Chael Sonnen can talk some trash. In addition, he runs a full-time real estate business and a high-profile wrestling club, owns the Northwest’s largest amateur mixed martial arts promotion, and is running for a seat in the Oregon congress. He also happens to be the number-one contender for the UFC middleweight crown and will fight the winner of Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia after UFC 112.
Sonnen’s face is still scarred from a brutal win over Nate Marquardt at UFC 109 when he sits down at a West Linn, Oregon, microbrewery. He orders a hamburger, drowns his tater tots in ketchup, and raves about the ranch dressing, “You can dip car parts into it.”
Then Sonnen shows why he is perhaps the best interview MMA has right now. Sit back and try to absorb everything that is Chael.
“When I go off, it’s like a shit bomb goes off. An interviewer will ask me how Randy Couture is going to do, and all I have to do is discuss Randy, but for some unknown reason I say, ‘Mark Coleman is a bum and so is his training partner Kevin Randleman and his coach.’ I don’t have to bring any of these guys into it, but for some reason I do. It just comes out. I get on a roll. It’s my professional wrestling thing. I grew up on that stuff. I love it even today, but I just don’t admit it.”
“I’ve known Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman since the nineties. We’re fellow wrestlers and we should stick together, but I enjoy pushing those buttons. If I do two or three interviews, I usually say things about eight or nine guys.”
“But it’s a small world. [At UFC109] I had to go to the weigh-ins and it’s a private thing with just fighters and I know some of them might be mad. So I walk in thinking I’ll just sit in the corner by myself. No, No. No! Everybody was ‘Hey Chael you’re a great interview. Hey Chael, great job. Maybe you can help me with mine.’ Everybody! It was totally different than what I was expecting. Nobody wanted me to put them on ‘blast,’ as the kids say. The only guy who was mad was Mark Coleman, who asked why I called him a bum. I paused and said, ‘Why not?’ And he thought that was funny.”
“Look, I only have one motivation:to be the champion. Matt Lindland told me if you don’t win a world title in wrestling, you can never retire. You just quit. I felt that was true then and now. So I ended up quitting wrestling after the Olympic Trials. I don’t want to quit this. I want to retire. And the only way I can look back and be proud is to win the world title.”
“I understand this business. If you talk big and you win, you become big. But if you talk big and you lose, you look like a fool. I’ve been the fool a couple times, but this one worked out. I don’t think just beating Marquardt got me the title shot. I think it has to do with drumming up some attention.”
“Dana White didn’t know my name three weeks ago. He was calling me ‘Cale.’ After the fight, he called me personally and said, ‘This is Dana White’ and I was like, ‘Yeah sure, who is this?’”
“[The UFC] thought I was going to get beat up by Marquardt. They thought I was running my mouth, that I was going to get killed. But when you talk the talk and walk the walk, they will give you the opportunity. After the fight, [White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva] were very generous and nice, but leading into the fight, I was a man without a country.”
“If I had lost to Marquardt, Joe Silva said the UFC would have cut me. I had a four-fight deal, but you renegotiate after the third. I thought he made a good offer, but my management wanted to negotiate for more. I come from wrestling where we do it for free, so anytime they pay me, I’m like, ‘Wow, thank you.’ But we worked it so if I lost, I’d be cut, and the difference was only $3,000. I was thinking we should have taken the first offer and kept Joe Silva happy.”
“Joe Silva is a hard-ass, but he’s very fair. He’ll call you and give you a raise if you’ve earned it. Or if Joe strikes a deal with you and later decides that’s not enough, they will come in the back and just write you a check. They are more than fair. They are very generous. No company gives away more money than they give away.”
“But I know where I stand. UFC 102 was coming to Portland [last August] and Brandon Vera was supposed to fight Matt Hamill. I was already signed to fight Yushin Okami [at UFC 104], but I heard Hamill pulled out. Since I’m already licensed in Portland, and I’m here, I thought it was a no-brainer. So I texted Joe Silva and said, ‘I’ll fight Vera’ and I get a text back saying, ‘Who is this?’ Now, I had been texting with Joe for years. Do I respond? Do I let this moment go? It sucked because it meant that somewhere along the way, Joe Silva went through his phone and realized he didn’t need THAT number and took me out of his phone. I wrote him back: ‘It’s your ace. It’s your guy. It’s Chael.’ He said I already had a fight. I said, ‘Not that night,’ and he finally cracked and gave me a ‘Hahaha.’ It all ended up working out in the end, and Dana White is happy because he finally has someone who can promote a fight with Anderson.”
“Some guys can promote a fight and some guys can’t. I catch some guys trying to talk and I’m just embarrassed for them. Tito thinks he’s the best talker in the MMA, but he’s not. He has a weird voice and he doesn’t really say anything funny. Phil Baroni was very good, but Phil Baroni’s record [13–12] makes it tough to enjoy him. Rampage has his own style. I can’t stand Rampage, but I wouldn’t miss a Rampage interview. BJ Penn is pretty good. He puts it out there and he means it. He has an intensity about it. Brock Lesnar has been trained by the best. Frank Miris coming into his own, but he did say he wanted to kill somebody and that’s a little too much for me.”
“Talking a lot can be hard because it brings more pressure, but it’s worth it because it’s fun. It really is fun. To tell Anderson Silva—who everybody is scared—at a press conference, ‘You’re a bully and I’m not afraid of you’ and have him know that I mean it is fun. It does something for me.”