Josh Gross
Thursday February 11th, 2010

For Chael Sonnen, winning never hurt so much.

Since Saturday, when the 32-year-old middleweight scored the most important victory of his mixed martial arts career, Sonnen's life has been one big, mad dash. Well, perhaps just metaphorically, what with the ceaseless phone calls and interview requests. Literally, Sonnen is immobile, stitched up, and beat up.

"I'm in so much discomfort that fighting is the furthest thing from my mind because the mere thought of it brings me pain. I felt like I was in control, but I must not have been because everything hurts," Sonnen said days after going three bloody rounds with Nathan Marquardt at UFC 109. "Both feet. Both knees. Both hands. Both elbows. My chest hurts. I've got 15 stitches on the outside and a dozen on the inside. The inside of my mouth is so cut up I can't even eat food now. So, I apparently wasn't in the control that I thought I was."

From most vantage points, Sonnen was in fact dominant against a very dangerous opponent -- once again affirming that even when things go your way, MMA can be an unforgiving, brutal sport.

After a resounding decision win over Yushin Okami last October, Sonnen returned to the gym the following Monday, one of four trips he made to Team Quest in Gresham, Ore., that week. But regulars at the wrestling-centric space, one of the few social environments Sonnen frequents, won't hear the loquacious fighter for a couple weeks this time around.

"The upside is it's a forced vacation, which is nice because otherwise I wouldn't take one," he said Tuesday.

The fortnight away from MMA should keep Sonnen occupied with real estate ventures (a licensed agent, he values each win in the UFC as good for five home sales), and, like his coach, training partner and friend Matt Lindland, political aspirations.

"I think my diplomacy skills may be a little more polished than Matt's, which I've told him a number of times," Sonnen ribbed.

Following Sonnen's effort on Saturday, he accepted an invitation to appear on Fox News' Fox & Friends Thursday at 8 a.m. ET. Sean Hannity, the conservative opinion maker, also wants to book Sonnen, but the University of Oregon graduate isn't so sure it's for the best.

"I don't want to pass up this opportunity," he said. "This is tremendous exposure. The downside is I look like Frankenstein. I'm not the kind of guy that I would even vote for, let alone someone else would vote for."

Currently running unopposed in May's Republican primary to fill a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives being vacated by Republican Scott Bruun, who is running for U.S. Congress in 2010, Sonnen doesn't foresee conservative challengers emerging prior to next month's filing deadline.

"I say that out of arrogance, though," said a self-analyzing Sonnen, who also mentioned a strong infrastructure and meaningful war chest as reasons why he should coast into November's general election. "I'm basically saying I don't think anyone wants to go head to head with me."

By the sound of it, Sonnen (25-10) is also operating under the premise that UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva (25-4), currently the top pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the world according to, isn't very interested in facing him either.

While Sonnen admits to admiring Silva's considerable skill, and aspires to the Brazilian's status in MMA, he will not respect "The Spider."

"Nobody is owed respect, me included," Sonnen suggested. "Silva's just a nuisance. Anderson is in the way. I don't know that I've been very outspoken about him at all. I keep hearing people tell me I've been outspoken, but I don't know what it is I've said. Anderson is a bully. He's not going to run the playground when I'm around. If me and Anderson are in the back, he's not in charge. When tough guys get together, they talk about me; they're not talking about Anderson Silva. He has gotten very confused on this, and like any bully, he will back down when confronted. I have confronted Anderson Silva and, as a matter of fact, his manager backed down on his behalf about five hours ago and is now arguing the UFC president's pick as to who the No. 1 contender should be. That shouldn't be a surprise. I've been telling you guys as long as you've had tape recorders: this guy is a bully and a fraud."

Asked about Silva's ability to expertly put away Dan Henderson two years ago, Sonnen said he doesn't know what happened to his friend. He never bothered asking. Silva fought from the bottom for much of the opening round -- a position Sonnen insinuates isn't worthy of real men, or Republicans -- before plowing through Henderson, a two-time U.S. Greco-Roman Olympian and original Team Quest founder, to secure a rear-naked choke. By most accounts, Silva's most impressive victory during an ongoing record streak of 10 consecutive wins in UFC competition.

Submissions make Sonnen uneasy, which is understandable considering seven of his 10 career defeats have manifested by some fashion of joint lock or choke hold. Limited skill and technique, or at least a failure on his part to avoid getting caught -- a concept he doesn't subscribe to: "people are submitted because they want a way out of the fight," he charged -- seemed to be the problem.

"It's kind of like an alcoholic," Sonnen said. "The first thing I needed to do was recognize I have a problem. And the second thing I needed to do was want help. It took a long time. You have to rewire your brain."

After much deliberation, picking up proper submission skills, including, of course, defense and counters, wasn't going to make a difference, concluded the self-described "Nobel thinker."

"I realized this isn't physical, this is mental," he said.

Sonnen sought out professional help, though he declined to say much outside of labeling it his secret weapon. He also started listening to people around him, particularly another Team Quest founder, Randy Couture, whose Olympic aspirations were stunted by mental lapses in competition.

Said Sonnen: "Randy was more of a regular human being, like me, that did have insecurities in different areas, things to overcome and a couple of roadblocks he had to breakthrough."

Robert Follis, a veteran trainer at Team Quest in Gresham, called Sonnen a "genius," and suggested the unmarried fighter might have an affinity for WWE storytelling, making it difficult to distinguish when his words are colored in reality or showmanship.

"I am a fan," Sonnen copped. "I would imagine somewhere in the back of my mind that comes through."

Banging the drum loudly is beginning to payoff for Sonnen. So is winning. Even if it might not feel that way in the morning.

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