Chael Sonnen has fought a lot of fights, from the UFC and back again, and now to Bellator MMA where he has the opportunity to capture the world title that has eluded him during his long and often times controversial mixed martial arts career. After scoring an upset win over former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in the first leg of the Bellator heavyweight tournament, the West Linn, Oregon native will today square off in the tournament semi-finals at Bellator 208 across the cage from the former longtime number one ranked heavyweight mixed martial artist in the world, former Pride FC heavyweight champion, and known associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Fedor Emelianenko.
Mike caught up with Sonnen during a recent training session at the Portland-area gym Spartan Training Center where he was receiving instruction from local kickboxing coach Curtis Crawford. Also helping Sonnen prepare for his fight was fellow Bellator fighter Jake ‘The Half Black Attack” Smith, who had been tasked with emulating the striking tendencies of Emelianenko.
Mike Bivins: So Chael, how have you been?
Chael Sonnen: I’ve been good, thank you for asking. I’ve just been working hard, nothing has really changed for me. I’ve pretty much been going to practice every day, and if there’s a fight coming up I work a little harder, but even if I don’t have a fight coming up I’m usually there.
MB: What’s going through your mind now that you’re fighting Fedor? I mean, back in the day he was the baddest man on the planet.
CS: They say that, they say that, he should have a lot of pride. He is the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist of all time. I’m the greatest fighter of all time, and I’m sure he takes a lot of pride in it. I would not take it from him. I’m the greatest fighter. Three different divisions, 5 different world title fights. I beat him and I’ll be fighting for my 6th title in my 3rd different weight class spread over 21 years. There never has been anybody even close to accomplishing what I’ve accomplished.
MB: Do you see anything that you can exploit? Fedor’s got hours of tape. I mean, I don’t want to give away your game plan or anything.
CS: Nah, I don’t care about game plan. My game plan is just throw him down and beat a hole in his head. You can tell him that. But uh, yeah, I think he’s really explosive. I happened to be backstage when he was fighting Frank Mir and I watched him warm up for about six seconds. I remember watching him and going “Whoa. That guy can explode.” And when I’m talking about explosion I’m talking about a combo of two things, speed and power. He was so fast and so powerful that he could just go to that target so fast. I remember thinking, “Whoa, I hope that guy gets beat tonight.” And then he ended up winning, so here we are. I always try to watch my opponents, I think that that’s a helpful tool. But it is a weakness of mine, that I don’t watch a ton of that stuff, it’s hard for me to watch it, I get nervous when I watch it, my palms start to sweat. I just focus on myself and if Fedor shows up, and I expect him to, then we’ll fight, and if he doesn’t I’ll fight an alternate. The reason I bring that up is that I do not care who gets in there with me. I’ll fight anyone at any time.
MB: How’s fighting for Bellator generally?
CS: I love the sport, I think the company Bellator is great, and I don’t know that I’ve had a bad experience in this sport. I hear horror stories from some guys, mainly that came through the boxing world. But in MMA for the most part my experiences have been very good, and Bellator is ran by good leadership. I’ve had a great time, I love it.
MB: How long have you and Curt known each other?
CS: So Curt used to be Curtis to me, but now he’s coach, but we were teammates, and his professional debut and my professional debut were the same day in 2002. We flew to California together. He was in a tournament that night. So he had to fight two or three guys in one night, but we both debuted together, he was 36 and I was 24. We’ve trained together since 2001.
MB: At Team Quest?
CS: Team Quest. We trained together until I’d say maybe 2007-ish and then he went just into coaching for the most part. He trained Evan Tanner to a UFC world championship.
And that was really it and I’ve been training with him ever since. When he said, “I’m gonna start coaching” I said, “Great, coach me.” One day he just said he was gonna coach, which is the evolution of fighters. He and I, as you saw tonight, we just click. Curtis can say one or two things and I could form a paragraph—I know exactly what he means, but we just communicate well like that. I have some other coaches that are like that but it’s a special thing, a rare thing, and when you find a guy like that, that’s your coach.
MB: Where are you based out of?
CS: Gracie Barra is my official gym. You’re welcome to come any time. Curtis teaches some classes out of there, too. Ya know, the guy’s from Portland—there’s all sorts of gyms but for the most part, everybody helps everybody. And you’re loyal to your gym and you sign up under your gym and you wish the best for your gym, but if you need help from somebody at a different gym, for the most part people in Portland are here for other people. I know who I am, if somebody needs something, they can count on me.
MB: After Fedor… are you looking past Fedor at all?
