Chael Sonnen has a gift for soundbytes. It helps that he's willing to say absolutely anything, from the cringe-inducingly honest to the comedically implausible, all with an air of absolute sincerity.
His favorite topic these days is Anderson Silva. He'll tell you he doesn't see what the big deal is about UFC middleweight champ, who Sonnen swears speaks perfect English as soon as the media is out of earshot. He says he doesn't know who Silva has even beaten aside from "a drunk Chris Leben and a one-legged Patrick Cote." If you bother to point that Silva also beat Nate Marquardt, the man who Sonnen will meet at UFC 109 this Saturday night and whose abilities he claims to have the utmost respect for, his responds with a distracted indifference.
"I didn't see that. Did he fight Nate?"
It's hard to tell whether he even expects you to believe him, or whether this is just a way to keep himself entertained. Maybe it's something to keep his mind off a weight cut that he says isn't going all that well, or the last few arduous days before what could end up being a career-defining fight.
Sonnen will be 33 in the spring. The chances that have slipped through his fingers in the past won't keep renewing themselves indefinitely, and he knows it. He wants to be a champion, he says, because unless you've won a world title you can never really retire. Instead you just quit.
That's what happened with his wrestling career. He couldn't win a world championship or an Olympic medal. That meant he had to quit. Not retire, not move on, but flat-out quit.
"If you don't win the title, you're just in the way," Sonnen says. "Right now I'm just in the way, so I have to win the championship."
First he has to get through Marquardt in Las Vegas on Saturday night. How he's going to do that, he isn't completely sure. He insists that he has little to no chance to knock Marquardt out. The film he's watched of his opponent has left him fairly certain that he doesn't have anything in his arsenal that he might possibly hope to threaten the man with. He's not appreciably stronger. He's not better with submissions. He's not anything that Marquardt isn't, but he's got to come up with something.
"It's one of these fights where you just have to figure it out. You get in that cage, you're going to have to find a way to outwork the guy, outhustle the guy, outsmart the guy, out-tough the guy, whatever. Skill for skill, he creates a lot of problems for me. But that's where the excitement comes in, too. I'm excited to see how I'm going to figure out this puzzle. I'm excited to see how I'm going to handle a guy that's as strong as he is and as talented as he is. But how will I do it? I don't know yet."
All he really knows is that he doesn't want it to be over quickly. A first-round finish? No thanks, he says. He wants to get the full 15 minutes. He wants to come home after the fight, check his DVR, and "see myself on TV for a long time." Those other guys who keep talking about how much they want to finish fights? They're lazy, Sonnen says. They're afraid to go in there and do a little work.
It's the same with these guys you see who keep pulling out of fights with injuries and illnesses. If they're hoping for sympathy from their brothers in gloves, they won't find it here.
"It's like UFC 108, which people called the cursed card," he explains. "That card wasn't cursed, they just lined up a bunch of sissies. All these guys keep pulling out, 'Oh, I'm hurt. I broke my such-and-such. I got a staph infection.' So what? What does that have to do with anything? If you said you'd fight, when they call your name, walk out there and fight."
That's what he'll do, he says. It may be a fight that few people give him a chance to win, against an opponent who he claims to believe is better than him in every category. But he doesn't have any choice. He has to go out and get the win, or else continue being in the way.
"It doesn't matter how I feel or if I'm ready," he says. "None of this stuff matters. When they call my name I will put my mouthpiece in and I will walk to the cage and I will find a way to win this fight. I've done it many times before."
If you don't believe him, just ask. He's got a little time and a natural gift for storytelling. It helps that he's willing to say anything.