By Matt Larkin
Dana White recently made a bold statement about UFC middleweight contender and wrestling dynamo Chael Sonnen. White claimed he’s “never seen anyone who can talk like this guy can since Muhammad Ali. Seriously. Since Muhammad Ali – the stuff that just comes right off the top of his head, and is hilarious. And you don’t know what’s real and what’s not real.”
I don’t want to join the Sonnen/Ali debate at the moment. Instead, I’d like to latch on to the end of White’s comment. We don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. That’s what interests me so much about Chael Sonnen. As much as he’s developed a villain persona – it’s hard not to when you’re busted for banned substances and money laundering – I wonder how much of his brash personality is the real Chael.
In fact, I’d go as far as staking a claim that Sonnen is not the bad boy he builds himself up to be and is instead simply one of the sport’s hardest-working promoters. It’s true that he says utterly shocking things – about the Nogueira brothers and the nation of Brazil, for example. And he’s made his share of bizarre and often disrespectful talk-show appearances. But consider these pieces of evidence that it may be an act:
1. He never trash talks about his friends. Look at Brian Stann and Mark Munoz, Sonnen’s most recent conquest and his upcoming opponent. Sonnen has personal relationships with both and made a point of not only saying nothing bad about them, but singing their praises (in Stann’s case).
2. He showed a nice- guy side at UFC 136 with an 11-year-old boy. The boy’s father published a heartfelt defense of Sonnen, chronicling how Sonnen took his son behind the scenes of an event, introduced him to fighters, signed autographs, posed for photos and took him to the section where the fighters sit as spectators. The story is actually backed up with video evidence (in a blog in which Sonnen is inadvertently seen and heard with the boy in the background). What’s most interesting about it is that the UFC made no attempt to publicize it, almost as if it didn’t want news of Sonnen being benevolent to get out and tarnish his villainous image.
3. He has reportedly turned down the latest opportunity to coach The Ultimate Fighter. Why would Sonnen, the mouth of all mouths, refuse the ultimate chance to have the spotlight to himself? My theory: because he’s actually a nice guy. He’d be exposed as a good coach and be seen genuinely helping fighters.
The evidence is circumstantial at best – but I believe Sonnen is a normal guy behind the scenes who simply plays the bad guy, just as a WWE wrestler does. If he was truly a villain, we wouldn’t find contradictory examples of him being a nice guy. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Dana White and the UFC were in on it.
Whether he’s for real or not – I say keep up the good work, Chael. At least in MMA, there isn’t a better mouth today.