Chael Sonnen once boldly stated that he had the biggest arms in West Linn, Oregon. To be sure, his biceps are rather impressive, a set of thick pythons jutting out prominently from his body, ready to grasp onto something and squeeze it half to death. Whether they are the largest in all of West Linn is obviously debatable.
What is not, however, is that Sonnen has the biggest mouth.
After a 2010 win over Nate Marquardt cemented Sonnen’s position as the world’s number one middleweight contender, he opened his mouth, which apparently had been in hibernation conserving energy for the previous 33 years. He literally hasn’t shut up since.
At first, Sonnen’s incessant jabbering was an outlandish sideshow that teetered between insanity and masochism – after all, his verbal lashings were directed towards Anderson Silva, the pound for pound king of MMA who was surely going to inflict massive amount of pain on Sonnen for all the name calling. At least that’s what every reasonable person assumed.
But if there’s one thing we should know about Chael Sonnen, it’s that reason is overrated.
The career journeyman said he was going to beat up Silva, a man who for so long had danced circles around opponent’s fists, and he emphatically delivered. Silva, the wispy, fluttering specter that he is, was for the first time ever planted firmly in one place and pummeled relentlessly.
Of course, Silva still won. But even the most rabid of Silva fans had to gain a new level of respect for the man who talked more talk than anyone ever had, and then walked further with the sport’s greatest fighter than probably anyone ever will.
Fast forward three years and Sonnen is talking. This time the victim of his vitriol is the enigmatic Jon Jones, a lanky, pointy wunderkind that has been, so far in his career, more executioner than fighter. And when Dan Henderson tore his MCL and Dana White started scouring the earth for a brave soul to sacrifice to Jonny Bones on eight days notice, everyone ducked for cover.
Everyone but Sonnen. And the masses loved him for it.
It appears that with this final gesture made of equal parts generosity and bravado, Sonnen has taken that final step into genuine superstardom.
With many of MMA’s most iconic and bankable stars – guys like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Wanderlei Silva, Rampage Jackson and BJ Penn – either recently retired or circling the drain, Jones taking a massive hit to his popularity, and other fighters like Silva and Georges St-Pierre being foreign imports with heavy accents and limited concepts of English, the UFC is in desperate need of a poster boy. Sonnen may have just filled the position overnight.
From a fan’s perspective, there’s much to like about Sonnen. Inside the ring he’s a tenacious and fearless fighter, pouring over his opponents like wet cement until they either give up or the final bell tolls. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing of styles, but it’s a form of combat that the everyman can relate to. He’s a grinder, a man who lacks the grace of Anderson Silva and the talent of Jon Jones, but still finds ways to win. Sure, he’s 27-12 and may never win a major title, but there’s something to be said for a fighter who is willing to sacrifice his body and his record in hopes of one day procuring an elusive championship belt.
So, yes, as a standalone fighter, Sonnen is still something to behold. But everyone knows it’s on the mic where he separates himself from not only the rest of MMA, but the rest of the planet.
Saying that Sonnen knows how to talk is like saying Rambo was good at hide-and-go-seek. He has a mouth that flaps unflappably, deftly spewing all sort of venomous proclamations like, “I’m the greatest icon this sport has ever known,” and “Getting a black belt from the Nogueira brothers is like saying you got a toy in your Happy Meal.” Most of what he says is complete rubbish, yet he delivers it to your eardrums with such conviction you want to believe every word.
But the reason that Sonnen has begun to truly endear himself to fans is that, as fun and outrageous as most his comments are, he also possesses a thoughtful and reflective side at times. After his second loss to Silva he was congratulatory and deeply contrite, proving that he is equal parts human and monster – a combination that anyone can get behind.
The last three years for Sonnen have been a whirlwind. He’s been a villain, a hype machine, a boaster, a liar, a bully, and most recently, he’s been a hero.
If he keeps it up, UFC golden boy might very well be his next nickname
About the Author
Written by Erik Schmidt
I was born into a rich sports tradition in Chicago and graduated with a degree in super fandom from Marquette University. As the sports editor and columnist for the award-winning student newspaper the Marquette Tribune, I interviewed current NBA players Wes Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, and talked LeBron and the lockout with ESPN's Chris Broussard during a televised roundtable discussion. I firmly believe that Derrick Rose is the best player in the NBA, the Cubs are honest to God cursed and that Jay Cutler has never smiled. The world's greatest sport is MMA, and though I don't have any real fighting experience, I once received 10 stitches in a bar fight. Enjoy my work, and best wishes.