Chael Sonnen had to have been smiling on his end of the phone line.
Isn’t the whole point of trash talking to get your opponent off his game? Yet for the nearly two years since he came closer than anyone in the UFC to beating Anderson Silva, as he threw every insult from “absolute fraud” to “dirtbag” at the middleweight champion, he saw not the slightest crack in the armor. Even after a rematch was announced and Chael ramped up his antagonism, “The Spider” remained hazily soft-spoken, his affect teetering between blasé and bored. That had to be killing Sonnen.
Until Monday afternoon, that is, when a whole different Silva showed up on a conference call with members of the media who’ll be covering UFC 148 a week from Saturday in Las Vegas.
“First of all, Chael is a criminal,” Silva said in response to the first mention of his opponent, speaking in Portuguese that then was translated by his manager, Ed Soares. “He’s been convicted of crimes. He doesn’t deserve to be inside of the octagon. When the time comes and the time is right, I’m going to break his face and break every one of the teeth in his mouth.”
And there was more. Each time Sonnen’s name was mentioned, Silva became more graphic in his pitiless forecast. He promised “to beat his ass like he’s never been beaten before” … beat him “the way his parents should have beat him to teach him some manners” … “beat him out of the UFC.” It was as if Silva was aping Sonnen’s mean-spirited standup routine, the longest-running comedy act in MMA. So Anderson, how bad is the beating going to be? “He’s going to have to go see a plastic surgeon after the fight.” Ba-da-boom.
As Silva went on, the words sounding so uncharacteristic, I found myself wondering whether he was really just talking about how the weather is lovely these days in Rio, and Soares was translating it as a Sonnen-is-a-dead-man threat in order to boost pay-per-view sales. But several Brazilian journalists took to Twitter to assure us monolinguals that the manager actually had softened what Silva was saying.
Reaction to Silva’s pitbull act puzzled me. The pervasive theme on Twitter and even in some media accounts was this: Boy, are you in for it now, Chael. I don’t get it. Anderson Silva became the deadly fighter he is by being patient, elusive and impassive until it’s time to strike. That is, by being himself. Maybe he’s capable of morphing into a José Aldo-style aggressor and being even more of a killer. If so, Sonnen is in trouble. But it’s reasonable to think that Anderson fighting angry is not Anderson at his best.
So Sonnen had to be smiling as he sat there on the phone. The fight is more than a week away, and Chael’s already landed the first blow: He’s finally gotten inside Silva’s head. Ultimately, the champ might wipe the smirk off his face, but this turn of events gives the challenger the best chance he could hope for. And gives the UFC the most impassioned clash it could hope for.
Which is why Dana White had to smiling, too, as he sat there on the phone. Earlier in the call, the UFC president had said he’s expecting a million PPV buys, a number reached by only seven past events, led by the 1.6 million for UFC 100 and its Brock Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre title bouts. His middleweight champ no doubt made a few sales Monday afternoon. But at what cost?