Several months ago, when the UFC announced Chael Sonnen would get a title shot against Anderson Silva, I called and asked if he would appear on my show, Fighting Words With Mike Straka on HDNet, the morning after the bout.
“Win or lose, in the hospital or in the hotel, I will do your show,” he replied in his now familiar Oregonian accent and cocksure bravado.
So, there I was Sunday morning, less than 10 hours after the UFC 117 main event, sitting in the lobby of the Oakland Hilton Airport Hotel, wondering if Sonnen would show up after losing a heart-breaking bout in which he dominated and beat the living crap out of Anderson Silva for every bit of 22 minutes, right up until being submitted.
The outcome reminds me of a quote from the movie Top Gun: “That was some of the best flying I’ve seen to date,” Jester tells Maverick after a dogfight exercise, “right up to the part where you got killed.”
At 9 a.m. sharp, the elevator doors open, and the (still) number two best middleweight in the world slowly emerges. I exhale. Chael Sonnen is a man of his word.
Battered and bruised, bleeding from his knees and feet after rubbing them raw on the Octagon canvas, devastated from his loss, and exhausted after a sleepless night in which he replayed the fifth round “over and over and over again” in his head, Sonnen shows, just like he showed for his shot at the UFC belt.
“I want to cry right this second,” he says as we get going. “In every world championship bout, I’ve come in second. I blew the moment I’ve been waiting 25 years for,” he says.
Sonnen is understandably devastated. He did everything he said he would do, except leave the arena with the belt. He backed up all of the trash talking he did in the build up to the fight. He brought the fight to Anderson. He beat up the champ.
I tell him that an immediate rematch is only fair, considering Mauricio “Shogun” Rua got one after losing to Machida, and BJ Penn got one after losing his belt to Frankie Edgar.
“The UFC doesn’t owe me anything,” he says. “This is a business. The next guy to fight for the title has to be a draw. If Belfort gets the shot, I’m okay with that,” he says.
Sonnen is the consummate company man. He did more than his part to sell his bout with Silva, and he says the Brazilian should thank him for saving his career.
“The UFC was going to fire him. I begged them not to give him his walking papers. I begged for this fight. I saved Anderson Silva’s career,” he says.
While that statement is a bit of a stretch – (would Dana White really fire one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world?) – it is true that Sonnen did more for Silva than he did for himself, as experts called Silva’s win a career defining moment.
And while Sonnen’s stock has absolutely skyrocketed, both as a celebrity and as a fighter, that’s not what he entered the fight game for.
“I didn’t come here for a silver medal,” he says.
Sonnen is deflated. Gone is the carnival barker, replaced by a man who has let himself down, again. Nothing I say will lift his spirits, so I don’t even try.
As we get back to the lobby after our interview, Sonnen is swarmed by fans. He signs autographs and takes pictures. The line grows. Suddenly his voice is back. His smile beams as cameras flash. His head is high. He seems to forget about last night, at least for now.