B/R Exclusive: Matt Lindland on Chael Sonnen, Fedor Emelianenko & Takedown Media
Matt Lindland does not hold back.
The former top middleweight will say what’s on his mind, and he will say it whenever asked. That is why he became one of the most respected people in the business, and may also be why his career in the UFC was abruptly cut short.
In order to get his point across, Lindland went as far as to put together the documentary “Fighting Politics.” The critically acclaimed film discussed why he was released from the UFC during his rise in the middleweight division.
The film looks at the world of MMA, and it was selected for both the Las Vegas and Spokane film festivals.
Lindland believes a lot of the characters that have been developed in MMA are not a true reflection of who the fighters really are. He feels the UFC has publicly molded the stars into what it wants the fighters to be.
“Most of the interviews in MMA are fake,” Lindland said. “Fans love to watch The Ultimate Fighter. There’s nothing real about that except for when they get in the cage.”
Lindland believes there is one obvious exception to the rule, and that is his protégé—the always outspoken Chael Sonnen.
“People want to see real,” Lindland said of Sonnen. “Chael speaks what’s on his mind. I don’t know if Chael is nice or not, but he’s real and he’s a man of integrity.”
Lindland hopes to transfer his beliefs of how MMA should be run to weekly television. He is currently working as an adviser to the upstart company Takedown Fight Media.
Takedown Fight Media will not be similar to the typical MMA promotion. What they are going to do is concentrate only on one facet—the television show.
“We are going to be different because we’re going to let everyone do what they do best,” Lindland said. “We signed 50 of the best promoters in America—outside of Zuffa.”
“Obviously, we’re going to narrow that figure down. We’re going to let the fight promoters promote fights. Then, we’re going to come in and make the best television show you’ve ever seen. We’re going to bring in our equipment and our television show. We’re going to deliver it to the network.”
The most challenging hurdle for Takedown to be successful will be getting the proper television clearances. However, along with Takedown Media, Lindland is the current owner of the Pacific Northwest’s regional promotion Sportfight.
Through Sportfight, Lindland has successfully negotiated television contracts with both HDNet and the local Comcast Sports affiliates. Those networks have not historically carried live UFC fights.
“It’s a different business model,” Lindland said, when asked to compare the UFC and Takedown. “We’re an alternative—not a competitor.”
“In Takedown, the fight promoter gets a licensing fee. Takedown gets money from the network. The network gets money from the sponsorships. Most importantly, the fans win because they get to see live fights.”
Another advantage Lindland has is his experience with different promotions. Lindland has fought in many different organizations—including the UFC, Strikeforce, Affliction and Bodog.
“This is how Bodog should have done their fights,” Lindland said. “They tried to be the promoter, and the television company that distributed it. They should have done what they do best—promote.”
It was in Bodog where Lindland had one of his most famous fights. The middleweight star stepped up to fight then heavyweight kingpin Fedor Emelianenko.
“It was an honor to fight him when he was the best heavyweight in the world, and I was the best middleweight in the world,” Lindland said.
Emelianenko won the fight by first-round submission. The former Pride champion remained at the top of the sport for the next few years before recently suffering a three-fight losing streak.
“Fedor’s getting older,” Lindland said. “Maybe he’s gotten a step slower. He’s a legend in this sport. Time will tell. There’s only so big a window.”
As for Lindland, the window may be closing as well. Lindland is 32-9 in his career, but he has lost four of his last five.
“I know I still have the skills and the desire, but will my body still hold up? That’s a good question,” Lindland said. “I think I’ve got a few more fights in me.”
Lindland has had a lot of big victories in his 14-year career. He has defeated many well-known fighters including Phil Baroni (twice), Pat Miletich, Jeremy Horn and Carlos Newton.
In order to prepare for his future after fighting, Lindland has moved into different facets of the business. Besides promoting, he is also getting more involved with training. His most famous pupil remains Sonnen.
“He’s been a student of mine since he was 15 years old,” Lindland said. “We are friends on top of that. I’ve coached Chael for 17 years.”
Sonnen’s meteoric rise in the UFC peaked last year with his spectacular loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Silva miraculously submitted Sonnen in the fifth round of a fight Sonnen dominated for over four-and-a-half rounds.
Now, Sonnen is openly pining for a rematch at any chance he gets. Lindland is certain the next time will be different.
“I can train Chael to beat him,” Lindland said about a potential rematch. “If Anderson will step in the ring with Chael, we will beat him.”
He love working with Sonnen because he considers him to be a "real" fighter.
“Somebody else real is Jon Fitch,” Lindland said, when asked to name another fighter he respects, “but when push comes to shove, he toed the line too. When they said be quiet, Jon got real quiet.”
Lindland is referring to Fitch’s public argument with the UFC when he did not want to sign his likeness away to the UFC in perpetuity. As a result, Fitch was temporarily released from the UFC. Fitch relented on his stance and was subsequently re-signed.
Nothing is more important to Lindland than being recognized as a man who speaks the truth. He believes in the UFC’s motto—“As real as it gets.”
“We are all suspect of boxing,” Lindland said, inferring that some of the fights had very suspicious judging. “That’s why we turned to MMA.”
“I do not believe the outcomes are fixed in MMA. There have been one or two fights that have been suspected of it though. The first one that comes to mind is that Rich Franklin vs. Ken Shamrock one, but do I personally believe it? No.”
Lindland has a clear passion for mixed martial arts as well as the growth of the sport. Being a fighter, trainer, promoter and now television producer, Lindland has worked in pretty much all areas of the business.
Most importantly, Lindland attacks his projects outside of the cage the same way did when he was inside.
When asked why he fought the much heavier Emelianenko a few years back, Lindland said, “I don’t fear any other man in this world.”
Now, as he works towards building up Takedown Media and Sportfight, Lindland is proving that same spirit to be true.
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