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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.