On Tuesday, UFC president Dana White revealed to the Los Angeles Times that arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the organization, Jon "Bones" Jones, will oppose the organization’s undisputed biggest mouth, Chael Sonnen, in what ought to be an epic 17th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show. The show will culminate when the two fight each other for Jones’ light heavyweight belt in April.
On Wednesday, in a hastily thrown together conference call, the war of words, which has been brewing for months on Twitter and which will be a constant drumbeat in the background of all things UFC for the next six months, began in earnest.
The first volley of trash talk was fired across the bow 3 minutes and 4 seconds into the conference call.
But amazingly, it didn’t come from Sonnen, the man who likes to call himself “The American Gangster.”
The first fighter to spit venom was the 25-year-old son of a preacher.
“I’m a championship fighter,” Jones told reporters, “and I don’t think Chael is really a guy who knows how to win championships.”
And so it begins.
The soft-spoken, confident Jones, someone who normally avoids the trash talk that’s pay-per-view gold for the UFC, again and again questioned the 35-year-old Sonnen’s manhood and character and mixed martial arts abilities.
Jones said he only took the fight because it was the fight the fans wanted, and UFC fighters aren’t anything without their fans. He said that giving Sonnen an immediate shot at the belt delegitimizes the belt in some ways. He said this fight will be about putting Chael Sonnen into UFC irrelevance.
“Chael is an interesting guy,” Jones said, mixing insults with backhanded compliments. “I respect some things about him. Like the way he goes over there and gets what he wants, everything except for world championships or any championships. He’s a good talker. He’s definitely good for sport in some ways.
"He’s extremely disrespectful. He’s not much of a championship-level athlete at all. He has some qualities. Most of those qualities are going to come to light when he retires, and maybe can do TV shows and commentating and things like that.”
The UFC has taken flack the past two days for giving Sonnen a shot at the light heavyweight title after he twice came up short against Anderson Silva for the middleweight title. This is an intriguing argument, saying Sonnen isn’t close to deserving a title shot in the light heavyweight division. It’s also an argument that’s patently false, as White reiterated time and again on Wednesday’s conference call.
He pointed out he called several light heavyweight contenders to offer them a shot at Jones at UFC 151 after Dan Henderson pulled out due to injury. On only eight days of notice, no one took White up on his offers – except Sonnen. And Jones said no to the Sonnen fight two months ago, which caused UFC 151 to be canceled.
So Sonnen had political capital with White, and Jones had incurred a debt. The fact that Jones is currently rehabbing an elbow injury suffered in his UFC 152 fight with Vitor Belfort means that Jones will have to wait until April anyway for another fight, White said. So other contenders can battle it out in the meantime.
All of this is rather beside the point. Sonnen got the spot as a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter”, opposing Jones. It will be a ratings bonanza for FX when it begins televising the show in January. And it’ll give the UFC months of nationally televised publicity for the Jones-Sonnen fight that will cap the season.
Yes, Sonnen talked his way into another title shot. That’s what he does. But more important, it’s a chance for Jones to stand out as as a talk-tough guy outside his dominant Octagon performances. And it’s a sure hit for the UFC as “The Ultimate Fighter” moves from Friday nights to a mid-week spot.
“Good for me,” Sonnen smirked on the conference call. “And chalk one more up for the bad guy.”
“I think Jon Jones is the best fighter that I’ve ever seen,” Sonnen continued.
“He’s got techniques I don’t even know what they’re called. Good for him. But look – he needs me. Bottom line is he hasn’t beat anybody until he beats me. Let’s go down the line. He beat Bader. He beat Shogun. He beat – who’s that glorified Hollywood extra? – Rampage. Vitor… Listen, he needs me. And I am the man. And I’m the man because I say I’m the man.”
Then Sonnen said he was in better shape than Jones, as well as better shape than anyone Jones has fought.
Which set Jones up for a one-liner worthy of a presidential debate.
“You mean better shape on TRT or off of TRT?” Jones asked Sonnen. He was referring to the controversial testosterone replacement therapy that Sonnen uses. It’s considered a performance-enhancing drug by some, a legal medical treatment by others.
Later in the call, a reporter circled back to Jones’ comments on TRT. Jones said it’s terrible for the sport, and unfair to the fighters who don’t use it.
The reporter asked Sonnen for a reply.
“I don’t have any comment on the topic,” Sonnen said.
That may be the only time in the next six months when you’ll hear those words come from that mouth.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter@ReidForgraveor email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.