, and yet you say you have no idea how you’re going to win this fight. It’s this a do-or-die moment for you?

I never said do-or-die, but I don’t have any other choice but to win. I don’t. It’s like, before the fight everyone always asks if you’re ready. Fight week, that’s all you hear. From your family and friends to total strangers, it’s always, ‘Are you ready?’ And the truth is, you’re never ready, it’s just your turn. It doesn’t matter how I feel or if I’m ready. None of this stuff matters. When they call my name I will put my mouthpiece in and I will walk to the cage and I will find a way to win this fight. I’ve done it many times before. I’ve never been ready. I’ve never felt good.

It’s like UFC 108, which people called the cursed card. That card wasn’t cursed, they just lined up a bunch of sissies. All these guys keep pulling out, ‘Oh, I’m hurt. I broke my such-and-such. I got a staph infection.’ So what? What does that have to do with anything? If you said you’d fight, when they call your name, walk out there and fight. What I’ve said is that it doesn’t do me any good to have a close fight with Nate. I’m not one of those guys who says, ‘I just want go out there and entertain the fans.’ I’m not that guy. I’m out there to win the fight. That’s why it doesn’t matter how I feel or if I’m ready. When they say fight, I’ll fight and I’ll expect to win.

Do you feel like you need to win a title in order to be happy with your career?

Yes, absolutely. I don’t think anybody’s ever had a good career that didn’t win a title. I think if you never won a title, you just quit, but you didn’t retire. It’s been that way in my own wrestling career. In wrestling, if you don’t win a world or Olympic title, you can’t retire. You just have to quit the sport. So I had to quit wrestling, because I couldn’t win the world title. If you don’t win the title, you’re just in the way. Right now I’m just in the way, so I have to win the championship.

Do you think that you have the striking skill and the power to not only win the exchanges with Nate, but knock him out?

I could definitely win the exchange, but I’d be surprised if I could knock him down, let alone out. Unless he’s got a glass jaw that I don’t know about, I’m not going to be knocking him out. But yeah, I could certainly win the exchanges. I’m faster than Nate is.

You might be the first fighter I’ve ever talked to who doesn’t claim to think he can knock his opponent out.

That’s because MMA fighters are a bunch of meatheads and somewhere along the way it became the cool thing to say you could knock a guy out. That never seemed cool to me. I don’t see what that has to do with anything. I’d be disappointed if I could knock him out. I mean, if I did, then great, but I want to go home and look at my DVR and see myself on TV for a long time. If I can get the full fifteen minutes, that’s what I’m going to do.

Again, I’ve never heard a fighter say he wants to go the full fifteen minutes.

That’s because everybody else is lazy. That’s the God’s honest truth. These fighters who say, ‘I’m looking for the finish,’ they’re not looking for the finish. They’re looking to get out of there because it’s really hard work. These lazy fighters who don’t want to have to go out and grind for fifteen minutes, it’s not pleasant, but that’s the business we’re in.

(BF)