If you ask UFC veteran Chael Sonnen who is the greatest fighter in MMA history, he’d say “Glad you asked,” then shoot both thumbs at his chest before lecturing you on your inability to grasp the obvious.
Once upon a time, I found the ongoing role-play and pro wrestling rhetoric of Sonnen annoying and even offensive to a degree. But that was before I got to see him coach on The Ultimate Fighter.
And it was also before Sonnen made the very gutsy move of accepting another coaching role, opposite Wanderlei Silva, in the next season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3, as reported on FOX Sports Live (h/t MMAJunkie.com).
For those like me, we now know that Sonnen has simply been availing himself of a humorous platform to advance his name toward getting the kinds of fights that will pay him well. And we now know that he’s got the courage of his convictions.
Going to Brazil to coach is not something most would have seen coming. Sonnen spent so much time attacking Brazil to get under the skin of Anderson Silva that he may very well be persona non grata, coaching role or not.
But he’s going anyway, and he’ll be taking his role play and rhetoric with him, even if he never once uses them. As the saying goes, you cannot unring a bell; his harsh criticisms of both Silva’s and the Brazilian populace are apt to be front and center for the entire season.
It’s not hard to see why Sonnen accepted the role as coach: he gets a chance to build his fight with Wanderlei Silva into a pay-per-view brawl, and he loves to coach. Brazilian fans are going to watch in record numbers (at least in the beginning) and American fans will be watching as well.
Because let’s face it: the potential for fights between Sonnen and Silva, outside of the cage, are higher than any other season. To say Wanderlei Silva dislikes Chael Sonnen might be the understatement of the year; the two almost brawled at the Mr. Olympia Expo in Vegas recently.
While Sonnen may be a master at pre-fight hype in America, we have no idea how that will work during the show. Sonnen may reprise his nice-guy role for the sake of the fighters, which will test Silva’s professionalism; will he respond like Jones did in order to look good and keep the focus on the fighters, or will he respond naturally?
It’s hard to imagine Silva playing nice when he’s in his own back yard, faced with a man he and many of his countrymen dislike so vehemently. The bad thing for Silva is that Sonnen can use either response to his benefit.
Should Silva try to match Sonnen’s professionalism, Sonnen can say he defanged Silva. If Silva responds in fury, that could see him look like an easy puzzle that Sonnen has already figured out, and worse, it could put undue pressure on the fighters.
Sonnen and his staff are going to be the only Americans there; Team Sonnen is really Team Brazil, just like Silva’s team. Should Silva draw team battle lines in the sand, he may be seen as putting fellow Brazilians into a needless system of segregation. All of those fighters are competing against each other anyway; the pressure to either follow Silva’s aggression or defend against it could turn the fighter house upside down in the process.
And all along, Sonnen can simply shrug and say: “Hey, I was just being a professional. Go point your finger at the other guy if he wants to turn this into a Brazilian civil war.”
And he’d be right.
One aspect of Sonnen that has always spoken well for him is that he is, in fact, well spoken. He’s always lucid and when he wants to be, he’s erudite in nearly all facets of coaching. He might even be able to step into a fiery situation and provide his fighters with shelter from the storm. Whenever there is an unstable situation, people gravitate toward the stable; and Sonnen’s coaching style provides that stability.
And I don’t even want to think about how heated things could get if Team Silva starts losing back-to-back fights.
And so, the man who polarized audiences during his feuds with Anderson Silva and Jon Jones is back; daring as ever, seizing the spotlight once again. He’s never won a title yet he’s won over the hearts of countless fighters and fans.
And now he’s in the position to put on the white hat in hostile territory, and maybe even change the way some Brazilians think of him while infuriating his rival.
Masterful job, Mr. Sonnen—simply masterful.