When Chael Sonnen was asked after beating Yushin Okami at UFC 104 whether or not he was upset that his fight was relegated to the undercard, his reply was:
“We got men and women at war right now – they got real problems – so me complaining about where I come out on the card would be very arrogant. But with that said, there are guys that I’m opening the show for that would never fight after me had Okami not been my dance partner. They call him Yushin “Thunder” Okami, I call him Yushin “Anchor” Okami; he pulls people down, whereas if you get a fight with me – if you get me on the docket, I’m going to pull you up. I’m going to get exposure and attention and people to care about the fight and “Anchor” Okami’s got the opposite effect. So was it annoying? Yes.”
Two months later the Team Quest middleweight apparently had a change of heart, and invited his former opponent to stay with him for a month at his home in Oregon to help kick off the training camp for his UFC 109 showdown with Nate Marquardt on February 6.
“I’m actually on my way to practice right now and Yushin is sitting next to me in the car.”
So how did Okami go from being, in Sonnen’s eyes, the anchor that dragged his opponents mercilessly to the depths of the UFC undercard, to sitting shotgun to him on the way to train at Team Quest?
“The day after our match, we were heading to the airport to fly home and we ended up in the same van. Not only did we end up in the same van, it was just us in the van and he told me he wanted to come train with me,” Sonnen explains. “I gave him Matt Lindland’s contact info and I believe he had his manager contact Matt, which is how this all came about.”
As far as his comments towards Okami are concerned, Sonnen chalks them up to equal parts psychological warfare and being caught in the moment after a win.
“A lot of what is said before and after a fight is meant to distract your opponent. I can’t remember how I felt before the fight or what I said after it, but speaking for today, he’s great. He’s one of the nicest guys and he works really hard. I beat him in our fight, but I don’t think I’ve beaten him a round since,” he says. “The neatest thing in the world is when your former adversary becomes your training partner. We definitely have a bond. He speaks very little English; we communicate with a lot of hand gestures, so we’re mostly using our fighting as communication in the gym.”
If Sonnen, a staunch Republican who once ran for a seat as an Oregon State Representative, can mend political fences as efficiently and impressively as he did with Okami, he could have a bright future in Washington.