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[UFC 117] So really, what is Chael Sonnen's deal?

Three months ago, Chael Sonnen did an interview with Bryan Alvarez & Dave Meltzer where he dismissed any suggestions that his interviews were pro wrestling-style promos:

Uh, well, to answer your question, I did watch pro wrestling growing up.  I've heard that about myself but I don't think I have a pro-wrestling style; y'know, pro wrestling you don't have to touch on realms of reality, you could just say whatever you want.  Uh, I've never done an interview where I didn't answer questions in an honest fashion, never created anything.  So every now and then I have heard that about myself, "Oh, you sound like a pro wrestler," and I don't know if that's a compliment or an insult; I never know how to take it, but I also don't get it, I'm like "Gee, you haven't watched much wrestling, then."  I'm just answering guys' questions, y'know, pro wrestling is staged, you go over a staged interview, you aren't asked any questions, you do what's called a shoot.  I don't know what questions are gonna be asked, I mean right now I don't have the foggiest idea what you're gonna ask me.

He also touched on the topic last week in an interview with Paul Lazenby:

Paul Lazenby: Lately, you've been a human quote machine, trash-talking the champion in interviews that would put most pro wrestlers to shame. Was it a conscious decision to emphasize the verbal game, or have you been doing this all along and people just weren't paying attention?

Chael Sonnen: My interview style now is the same that it's always been, I just didn't have an outlet before. I've always been in this for myself, and I have never liked the competition. I make no apologies for either. If you stick around long enough, people pay attention to you and to what you say. Then after you say what's on your mind, they start demanding that you say MORE things to fill the spaces in their minds/pages/computers where THEY used to have to think. So they ask for more. As a journalist, do you look inside yourself, and at your subject, and do you challenge yourself to find an angle, an idea, a concept that is interesting...and then research it, refine it, edit [it]...or do you just call Chael? Hmmm...what did YOU do, you lazy bastard? But I'm always happy to do my job, which apparently means doing YOURS, too. What worries me is that when I destroy Anderson, and I have to do even MORE interviews with more journalists, I [might] become a boring, self-referential blowhard like Bono or some other smirking 'celebrity' preaching about global warming or the oppression of Tibet or save the Narwhals or whatever, y'know?

Sonnen's interviews have been snowballing into a perfect storm of attention-whoring weirdness.  He goes off on racist, xenophobic, and borderline homophobic (sometimes outright homophobic) rants.  Hell, check out this part of the Lazenby interview, which came right after the above question:

Paul Lazenby: Um...okay...moving on to Silva...he has been destroying some of the best fighters in the world and making it look easy. What do you feel you bring to the Octagon that he hasn't had to deal with before?

Chael Sonnen: He has? He beat a math teacher, a one-legged Canadian, and a few guys who weren't good enough to hold their spots in the company. Who's he beat that's still on the roster? Anderson's flaw is no secret. It's in the bible: "Pride cometh before a fall; and a haughty spirit doth come before destruction." After the fight, Anderson will thank me for doing the Lord's work by destroying that flamboyant, showboating, reactive person inside of him. Remember my previous answer? Anderson's no different than Bono. He's aware of, and a prisoner of, everybody's expectations; so he prances and dances, and does his little jigs, like he used to do his Michael Jackson moondance replete with sparkly jacket and party-favour-quality fedora. He knows who he is. So do I. I have come to beat him, but also, perhaps more importantly, to save him from the gilded cage that everyone's expectations, and his reactions to them, have put him in. The grim, stark reality of losing a bloodbath will re-baptize him, make him a better man, truer to himself and his skills than the silly, ass-shaking fool he's morphed into, because his weak personality created that ass-shaking fool to satisfy everyone but himself. Years from now, when he and I are both retired, he will thank me. In perfect English.

This past week, especially with the comments about Lance Armstrong that he's denied making, it's all come to a head, as he's hit the point where he comes off as either mentally unbalanced or a ridiculous conman worthy of nobody's trust.  Sure, he'd had similar incidents in the past, but invoking Lance Armstrong in the week before a huge fight has shone the spotlight on his antics ever more than before.  More after the jump.