CS: Yeah, I always look past. Sometimes it goes the way you think and sometimes it doesn’t, but I always look past. A lot of people say focus on what’s in front of you, I think that’s good advice overall for coaching. I like distractions, I don’t like to be focused. I love injuries, people hate injuries, but I love to fight hurt. I focus, I think about it, it takes my mind off the fight, I love not feeling good. I love if I’m sick or injured or something, it’s just the right distraction, I’m into distractions. I have ADD, so it’s hard for me to focus sometimes. I don’t spend too much time thinking about Fedor. I respect him a lot and I respect him more than I have my other opponents, I can beat Fedor but I’ll tell you this as plainly as I know how to speak: He can beat me too. He can definitely beat me. I think he has to knock me out, he has to do it with the right hand, specifically and specifically a KO. I’ve never been knocked out. So I don’t think the odds are on his side to catch that punch. But I really don’t know. I would never say, “I’m gonna whip Fedor.” They say you gotta be confident, but I don’t know—that sounds like bullying to me. Bullies take fights against guys they know they can beat. If I knew I can beat Fedor I’d have no interest in the fight. He’s a tough son of a bitch, but so am I. And I’m not overlooking him, I don’t know if he can say the same thing. I think he thinks I’m too small.
MB: You look huge to me.
CS: Thank you.
MB: How much are you weighing?
CS: I try to get in there about 220, 219.
MB: How much longer do you plan on fighting?
CS: I have a big respect for guys who have the ability to extend their career. Dan Henderson and Couture, respectively, made it to 46 and 47, I’m 41, so I would like to outdo them. It would have to be at the highest level. Or if one of my coaches grabbed me and said, “You’re done” I would be done. Or if I ever lost the dream of being world champion. I won’t stay in this sport or take up a spot or a main event spot. But for now I’m still one of those guys who’s willing to put the work in and compete.
MB: Can I ask you about the Jon Jones fight? They say if someone would have seen the foot with his bone sticking out they would have stopped it and you would have been the UFC light heavyweight champ.
CS: You got it right. That’s exactly right.
MB: The ref or the doctor just didn’t notice it?
CS: So what happened was, there wasn’t much time left in the round, I don’t know what it was. Nobody saw it. Jon himself didn’t see it until after the fight. Somebody in his corner looks down and goes, “Oh my god a bone is sticking out.” That’s true though the way you remember it. That wouldn’t have been much of a win. I would have taken it. There’s been fugazi wins before, and the record book still reflected. A win is a win but I have never lost sleep over not getting the championship because Jon Jones hurt his toe.
I’ve been wrestling since I was 9-years-old. I’m always able to close the gap. There was just a gap between us and I wasn’t even close. He’s a tough son of a bitch, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Jon Jones is a tough son of a bitch.
MB: He seems like one of those guys who could compete in any sport that he wanted.
CS: He could walk into boxing right now. MMA, he was a wrestling champion. He’s lazy, he’s undisciplined, he’s not deserving, he’s not any of those things that you’re told a champion is. But the truth is, you don’t have to if you go into a sport where you can have more points than the other guy and when time runs out they call you the champion. And I don’t say that to knock him at all, I just say it’s a reality that he’s not a guy you’d want to copy. If you’re a young kid, you’d have to work hard and be more dedicated and disciplined, but every once in a generation some guy comes along who the rules don’t apply to. He can just kind of do it his way and still come out on top. And none of that was meant to be negative as to give perspective into Jon Jones, he has found what works for him.
There was a basketball player when I was growing up, a real scumbag named Dennis Rodman. But Dennis Rodman was that same way. He could go out and party all night long and do whatever it was that he did and still show up and do well in games. There’s some guys that find what works for them. Society looks at them and says, “You’re doing all the wrong things,” but it’s their sport and they do it how they want to do it. Sometimes it’s not as obvious as what generally would work for the other guys. It’s meant as a compliment but it’s coming off as a little rough. In his situation less is more.
MB: Is there anybody who you wanted to fight, but the fight hasn’t materialized?
CS: If you were to ask me, at some point in my career, “Yeah I hate these guys. I hate them all equally. I despise these guys.” But I’ve had a long career and I’ve been able to get in there with them. Chuck Liddell seems like a perfectly nice guy, but I’ve always wanted to whip Chuck’s ass. I’m not calling out a dinosaur—just answering your questions. I wanted to fight Chuck 20 years ago. I don’t want to fight him today. Fedor doesn’t really fit on that list—he was two different weight classes up. I was a middleweight and he was a heavyweight. There was no chance it was gonna happen. I was fighting in North America and he was fighting in Asia. It was never gonna happen. But I can tell you it’s legitimately the only fight of my life I’ve ever been excited for. I have many emotions when it comes to fighting but never excitement. I can’t wait.
MB: Is there anything that I didn’t ask that you want to say or get off your chest?
CS: Nah I think I got it all out there. October 13, Paramount network. The former Spike TV. Fedor and I. Check it out.