Chael: Not OK to pick opponents

Chael Sonnen isn’t only facing his friend
Rashad Evans on Saturday at UFC 167 because
they’re both in the top 10 at light heavyweight. It’s
also to set an example for younger fighters.

In talking to chael I had expected to see the brash, big mouth
Chael Sonnen we are used to. This version of Chael seemed to be
coming from a different place. Maybe it’s his evolution as a
fighter and a person or perhaps it’s a level of respect for an
opponent that he is eventually going to have dinner with after he
tries to knock him out. This precision and focus of Chael staying
inside of himself makes him that much more dangerous.

BA: We know what we get when we see Chael Sonnen. We know
we’re gonna see some great pre-fight theatrics. We know
you’re going to leave it all in the Octagon. But are we gonna
see Chael Sonnen fight for another championship? And Sonnen vs.
Weidman, what do you think?

CS: I definitely think more championship fights
are in my future. That’s never the goal, though. And a lot of
guys use that kind of talk. One of the reasons I got championship
fights is because I never said I wanted championship fights. I want
the championship. It’s completely different. Even though
I’ve come up short, I inspire to be the best and I still do.
Getting the fight is not a pivotal moment for me. I really want to
come up with that belt.

BA: You’ve been real close. Next question is word on the
street is you prepare the same for every camp. What have you
learned in the Silva fights or the “Shogun” fight where
the fans saw a moral victory, a great defeat and a huge spectacular
win?

CS: I can tell you if there’s anything
I’ve learned, it’s that if I had a great day, I get up,
I put my clothes on and I go to work. If I have a bad day, I get
up, put my clothes on and I go to work. Northing can really change.
Time can only go in one direction and that’s foward. I
definitely believe in learning from mistakes, but at the same time,
I can’t dwell on them. And the same goes for when I have a
great moment. I can’t cling to that. I have to come back and
try to get better each time and it’s so hard. Practice and
training camp is just so incredibly difficult that it’s even
depressing. I wake up some days just depressed knowing what I have
to do that day before I can get back in bed that night. But
it’s part of the process.

BA: But you do it every time. Speaking about time, what do you
think of Dan Henderson? Dan Henderson-Vitor Belfort. Henderson
being 43 and Vitor Belfort I think he’s 35, but looking damn
near as good as he’s ever looked.

CS: It really surprised me and as a fan I felt
shorted. I just wanted more minutes. I wanted to see more minutes
of those two, more positions, more scrambles, more of a fight. When
you fight Vitor, there’s one word for Vitor and it’s
dangerous. He’s so incredibly dangerous and especially at the
beginning of the fight. Statistically for Vitor, the chances
improve greatly the longer you stay in the cage with him, but
it’s very hard to get through those first moments. I was
surprised, I was impressed and I was disappointed.

BA: I felt the same way. It was like when we saw Jones and
Gustafsson. That was one of the best fights ever. Just the
scrambles and the wrestling, the boxing, the kicking. That was just
a treat; I was like we’re in for a treat. We got to a see a
spectacular [Belfort] knockout, but we didn’t get to see all
those other things we enjoy as fans.

CS: I totally agree with you. That fight was not
only a treat and a privilege to witness. It was so incredibly
impressive. Gustafsson, I definitely think different about him now,
but Jon Jones’ stock soared that night. A guy in this sport
is one of two things – it’s either a guy is really good
or really tough. Every 20 years somebody comes along that’s
both. I did not think Jon Jones was both, I thought he was just
really, really good. I was wrong. He is freakin’ tough in
addition to his skill set.

BA: He summed it up. He said his warrior spirit was checked
tonight. So I loved that quote.

CS: I thought that was a great quote. I loved when
he said that, too.

BA: Speaking of 205, what challenges are presented at 185 vs.
205 and is it about the weight class or is it about the opponent
and where do you thrive?

