Tapout—a sponsor of Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight contender Chael Sonnen—features the phrase “American Arrogant” on some of its apparel, and it couldn’t be more fitting for the Oregonian.
When Sonnen opines, it’s more big stick and less speaking softly. It’s American arrogance, sure, but the 32-year-old son of a plumber and a housewife from rural West Linn, Ore. is also contemplative and even humble going into his UFC 109 title eliminator with Nate Marquardt.
The two actually trained together briefly four years ago and Sonnen walked away from the week with Marquardt duly impressed.
“There’s only been a couple of guys and when they left, I went, “God, those guys are really good.’ I don’t know if I can beat those guys,” says Sonnen of the former King of Pancrase, former opponent Yushin Okami, UFC welterweight Mike Swick and Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields. Battling world-class competition under the watchful eye of longtime mentor and training partner Matt Lindland has Sonnen one fight away from challenging 185-pound UFC king Anderson Silva.
“I’m close. Again, you can’t have any let ups. I’m close. Nate Marquardt’s close, too. I can beat him and he can beat me, too,” he says. Sonnen’s honest assessment may surprise fans who view the 36-fight veteran as cocky.
“All I want is a 12-pound yellow belt and that’s it,” he continues. “I’m not looking for fame or fortune or to sign autographs and get into V.I.P. lines at local restaurants. I’m just looking for that yellow belt.”
When the talk turns to titles, Sonnen’s expressive speech returns.
“There’s three major companies out there besides the UFC. There’s a company called Bodog [sic] and I beat their champion. There’s a company called IFL [sic] and I beat their champion. There’s a company called the WEC and I beat their champion,” he says.
In Sonnen’s mind there’s just one company left he hasn’t conquered and that’s the UFC. When Sonnen’s father was on his deathbed, Chael promised he’d be crowned champion in the promotion. Having narrowly fallen short of competing on the Olympic stage, Sonnen’s proximity to the title shot drives him to come through this time around.
“If I find out that its just not gonna happen, you just have to face that reality too,” says Sonnen. “But I have a lot of things to look to in my favor to say I’m on track and I’m going to be able to make this happen.”
Sonnen will face Marquardt at UFC 109 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nev. on Feb. 6. Read more about Sonnen in the Feb. issue of FIGHT! Magazine, on newsstands now!