Fans that tuned into the UFC Fight Night 30 preliminary fight card from Manchester, England saw a familiar figure in the corner of middleweight competitor Luke Barnatt. That man was Chael Sonnen, who cornered Barnatt during his Fight of the Night victory over Andrew Craig.
The UFC, having Sonnen in England for the Barnatt fight, gave Sonnen some time before the event's weigh-ins to take questions from the fans. In an hour long back and forth, Sonnen offered his opinion on a variety of topics.
Since re-joining the UFC in 2009, Sonnen has complied a record of 6-4. The first of his four defeats came in his first fight back with the promotion after spending three years competing for other organizations. In that fight, he was submitted by Demian Maia. Sonnen's next three losses all came when he was fighting for UFC gold. Sonnen lost twice to UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, and once to UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Sonnen made it clear that his goal has always been to wear a UFC championship belt, no matter the weight division:
I really think that's the only point to our sport. When I started this, there was no money or fame; it was just about winning the championship. It was just about intrinsic value and trying to chase your own goals. For me, that is the world championship.
As far as the weight, when I started we didn't even have weight classes; it was everyone against everyone, so 185 (pounds) or 205 (pounds), that's only 20 pounds, that's basically the same thing for me.
With his recent history of losses in title fights, it may be a while before Sonnen gets another shot at gold. The other thing delaying that next title shot is the fact that he knows who his next two opponents are going to be.
Sonnen will meet Rashad Evans at UFC 167 on November 16, and then he will face Wanderlei Silva following a coaching stint on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. If a title fight is not in the cards after those matchups, Sonnen would be interested in facing Vitor Belfort:
I've been trying to fight Vitor for a long time now. I think Vitor is probably the second scariest guy in the UFC right now, right under Jon Jones, but I think he's beatable. I think I can beat him, and I don't care either way, I'm going to go punch him in the face repeatedly.
I think Vitor has always been good, and I just got done training with Dan Henderson, and that last time I worked out with Dan Henderson is before the first time he fought Vitor. He whipped Vitor. He dominated him. They went out, and they fought hard, but Dan dominated that fight. Dan is better now then he was back then. I don't think Vitor is better now, I just think he has a different haircut.
As for the opponent he definitely has a time and date to face, Rashad Evans, Sonnen offered the following:
I can beat Rashad, but he can beat me too. When I look at him, the first thing I thought about the Rashad fight was ‘Man, I can beat him, but I don't know how.' It's just one of those matches where we're just going to have to go out and do it.
Dan Henderson just fought him. Every time I have a fight I call Dan Henderson and ask him, ‘Can I beat this guy?' Since I was 20-years old, it didn't matter if I said I was taking on King Kong, Dan Henderson has said, ‘Yeah, you're going to kick his ass.' I asked him if I could beat Rashad, and he said, ‘Possibly,' and he had just gotten out of the ring with him.
Following the Evans fight, Sonnen will head to Brazil to work on the aforementioned season of The Ultimate Fighter. Those that think Sonnen will use the show as a vehicle to promote himself or his fight with his opposing coach; Sonnen offered the following:
When I raised my hand to say I wanted to be a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, that did not mean that I am going to go on and promote myself or promote a fight against that knucklehead Wanderlei, I'm going on to coach. I'm going on to help these young men in whatever capacity I can. I will bring in the best coaches. We will be there on time, every day, and do the best we can to help their experience. This is their show. If it were my show I would have to have the courage to go get in the ring, but I don't. I have the courage to go stand by the guy and yell instructions at the guy that's getting in the ring. This is for them.
Sonnen also said he had high hopes that the former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva would participate, in some form on TUF: Brazil:
Anderson Silva will be welcome. Whether he is on my side or Wanderlei's side, he needs to be present. He is looked up to in that country. This is for those young men that are scratching and clawing, and trying to break through in an industry that is very hard to do, and to give them their best experience. I think that they look up to Anderson Silva. I know that Anderson Silva has a lot of tools. I trust that he is a good communicator, and he should be present, and he will be asked by my side.
Sonnen's fighters on TUF may receive the same advice he gave a young man in the crowd who said that his professional MMA debut was on the horizon:
Put your hands up and your chin down. Don't try and look good out there, just try and win.
There's a tremendous cop-out, and it's even done on the UFC level. That is ‘I was putting on a show for the fans.' The fans want to see you try and win. The fans want to see you everything you can do to get your hand raised in a competitive manner. Do not buy into the cop-out of ‘I was putting on a show for the fans.' You are out there to perform, and you are out there to win.
Some fighters, fans, and possibly UFC brass may not agree with Sonnen's take on putting on a show with the fans, but Sonnen has never been one to worry about what others feel about his comments. If Sonnen is asked a question he will answer it, and when he was asked about the recent Cain Velasquez versus Junior dos Santos bout, Sonnen blasted pretty much everyone that was near the Octagon that night, saving his harshest words for Dos Santos' corner:
Junior dos Santos' corner man needs to be cut, period. That was beyond inappropriate, that they sent him back out there. The doctor came in twice. I have no idea what that doctor was looking for. The referee didn't stop the fight, though he should have. Ultimately it defaults to your corner man, who you trust, who is like a father figure, and that guy let Junior dos Santos down, period. The commission licenses these corner men. I don't have the foggiest idea why; maybe they just want their $25. That should be the first corner man that should be suspended, that was wrong what he did.
I would like to say this, you do not stop the fight when your fighter can no longer continue, you stop the fight when your fighter can no longer win. The second that your guy can't win you get him out of there. That fight should have been stopped way earlier. That fight knocked years off Junior dos Santos' life and career, that corner man should be fired.
Sonnen was also asked about his friend and sometime training partner Yushin Okami's recent release from the UFC. Sonnen said he did reach out to UFC president Dana White after Okami's release, and while he may not have liked the answer that he was given, he did understand what it was based on. Sonnen also said that he knows one day that call will come his way:
I did ask him, and Dana came clean. He said, ‘Look, Yushin is an excellent fighter, but he can't win the championship. We gave him a shot. We gave him another number one contender match to get him back there. He's stopping other young talent. He's been with us seven years, and that's just the way that it goes.' The real truth is, and it's hard when that happens. I don't want to see Wanderlei Silva lose his career. I don't like when that happens to anybody, but as fighters we stay in it too long.
Eventually, I will do the same thing. I love this. I am going to stay in it too long, and somebody who I trust is going to grab me and say, ‘Man, you gotta go do something else.' I don't think Yushin has to do something else, I still think he can do the sport, but he's going to have to do it somewhere else for a little while.
Right now, Sonnen seems more than safe in his UFC career. He's fighting Evans in a few weeks, and then it's off to Brazil for TUF, and eventually a bout with Silva. After that, who knows, but it's doubtful that he will be getting that call from White any time soon.