CS: I always thought 185 was a tougher weight
class and I think that I was correct in that analysis, that 205 was
a little bit down for a considerable period of time at least in
terms of parity. There was a few guys you had to deal with, but the
overall weight [wasn’t as good]. That happens in combat, the
heavier you go, the worse guys get. Particularly with the
heavyweight division. The best athletes in the world don’t go
into fighting, they go into football or basketball, especially with
the bigger guys. Not a lot of them go into fighting, so the pool
gets a little more shallow the heavier you get. Right now,
I’m not really sure that’s true. We’ve got some
real hammers in there [at 205]. Gustafsson, who you mentioned,
Jones is the champion and he might be the greatest fighter of all
time. Cormier is coming down a weight class. Glover Teixeira is the
No. 1 contender. Then you got guys like Rashad and I who are in the
top 10 and on any given day can come in and grab it. It’s a
very tough time in the UFC right now too win matches. We
don’t have anybody of significance that’s undefeated
and we’re not really going to. It’s very, very hard.
Even as great is Jones is and St-Pierre or Weidman. I guess Weidman
is undefeated. It’s very hard to hold onto that. We compete
in a sport that it’s very easy to slip and fall in.

BA: Jones is undefeated. Technically he’s not, but
he’s undefeated.

CS: I agree, technically. That’s what I went
off of. He still got a loss there and he never had the opportunity
to redeem it. I don’t think he ever will. I don’t think
that’s his fault. I believe the guy who got the win over him
isn’t going to climb up high enough to reach Jones’
status. But for discussion’s sake, he still has that loss and
he didn’t redeem it. That’s just a fact.

BA: Who was it, Matt Hamill? He beat him up too bad?

CS: He destroyed him. Jones absolutely destroyed
him, but the referee made a call and rules are rules and he’s
got a loss.

BA: 205 is a crazy weight class. You’re throwing your hat
in there and now Machida is out of 205, he’s like I’m
out of here. So it’s pretty impressive for you to go up
there. I’m really excited for this fight.

With you and Rashad as co-workers in TV land and as friends what
about this fight is going to be appealing aside from the super egos
and the two wrestlers grounding and pounding it out in the
Octagon?

CS: Well, there’s just a lot on the line.
Any time you fight a friend and anyone who grew up with a brother
can relate. You don’t want to lose to your brother, you
don’t want to lose to your friend. Even though you like them,
you see them all the time. There’s something about that. You
really want to win those matches even if you are going to smile and
laugh about it later. It’s still important to in and in
addition to that it’s two top 10 guys. In a lot of sports
those teams just don’t get together. In the NFL, they have a
set schedule. If a top team runs into another top team,
that’s just the way it goes. But they could also run into a
lower ranked team. The schedule is set and eventually they’re
going to cross paths and that’s the way it is. In our sport,
it isn’t set. It’s just one at a time and it’s
the best guy against the best guy. You’re not gonna see a No.
1 seed against a No. 10. That’s just the problem we’ve
got. That’s why Rashad and I have to fight, whether
we’re buddies or not, we’re both in the top 10.
It’s just the way that it goes. We have to compete.
There’s no way around it. We’re also leaders with the
guys in the back. We can’t send a message to the younger guys
that it’s OK to pick and choose your opponents. It’s
not. You’ve gotta compete with everyone.

BA: One thing I love about the UFC and I’ve kind of been
making my own observation is that you’re talking about
warrior spirit, the right way to fight, guys at the top that hold
the championships they respect each other. When a fight is over
they hug their opponent, they bow to their opponent. They’re
not the guy running around and pounding their chest. So
that’s one of the things I really love about the UFC.

I’m looking forward to you guys getting after it and even
after the fight you guys will take your friendship to another
level. Maybe something like a Munoz and Machida. Machida was
concerned after he knocked him out and everything was all good
after the fight. They hugged it out. I’m stoked and I’m
excited.

CS: I appreciate that, man. And I appreciate you.
You’re very good at your job and I like watching you on TV
and on the site. You’re a world champion, you’re a bad
ass, but you’re very humble and you always have something to
say. You keep up the good work.

BA: I appreciate it, Chael. I’m done, I wrapped it up. And
I appreciate you giving me your time. I know how important your
time is right now when you’re getting ready to do big things.
So I appreciate it, man, and we’ll be in touch.

CS: Awesome, man. I’ll talk to you soon.