Although the official record book still reads "Jon Jones," Chael Sonnen feels like the light heavyweight division has a new kingpin. Jones turned down a fight with the former middleweight contender, making Sonnen, in his mind, the top fighter in the weight class.
"When I decided to go after the light heavyweight championship, I knew that I'd win it like I always do," Sonnen told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "I just didn't know it would be by forfeit. But I do stand before you today the light heavyweight champion."
It has been a whirlwind 24 hours for Sonnen, who was offered and immediately accepted a fight with Jones after his training partner Dan Henderson suffered a serious knee injury. Jones refused the bout, but Sonnen seemed unconcerned.
"I'm in the same position today as I was yesterday," Sonnen said. "The fight's going to happen sooner or later. It's not like I'm not going to beat this guy up. It's just a matter of when. My biggest concern isn't with the fight or myself at all. My biggest concern is with Dan Henderson and his health. I have a personal relationship with him. I know his kids and how much he loves playing with them, so I just hate to see the guy's health in any kind of jeopardy."
According to UFC President Dana White, Jones turned down the Sonnen bout after discussing the contest with his trainer Greg Jackson, who advised the champion that facing Sonnen on short notice would be "the worst mistake of your career." Although the advice may have cost Chael a high-profile title shot, he respects Jackson's devotion to his student.
"I really think quite highly of Greg Jackson. You have to understand his opinion and influence on Jon is earned," Sonnen said. "Jon respects him. He earned that. I understand there are repercussions for Coach Jackson, but that's what he's hired to do. He's not an employee of the UFC. He's a coach and he gave the advice to his athlete—I respect that. I think we should respect that he spoke his mind to his athlete that trusts him."
It's a different mindset, though, from the one Sonnen grew up in the sport around. A product of Team Quest in Portland, Oregon, Sonnen saw his mentors refuse to back down, even going from middleweight to heavyweight to fight the best in the world. It was an attitude that rubbed off on Sonnen, who prides himself in only fighting the best of the best.
"I don't know the mindset or who's around (Jones). I only know who's around me. Dan Henderson, Matt Lindland, Randy Couture. These are the guys who molded me not just physically, but mentally," Sonnen said. "They would fight anybody, any time, anywhere. Some people mean it when they say that.
"I'm from that same mold. I'd never disrespect those guys that gave so much to me by being the first one from our group to back down. And I never say that to sound like a tough guy. I say that because I think it's really important that you're never a bully in this sport. I hate them so much.
"I have this stigma of being a trash talker, but my only goal was to bring these bullies down. I never picked on anybody who wasn't No. 1 in the world. When I went after Wanderlei Silva, he had an aura around him that he couldn't be beat. When I went after Anderson (Silva), when I went after Paulo Filho, the Nogueira brothers, (Lyoto) Machida. If they were in my cross hairs, they were a No. 1 guy that everyone else was sidestepping.
"They are all a bunch of punks and bullies and I will never be one. The only litmus test I have for myself—am I willing to fight anybody? When the day comes that I won't fight somebody, I won't fight anybody. If there is someone out there that makes me go 'I'm not fighting him,' then I'm not going to fight anyone anymore.
"That's what bullies do. Bullies pick and choose who they get in fights with based on who they think they can beat. I will never, ever do that. When the day comes that I back down, I will quit this sport."
Sonnen made it clear he wasn't letting the fight go. He still intends to fight Jones—it's just been delayed a bit. To Chael, it was a huge mistake on Jon's part not to take the fight now.
"This was his biggest opportunity. There's no question I could beat Jon Jones," Sonnen said. "Jon Jones can beat me too. But I can beat him. If you ever wanted to stack the deck in his favor, you'd have done it on September 1. You'd have called me out of the blue, switched weight classes on me, put me on a plane to do a press tour, put me everywhere in the world except in the practice room. That was the opportunity he had. I could have beaten him, but he could have beaten me too.
"The next time we meet up, when I've had a camp and my coaches around me, that's not going to be the case. It's really important to win these fights, and the world saw me lose a fight. I fell down. I'm not going to fall down again."
Sonnen is scheduled to fight Forrest Griffin in December. But before he moved on to Griffin, he had a final word or two for Jones, who has recently started discussing his business acumen in the press.
"Jon Jones is a delusional brat," Sonnen said. "He talks of being a businessman?! What?! What risks did he take? What capital did he raise? Where exactly is his office located? How many people does he employ? Hey JJ, put me on the phone with your secretary... Oh wait, what?"