Chael Sonnen is one of MMA’s great personalities. As a middleweight, he pushed Anderson Silva, the UFC middleweight champion, all the way in August 2010. He has also scored wins against the likes of Michael Bisping, Shogun Rua, Brian Stann and Yushin Okami. Last time out, in June at Madison Square Garden, he scored a decision win over bitter rival Wanderlei Silva to settle a long-running feud.
Before the announcement of his next fight, Fighters Only contributor Tony Reid managed to catch up with ‘The American Gangster’ and ask him a number of questions pertaining to his storied MMA career…
Question: You recently got your hands on Wanderlei Silva at the landmark Bellator NYC event in Madison Square Garden in June. Now that you are a few months past that fight, what are your thoughts on it?
Chael Sonnen: I’m glad it’s over. I don’t remember the fight very well. I have to go back and watch it. I know he knocked me down. That was my first time being knocked down. I’m just glad to get through and move on.
Q: Is it really over with Wanderlei? Would you scrap with Wanderlei again?
CS: I’m going to let him decide. If we want to go our separate ways through life and never talk about it again, that’s fine. If we want to get in there and fight again, that’s fine, too. In his defense, to get in there after being off that long is tough. Those performances just aren’t going to be great. You might even win but it’s still not going to be your best performances. He was up against that. That is just fair to say. Let’s see what’s next for him. I will let him decide.
Q: Most importantly, what does your shoe think of the outcome of the fight?
CS: The shoe is happy. The shoe is a better interview than he is.
Q: I hate to play the last fight-next fight angle but what do you see ahead for you as far as future fights? Tito Ortiz is still chasing you. Chuck Liddell’s name has been thrown in the mix…
CS: If you would have asked me a week ago I would have said Chuck is next. That has lost a little steam. Here is all I can tell you. If he comes to Bellator, he is fighting me. He has made it clear he wants to come. He is in the gym every day. He just got back from Thailand for a training camp. All signs are saying he wants to fight but for some reason he’s not signing. I really don’t know what more to make of it than that. I’m not waiting around for either of those guys. Eventually I will get a call or a text message with a date, an opponent and a weight class. Whatever date, opponent and weight class that is I will answer right back with ‘OK.’ I think there was some legs to the Chuck story but it’s a little less likely today than it was last week.
Q: You said recently that if you’re not willing to go too far you will never go far enough. I found that very interesting because, from the outside perspective, it appears you truly live up to that mantra.
CS: It’s just a reality. If you have to push, you have to grow. If you aren’t willing to go too far, you won’t go far enough. Who knows what far enough is? It’s like saying a girl is too pretty or a car is too fast. There is no such thing. You have to push and push and push. I have had other careers. I had an amateur wrestling career and I lose sleep over it every single night that there was stuff I left on the table and didn’t go far enough with. I think a lot of people look at my career and think it was great. I had some great memories but I also have big regrets about what I left on the table. What medals or tournaments or events could have also been achieved? I was a young man but I learned a very valuable lesson from it and I won’t make those mistakes again.
Q: You have said that most guys in fight sports end face down, carried out and embarrassed. You fully intend on going out that way.
CS: I get asked all the time how many more fights I’m going to do. I’m just getting started. I’m just getting warmed up in this. I am cognizant of history. History tends to repeat itself. Fighters, and most athletes, do stay in it too long. They walk out there one or a couple too many times. They all end the same way: embarrassed and carried out. I respect those guys. I don’t like to leave anything on the table. I don’t want to have to wonder years down the road how many more I could have done or what more could have been achieved or how many more arenas could have been sold out. I want those experiences. Let’s get them now. Let’s get them until it ends like it ends for everyone else.
I hear fighters crying in their milk over it. They are embarrassed afterward and they talk about their legacy, man. There is no such thing. You are a guy with courage that walked out there and did the heavy lifting or you weren’t. That is the only legacy that matters.
Q: You have been vocal throughout your career but not at the level we have seen over the second half of your career. Was there a conscious effort made at some point to have Chael turned up to volume 10?
CS: I never found the camera but it did take a while for the camera to find me. The sport was in a different place. I had my first fight in front of 80 people for no money. That was a very big deal. Eighty people was a tremendously successful crowd back in 1997. It was just a different deal. Eventually the media came along and the notoriety grew. No, I never made any changes but it does take a while to get discovered.
Q: Who are your favorite fighters to watch?
CS: I love the sport. My favorite fighter is Frankie Edgar. There are a lot of guys I enjoy watching. I enjoy the hell out of Conor McGregor – not only his fights but his interviews as well. His recognition is well-earned and well-deserved. Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier could fight every Saturday as far as I’m concerned and I will put my 50 bucks in every single time. I love that Georges St. Pierre is coming back. I love Max Holloway.
Q: You have been in the sport for over 20 years. What has been the biggest ‘pinch me’ moment from your time in MMA?
CS: I think it was the night Randy Couture went out and threw an inside kick and an overhand right on Tim Sylvia and put the big guy down (UFC 68). That one moment was probably the most ‘oh my God’ moment. Just that fight as a whole: the 222.2 pound Randy Couture taking on a younger heavyweight cutting down to make weight. I thought that was interesting. Tim Sylvia was out here in Oregon training with us for about five years before that fight. I saw how those workouts went with Randy. There was a lot on that fight. I was a Randy supporter. Before that fight I looked up the local hospital so I could get ready to send flowers to him and he ends up coming out with the world championship.
More than anything I would use the word inspiring. He showed that being the older guy and the smaller guy, those things just didn’t really matter. If you were better, you were better. That was the moment I sat in front of my TV and said, ‘Oh my God.’