It's closing in on midnight on a Thursday at the posh Hilton Hotel in downtown Atlanta. As a married guy with two young kids, this is uncharted territory. If I can make it up through Sunday Night Football, I consider it an accomplishment worth telling the world about.
But I've got my game face on. One of many high-end hotels in an area that features local watering holes like Hooters and the Hard Rock Cafe, a strip mall made up of skyscrapers and absolutely lacking the slightest charm, it stands out for one reason—it's fight week and this is the fighter hotel of choice.
My colleagues and friends are all about half a dozen drinks in and flying high. Professional fighters are seemingly everywhere, signing autographs and chatting up the press.
Tony, the Bleacher Report cameraman I've dragged out of bed for a $20 unmetered cab ride of about six city blocks, and I are the sober ones, with eyes for none of it. We're waiting for UFC middleweight star Chael Sonnen.
It All Begins
It started with an interview. Not just any interview, but one of the worst of my whole career. I had spent a lot of time working with Sonnen's camp, helping the Team Quest guys with a college course they were teaching, offering my own brand of often unsolicited advice and helping their young fighters get their names out to the world.
So when I asked for a favor, something I almost never do, I was expecting the best. The real Chael Sonnen.
Instead, I got Chael P. You know Chael P. He's the guy who holds the title belt he bought online up in front of the cameras and calls himself the champ. The guy who lambasts journalists like my buddy Jon Lane. The guy who never met a ridiculous soundbite he didn't fall immediately in love with.
Now, don't get it twisted. I like Chael P. He's a throwback to my youth as a wrestling fan. He's Nick Bockwinkle, Ric Flair and Ted DiBiase rolled into one amazing package. Best of all? He's real.
At that moment, however? After investing my time in hard-hitting interviews with Sonnen's training team and longtime friends like Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland, I didn't want any part of Chael P.
I certainly didn't want a watered down, tired, rehashed version. To say I was displeased with our interview is a bit of an understatement. I was livid.
Half Irish and half Welsh, I don't do livid well. I called to let Chael have it, leaving a message I assumed would not just burn any bridges I'd built, but torch them beyond all repair.
It was not the smooth play—but what can I say? When my blood is up, I'm not a smooth man. And my blood is always at a near boil.
I was shocked when I heard back from Sonnen. Doubly shocked at his message. He agreed with me. "I owe you one buddy." And so here we were, traveling to UFC 145 to collect.
After settling in with Chael, his lovely girlfriend Brittney and one of his close confidantes, we got a little of both Chaels. Chael Sonnen, the remarkably smart and articulate guy with a wide range of interests, and Chael P. Sonnen, a man interested only in kicking butt and taking names.
I enjoyed my time with both. I hope you do too.