Controversial middleweight Sonnen fights nearly as well as he talks
At what point does it become counter-productive for a man who claims to need testosterone treatments for his chronically low hormone levels to go around bragging about his muscles and his ability to beat people up for money?
That's the question I found myself wondering during Chael Sonnen's post-fight conversation with MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani, during which Sonnen continued his Jesse "The Body" Ventura routine for the cameras. He flexed. He posed. He pulled up his sleeve and showed off "the largest arm in West Linn, Oregon, that has found its way to Houston, Texas."
As someone who watched a lot of pro wrestling while growing up (and, OK, well into adulthood), take it from me: any person who needlessly mentions the city he's from and the city he's currently in, all while flexing his muscles, is a person on a WWE overdose. It's also, at least in Sonnen's case, a man who has claimed that he needs a therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone, which is odd, since his physique and attitude would suggest that he's overflowing with the stuff.
You might think a guy like that would want to lay low for a little while. If not because of the testosterone thing, then maybe because of the whole guilty-plea-for-money-laundering thing, the combination of which caused the UFC to put him in "time out," as he put it.
But no, Sonnen was back in full force at UFC 136 on Saturday night. He put a hurting on Brian Stann, then resumed his verbal assault on middleweight champion Anderson Silva, telling the world's top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter he "absolutely suck[s]."
Because hey, as long as you're just saying stuff, you might as well have some fun with it.
And, I have to admit, it is fun. Sonnen's a witty, charismatic guy. Even when you know more or less what's coming, he still entertains, which is the secret to his success, such as it is.
Think about it: four years ago Sonnen was the WEC middleweight best known for shrieking his way to a submission loss against Paulo Filho. Then he was the guy who outpointed a weirded-out version of Filho in the rematch before going off to the UFC and becoming fodder for Demian Maia's highlight reel.
He was never even supposed to make it this far, but he surprised Nate Marquardt (and just about everybody else) with a win that put him in a title fight, then surprised us even more by talking a big game and nearly backing it up with the upset of a lifetime.
The fact that this performance was then marred by the testosterone mini-scandal that followed (which, because misfortunes travel in packs, was closely followed by money laundering charges) should have proven to be the kind of career stain he could never fully get clean from.
After all, Marquardt was kicked out of the UFC and branded as a cheater for screwing up a testosterone cycle of his own, and fighters like Shane Carwin have found that even the whiff of steroid accusations has a way of following a man around even as (especially when?) he tries to ignore it in the hopes that it will simply go away on its own.
But Sonnen? He only got louder. He all but dared someone to make an issue out of his missteps, then he smacked them down with his superior mic skills. He even managed to turn his penchant for bending the rules into some kind of bizarre street cred, proving that the truly great rhetorician is the one who can make even his weaknesses look like strengths.
It's a good thing Sonnen is such a skilled talker (and, when he can stay out of submissions, a pretty solid fighter as well). Anybody else would have been torched in the court of public opinion by now. But because he keeps stepping into the spotlight, inviting the criticism and then using it as material for his one-man stand-up comedy tour, he's managed to craft and improbable second act for himself as the anti-hero you hate to love.
He's also done Anderson Silva a colossal favor, whether the champ realizes it or not. Before, Silva was so dominant he sometimes even bored himself. But in Sonnen he has a nemesis, a Joker to his Batman. He has purpose again, and the purpose is to put a stop to the half-crazed tormenter who won't let him have a moment's peace, even when he's trying to enjoy some fights next to Charles Barkley.
Sonnen's offer to Silva is an attractive one, for the champ anyway. If Sonnen wins, Silva merely has to leave the UFC middleweight division. If Silva wins (again), Sonnen says he'll leave the UFC "forever." Then again, he's said a lot of stuff over the last couple of years, and very little has been based in fact.
The much anticipated rematch might be Silva's best chance to get rid of the brash American, but then what? Back to crushing outmatched challengers? Back to tepid title fights without the hint of a rivalry?
Maybe only once it's quiet again do you realize how much you miss Sonnen's incessant talking. Or maybe I'm just speaking for myself.