Last week Chael Sonnen went further than he's ever gone before. He's been walking a thin line between brilliance and buffoonery for some time, but in the lead up to his fight with Michael Bisping, the former All-American wrestler may have leaped right over the line and into the abyss.
Chael Sonnen no longer exists, at least not in public. Only his alter ego, Chael P. Sonnen, remains.
His MMA persona has been bordering on the absurd since his UFC 117 loss to Anderson Silva. He's made outlandish statements about Silva, his teammates the Nogueira brothers, and a host of others. He's created buzz with controversial media interviews with Jon Lane and Michael Landsberg. But he's never gone as far as he went last week.
Chael Sonnen didn't deviate from character in any of his media appearances before his bout with Bisping. He carried a UFC replica title belt and refused to acknowledge he wasn't the legitimate champion. Mostly, however, he cut pro wrestling promos. Tons of them.
It's fun to have such a unique character in our sport. Unfortunately, he runs the risk of making a mockery of mixed martial arts, hurting himself and the UFC in the process, if he's not careful. Many fans are getting a first look at the UFC on Fox - and you'll forgive them if they don't see it as a serious sport.
Here's a transcription of his post fight interview with announcer Joe Rogan:
Joe Rogan, tonight is not for questions for me, this is your night brother. I want to know how you feel being only inches away from greatness. I want you to tell everybody how it feels. Are you not mesmerized? Do you not have chills going up your spine for the first time on FOX for you to be here in Chael's octagon on Chael's channel holding Chael's microphone interviewing Chael.
While you're thinking about that, remember this: when you're the greatest fighter in the world today they've got a name for you. They don't call you a great fighter they call you Chael Sonnen! Beat me if you can.
Sonnen's carefully crafted speeches, practiced with teammates, coaches, and friends before they are ever delivered for an audience, aren't very subtle. He's playing a character and makes sure to smack you in the face with that fact whenever possible. Worse, they aren't even original creations. Sonnen is borrowing liberally from all-time wrestling great "Superstar" Billy Graham.
"It's good that he's trying to market fights, but he's gone too far in the direction of playing pro wrestler. His delivery is so bad that it's obvious what he's doing: carefully reciting old wrestler interviews that he memorized off YouTube," Bleacher Report's resident wrestling historian David Bixenspan said. "I think he needs to drop the idea of repeating old interviews verbatim and instead just try to study what the best talkers did right."
I think what Sonnen is doing is inspired. But he needs to reel it in, to tone it down about three notches. Right now he's got the volume turned all the way to eleven. For the best effect, he needs to be around an eight.
"The top wrestlers have passion, a distinct voice, believability, connection with the audience to make them love or hate him," Bixenspan said. "But you don't have to give a loud interview, and some of the best heels worked out best staying mild mannered most of the time so it was a big deal when they yelled."
I'm not against a liberal mix of pro wrestling sensibility in my mixed martial arts. The sport's roots are in pro wrestling and Sonnen's antics are a ton of fun. I just want to see it done right. At his best, Sonnen is a riot act. At his worst, Sonnen's act is cringe inducing.
The most surprising thing Sonnen could do right now is a straight interview. To give real answers to legitimate questions. It would shock the world, something no Billy Graham routine could possibly do at this point.
It feels like Sonnen is constantly yelling. That makes it hard for anything to stand out. Soon, it's just a noisy din and no one is really paying attention any more. Chael should speak quietly until it's time to raise his voice. Then, when the moment was right, Sonnen could turn things up a notch, it would resonate loud and clear with his audience.
Jonathan Snowden is the author of Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting and The MMA Encyclopedia. Follow him on Twitter and right here at Bleacher Report where he covers combat sports. He's a former radio DJ and television producer who worked for the White House Communications Agency in Washington, D.C. He currently works for the Department of Defense. Ironically, Jonathan is scared of physical confrontations of any kind.
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