Zach Arnold at Fight Opinion votes conman, but also believes that Sonnen has deluded himself in the process:

Chael Sonnen says stupid things for his own enjoyment and amusement. He does it because he knows the media will react to whatever he says now. He takes pride in the ’shock value’ of the impact of what he says on unknowing chattering heads (like Josh Elliott on yesterday’s 8 AM SportsCenter broadcast).

However, like all good con men, Chael Sonnen does the following:

  • He starts one con, gets people focused on that, and by the time the media is done focusing on the first con he’s already on the second con, and the cycle repeats.
  • He starts to believe his own con and attempts to con his own con. ("Con the Con" sounds as catchy as Suzy Quatro’s "Can the Can" song.)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again about Chael Sonnen — he’s treating his job right now the same way veteran pro-wrestlers look at their life. Everything is a work. Everyone is a mark. Enjoy the reactions to what people have to say to what you say. Start believing your own work to make it more realistic. The more out of control, the more the media will pay attention to you.

Like all good con men, Sonnen knows that he has to stay ‘relevant’ in order for people to listen, which is exactly what he did when he trashed Lance Armstrong. Armstrong has been in the news lately because the US Federal Government is going after him for doping.

Everyone’s a mark and wants to get worked. That’s why Chael gets away with what he does because the ‘fish’ think they are getting some benefit out of it, too.

And when a media member isn’t your mark and playing along, just brush them off and ignore them.

ProMMANow threw the more specific "schizophrenic" into the mix, while Darren Wong of Bleacher Report is taking the "LOL see it's a pro wrestling persona, you just don't get it" stance.

I see Arnold's interpretation as being the most realistic.  Just because Sonnen is being ridiculous on purpose to draw attention to himself doesn't mean that he's not at least a little nuts.  I'd like to avoid pro wrestling examples here, but they're probably the most apropos.  Hulk Hogan has turned his interviews into a can you top this game of telling the most ridiculous lie he can, from Andre the Giant dying days after their Wrestlemania III match (it was close to 6 years later), possibly from being bodyslammed (seriously?) to Andre the Giant (sense a theme?) defecating in a bathtub and nearly filling it up (not humanly possible).  At times, it seems like there's no indication that he knows he's lying, and he lies when it's not necessary.  On numerous occasions, Bryan Alvarez has told the story of Hulk Hogan selling a (worked) knee injury in a secluded area where he could not have had any knowledge that anyone could see him (Alvarez was a good distance away at just the right vantage point).

Paul Heyman is the big name pro wrestling personally most often compared to the classic vision of a non-wrestling conman.  Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch aptly described him in the mid-'90s:

Paul Heyman doesn't spin like a normal person, or even a normal wrestler. Spinning for Heyman  is an art form, a challenge for him to prove that he is smarter than the person to who he is spinning. Creative halftruths, variations of the truth, irrelevant truths, the truth, and lies are all mixed until Heyman has his subject so dazed that he or she just gives in to the avalanche of verbiage or, in some cases, refuses to talk to Heyman anymore.

Heyman's antics in the past have included using a doctor's prescription pad to procure discounted bereavement fares for wrestlers flown in to ECW shows, dodging phone calls from wrestlers while pretending to be his own (identical-sounding) roommate, convincing Chris Candido to charge six figures worth of wrestler airfare onto his personal credit cards, selling advance tickets to shows he knew would never happen because he'd be folding ECW and filing for (corporate and personal) bankruptcy, leaving the fans as low-priority creditors in the process, convincing wrestlers to work for months without pay, and the innocuous, yet incredibly impressive feat of turning the Philadelphia fans on their patron saint Ric Flair.  In terms of severity, Sonnen is closer to Hogan, but when it comes to recklessly dodging the truth when confronted, he's Heyman.

Maybe Sonnen's roommate made the comments about Lance Armstrong.

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