Chael Sonne has no equal on the mic. | Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
1. Chael Sonnen
Simply put, Sonnen changed the game for good. He is the most historically important trash talker in the history of MMA, and he elevated the idea of trash talking to a force that could transform the career of a lifelong mid-carder. His detractors will rightfully note that much of his material was recycled from pro wrestlers like “Superstar” Billy Graham or “Rowdy” Roddy Piper or that it was written for him -- and that is true. Nevertheless, in terms of the sheer quantity and quality of material, nobody else comes close to Sonnen’s level.
Sonnen essentially talked himself into a pair of title fights. Yes, he was the most deserving middleweight available following Anderson Silva’s lackluster win over Demian Maia at UFC 112, but there was zero hype or enthusiasm for the matchup on sporting grounds. Sonnen created it through a scorched-earth campaign of verbal violence that included digs at Silva’s style, a promise to forever remove him from the UFC and insults directed at the entire country of Brazil. He turned himself into an epic heel to Silva’s supporters and a hero to the longtime champion’s detractors.
Sonnen earned his second shot at Silva fair and square with wins over Brian Stann and Michael Bisping, but the same cannot be said for his shot at Jon Jones’ light heavyweight title. UFC 151 crashed and burned due to Dan Henderson’s late injury, a terribly booked lineup and Jones’ unwillingness to fight another opponent on short notice. Sonnen stepped into the breech, rolling into an appearance on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” with material locked and loaded and a demand for the fight at hand. The UFC obliged, placing Sonnen opposite Jones on a season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and creating a high-profile matchup.
It is difficult to overstate Sonnen’s impact. Ben Askren has explicitly mentioned Sonnen as a model for his own career and verbal stylings, and “The Gangster of West Linn” drove home the importance of promotion and trash talking to an entire generation of up-and-coming fighters.
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