A lot of words have been used to describe Chael Sonnen.
As the most polarizing man in mixed martial arts, he's heard it all. But Sonnen's rise to fame and fortune, from undercard obscurity to his current status as UFC president Dana White's heir apparent as the face of the sport, has very little to do with what is said about him.
It's all about what Sonnen says.
We want success to be founded in action. That's typically easier in sports than in life. It's a binary world. A fighter either wins or loses. The action in the cage has a wonderful ability to clear the air of even the most artfully blown smoke.
Not so for Sonnen. In his case, words are much louder than deeds. He's a self-made man built not on athletic accomplishment but rather on a shaky edifice of his own bravado and patois—an act lifted from professional wrestling and inserted into the comically serious world of MMA.
Sonnen's greatest hits could double as a Jerky Boys reunion album. Very few of them actually occurred in the cage, where he's a capable and hardworking grinder but not a source of the kind of highlight-reel moments that usually form the base of MMA stardom.
Instead, his sizzle reel features his intellect and wit.
That Sonnen, however, has been absent without leave in the leadup to the UFC's debut on Fox Sports 1. He has been strangely silent exactly when the UFC needs him to bark the loudest.
Silent, of course, is a funny term for a man who makes regular appearances on UFC Tonight and has dazzled FoxSports.com readers with a daily poem. But compared to the bar he's set so high, Sonnen has failed to live up to expectations.
His opponent, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, has been mostly spared Sonnen's venomous humor.
Who has been targeted instead? Rua's former teammate Wanderlei Silva, likely a future Sonnen opponent. This week on Fuel TV, rather than let loose on Rua, Sonnen turned his attention to Silva instead.
Poetry-slam style, Sonnen said:
On August 17, a fight’s going to take place, and everyone’s screen saver will be Wanderlei’s face. Not scowling or pouting or pounding his fist, or stumbling with English or rolling his wrist, but watching in horror as docs try to wake his little henchman Shogun, who made the mistake of cutting in line on my way to his boss, and ended up knocked out and trying to explain the loss. Sitting at the press conference table with Wanderlei outside, hailing a cab for the panic-filled ride to Logan Airport, or better still to the docks, to stow away, on a boat to Brazil. To get away from this gangster right here, who eventually will leave him face down and end his career.”
That's all well and good for a future tussle for Silva. But Fox and the UFC need the help now as they launch an ESPN competitor into a world that has largely rejected the idea of an alternative all-sports network.
The energy and excitement—the electricity in the air that makes the hair stand up on your arms—are missing. A Sonnen fight, love him or hate him, usually comes with a cascade of competing emotions. As much as we complain at times about the derivative nature of some of his stunts, they, at the very least, keep things interesting. The build to Boston has been anything but.
Where have you gone, Chael Sonnen? And how can we get you back?