When the UFC announced that Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones would coach opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter 17 and fi ght each other on April 27, the MMA world took a collective gasp. Did Dana White really believe that Sonnen deserved a shot at the UFC Light Heavyweight Title? Well, as Clint Eastwood said in Unforgiven: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”
If you think you’re going to see the biggest mouth in the West wage reality warfare on the youngest champ in UFC history, think again. Chael Sonnen, the owner of that former title, claims you won’t see him use a coaching stint on TUF 17 to advance the verbal campaign that won him a shot at Jon Jones’ UFC Light Heavyweight Title. And don’t come crying to him about who deserves the chance and who doesn’t. Don’t ask him about how in the world he’s going to beat Jones, either. And for the love of God, don’t ask him anything about leapfrogging friend/training partner/TUF assistant coach Dan Henderson in the title picture—he just may hang up.
You’re in the middle of filming The Ultimate Fighter 17. How is it going?
Well, it’s one of these deals where all the days runs together. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a time in my life that I truly didn’t know what day it was. I’ve only been here for four or five days, and every day I’m going, ‘What day is it?’ Every day is a work day. You don’t have a Saturday or Sunday. You’ll be fighting on a Wednesday or a Monday, which, of course, feels like a Saturday. There is talent here like you wouldn’t believe. When you see the fight-offs to get into the house—when you see some of the horsepower, some of the truly decorated fighters that did not make it into the house—that’s when you’ll start to understand this is a whole other season.
How do you like being on set with Jon Jones?
It’s fine. We’ve got alternating times, but we’ve also got an agenda, and that is to help these guys as much as we can. He’s got his team, and I’ve got my team, but the reality is that I will gladly help the guys on his team, and from what I’ve seen from him, he will, too. When you’re around these guys, it doesn’t take long to start hearing them talk about all the things that they’re missing and all the sacrifices they made. I’m staring at a guy right now shadowboxing in the ring, and he lost his job over coming here, and he’s got a family. You hear these things, and it quickly changes your perspective on what we’re really doing here. The one thing we’re not doing here is promoting a fight that’s on April 27. That’s not even on the top 10.
When you had the media call announcing the fight and coaches, you were less than charitable about Jones’ coaching abilities. Has that completely changed now?
My message is that we’re here to help these guys. If one of my guys has a question of him directly or even of his, say, Muay Thai coach, I would expect that they would answer it, that they would help him. It wouldn’t matter what jersey they were wearing. We’ve got our sides, but it’s just a different feel, and there’s some true hunger and sacrifice and dedication that’s kind of rare.
What would a reality show just featuring Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen be like?
That would probably be a reality show. This is not a reality show, and I think there were several seasons where it was. But it’s not, and the entire dialogue is changing. FX is changing it, but Jon and I are changing it, too. A lot of this was acted like the house was a fraternity, and this isn’t a reality show. This is a bracketed tournament, and it’s nasty. There’s so many things that go into this physically, but please also understand the mental aspect of things—how inconvenienced these guys are, how unprepared they are to come into the desert and leave everything, put phones down. That’s how locked out from the outside world they are. This isn’t about pranks, or being funny, or grown men acting like children. This is a tournament, and lives are going to be changed for the better, and a couple of dreams are going to come to an end.
Do you think that makes good TV?
I think it makes fantastic TV. Don’t forget the ratings that the NFL does every Sunday. Don’t forget the people that turn into the Super 32 for the NCAA basketball tournament, the Sweet 16, the Final Four, yeah, the competition is as pure as it gets. The UFC is the biggest show in the world. We’ve got ratings through the roof, we’ve got pay-per-view numbers that were never even projected or hoped for, and that isn’t about watching grown men behave like boys. It’s about the competition. That’s where it’s headed, and you can ask all the questions you want, but those are the answers I’m giving.
I had to ask because there’s a perception that you called Jon out. Jon wanted to fight you and send you into irrelevancy, and there was a sense that there was a beef emerging that might ignite on the show and save a show that had been getting declining ratings. It seems like it’s changed pretty quickly.
Well, I don’t know anything about that. What I can speak to is the talent level we’ve got here, the competition, the struggles, the heartache, and the achievements that some of the finest athletes in the world are going through.
I know you said you’re not thinking about the fight too much, but is it at all in the back of your head that you’re eventually going to have to fight Jones and figure out a way to beat him?
Yeah, it’s not in the back of my head—it’s at the forefront. I’ve been practicing every day, and I’ve got my own objective. But when we’re speaking about the show, it’s just not that direction. This is a separate entity known as The Ultimate Fighter. It’s just not the UFC. There’s channels and avenues for
each, and I think the lines get blurred sometimes. I’ve seen some coaches where it gets blurred, and I always get confused by that. It’s a very childish way to go about things. We’ve either got to be coaches or we’re going to be athletes. And the fact is, we’re going to be both, but in two separate entities and two separate worlds. But I can tell you: This is going to be an incredible show. This is not going to be The Ultimate Fighter that you’ve seen before. It’s a different format, the set is extremely similar, but even the set has changed. The players are totally different, and the stakes are totally different. You can see I’m beating around the bush here, but I have to. We’re doing a show here, and I’ve got to tell you, this season won’t even look like other seasons.
So you think these things are going to reignite TUF?
TUF is doing great, and the reality is, TUF set a really high bar. TUF was doing ratings of 1.4 [million], and dips of 1.2 and 1.1. When they were doing 1.1, that was considered a failure. But I don’t know if I agree. Every network in TV would have scooped up this show up if they could do a 1.1 on a weekday night on a cable channel. By the extremely high standards that we set, yes. But if anybody doesn’t understand a market where things go up and down, go bury your money in the backyard. Don’t put it into stocks, because the real world isn’t for you.
Can I ask you some fight questions about Jones?
Okay. So, have you developed a bond with these guys already?
Absolutely. All of them. And frankly, not just the ones on our team. I hope it’s a guy wearing a black t-shirt, but if it’s not, I support that guy, too. I would be thrilled to watch his dreams come true.
What about helping these guys build their skills outside the cage, meaning you’ve been very successful at promoting fights. Have any of them come to you for advice on that, and do you plan on offering any help in that realm?
Well, I don’t know about that. I’m not a promoter. I don’t have a license to promote. I don’t know how to promote a fight, but I damn sure know how to pick one. You can say whatever you want about me talking my way into fights—I’m proud of that, but I’m a lot more proud that I’ve never talked my way out of one.
Does that still bug you that people say you talked your way into a fight with Jones?
Absolutely. Somebody asks me how I got this fight, I say I talked my way into it. You ask me how, I say with one word: Yes.
So I take it you pay those guys no mind?
No, I do. Absolutely. I sit there and smile. It warms my heart. I love it. I love it when guys are upset about it. You’ve got to understand, they’re saying these things, and numbers one through 10 wouldn’t fight me. All these guys are sitting there, not one of them said, ‘Hey Dana. Let me fight Chael.’ Not one, literally. And not one of those guys said they wanted to fight Jones, so I’ve got the fans on my side, the guys on the second floor at Zuffa on my side, and I’ve got Jon Jones on my side saying, ‘Yeah, that is the right guy.’ But as far as people being mad, good for them. Be mad. Go be a crybaby. Let’s compare notes at the end. Let’s see who it worked out best for, you or me. Crybaby.
When you said that all these guys had said no in a previous interview, Dan Henderson wasn’t a part of that conversation, though, right? He obviously wasn’t a guy who said no, right?
Alright buddy, take care.