Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Chael Sonnen stopped by the Globe last Thursday to talk about his upcoming fight with former champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, which will headline UFC’s return to Boston on Aug. 17.
The outspoken light-heavyweight had plenty to say about a variety of topics, including his upcoming bout, his place in the UFC landscape, and the role of government in sport.
Boston.com: First off, congrats on your recent marriage. I heard on the “Steve Austin Show” that you got your wife’s phone number by taking her phone and putting your number in it. Is that your best pick-up move?
Chael Sonnen: Close. I took her phone and then called myself so that it pops up. It’s foolproof, I’m 1-0. It’s 100 percent. And, I didn’t steal that – I created that. If anybody tells you that they did that move, they’re stealing my move.
That’s hilarious. Now, moving on to your upcoming bout with Rua, you’ve been noticeably quiet with the trash-talk leading in to this fight. What are your thoughts on him?
He’s a true legend because of his accomplishments, not because of his age. A lot of times, guys get this instant assignment to legend status – which just means they’re old. And most of the guys they call legends sucked. They just came along when nobody was doing the sport, they won a few matches. But he’s a real one. He’s incredible.
Rua has been known to get into some bloody wars, like his 2011 Fight of the Year bout with Dan Henderson. How do you see your fight with him playing out?
Yeah, that’s just the way it goes with Shogun. There’s really no other way to beat him. I’m not going to submit him and I’m not even going to go for a submission. And knocking him out has never really been proven to be effective.
So you’re expecting to grind him out with your wrestling?
I’m going to try to do that. I’m not expecting him to fall down, he’s been in there a lot. He’s fought wrestlers like Mark Coleman and he couldn’t get him down. Kevin Randleman struggled to get him down. So he knows how to stop takedowns, but there’s a lot of other ways to win a fight.
Now you’ve become one of the big personalities in the UFC…
Biggest. Biggest draw, highest paid. Not that I am in it for the money, but that’s a fact.
Since you’ve started making waves, other fighters, such as UFC women’s champ Ronda Rousey, have started to become more vocal to get bigger fights. How much does a fighter’s personality matter when it comes to making fights?
You have to understand, MMA isn’t popular. Some people say it is – it’s not. MMA fails everywhere. The UFC is popular. We have a tremendous PR arm, we have a tremendous marketing arm, and Dana White understands that. So, now there’s an interest in the fight. Take football for example – that is so mind-numbingly boring. You’ve got seven minutes of action in a four and a half hour game. But, if there’s a reason why I should be watching these two, and every now and then there is, when the coaches who used to coach against each other and now they’re split, or they’re brothers and they got their own teams and are playing – if there’s some kind of a reason, I can stomach 30 or 40 minutes of that torturous sport. Fighting is the same way. I’m not going to get up and leave my seat to walk outside because there’s a fight going on. But if I got a reason to I will. If I know who’s out there fighting and I know what they’re fighting over, maybe I will go get a seat. So that’s up to the fighters. And anybody who talks their way into a fight – good for them. If they created interest, they can get a fight. And Dana White said repeatedly, “I put on the fights that the fans want to see.” And fighters go to Dana and say, “Will you give me a fight?” I don’t go to Dana and ask for a fight. I go to the fans and then I ask the fans to go to Dana, the way that Dana has told us he does it. But a lot of fighters don’t listen. When the boss talks, you got to listen.
One big issue in MMA these days is that the state of New York remains the only place in North America that hasn’t legalized the sport. What are your thoughts on the government’s role in sports?
There is no government in the world – that isn’t communist – where a government oversees amateurs, and that’s now happening in the US. I’m from Oregon. I support our Oregon commission, I work with the Oregon commission, but the reality is, a commission, a government agency, should not oversee amateur athletics. When Congress calls baseball players before them, I would never vote for my congressman again if he was part of that. And there were congressmen that acted like they did something because they called these baseball players before them. You kind of scratch your head and go, it doesn’t work that way guys. You got to have better things to do than sport. I completely support our boxing and wrestling commissions – they’ve now extended to mixed martial arts commissions – but that isn’t my point. My point is more for the amateurs. A boxing commission always means professional, they are not allowed to oversee amateur boxing, that’s in the statutes. You can not oversee an athlete training for an Olympic sport. That excludes mixed martial arts because it’s not in the Olympic games yet. It’s a bit of a sophisticated argument. I support it, I like it. We only fight in places where there are commissions. We are the only sport regulated by the government though. There’s no other sport besides fighting that’s regulated by the government. Whether that’s appropriate or not, 49 different governors have signed on and said it is, but who am I to say that it’s not?
Following your first fight with Anderson Silva at UFC 117, you had a few problems with the California State Athletic Commission with regard to your use of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT). Have you had any issues with the Massachussetts commission?
That got accepted on the record. They had a meeting. But, I never broke a rule anywhere. In California, they said that your T to E ratio [testosterone to epitestosterone] was high. Well it was! I was on testosterone. That gap is your ratio. All that tells you is what they already knew, that I was on testosterone. They didn’t understand their own test. They go, “No, your levels are way too high, you’re 17 to 1.” It’s like, guys, I could be 1700 to 1, I’m still within the legal limit. You don’t understand your own test. So they give me six months [suspension] instead of a year. The referee that night is now in prison and that executive director is back home in Washington state and has been fired. But these are the guys that I’m working with. This is what you get when you deal with government.
So I sit before the six person commission, doesn’t know their own rules, and anytime I say that I feel like I’m being condescending. But here’s the reality: They don’t know their own rules. I can go one by one and say what’s on page three. It says right there that testosterone is legal. You brought me in here for taking a legal substance called testosterone. Page three of your rules says its legal, what am I doing here? Oh we didn’t know, we didn’t see page three. So you kind of sit there and scratch your head. It’s the blind leading the blind. So what do I do? I can take them to court and sue them, but now I’ve got to sit out. I don’t get my license back until the court case is over. So they really got you and it’s very inappropriate.
But it’s not just the boxing and wrestling commissions that does this, we see this in all walks with government. We are seeing this with the government officials in New York that aren’t legalizing it. Look, if you don’t want to legalize, then just don’t. But don’t come out and lie about why you’re not. There was a woman that came out, a state senator in New York, that said a UFC commentator had made unflattering remarks towards women, so they will not be legalizing that anytime soon. I’m sitting there going, when did that become the litmus test? So if I find an employee with Coca-Cola that made an unflattering comment, you’d take Coca-Cola out of your city? Do you realize how insane that is? What a violation of First Amendment rights, how overstepping that is. But these are the same people that eventually advance to Washington, D.C., that oversee our health care, our Social Security, our children’s education, what they have for lunch, national defense – these are the same knuckleheads.Matt Juul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MattchidaMMA.