Chael Sonnen knows exactly what he will be up against on Saturday night.
Whereas Sonnen was reluctant to say anything complimentary about longtime middleweight champion and top pound-for-pound talent Anderson Silva prior to his encounters with “The Spider,” Sonnen has openly praised light heavyweight king Jon Jones ahead of their UFC 159 headliner.
While many have pined for a Silva-Jones super-fight in recent times, Sonnen believes that Jones should be regarded as the superior combatant.
“Here’s the reality with Anderson: I stomped that guy. You can pick up his little arm as many times as you want and call him the winner, but the fact is I whipped his ass for 30 minutes,” Sonnen said during Monday’s media conference call. “He got the jump on me for less than 30 seconds. He never knocked me down; I fell down. Anderson’s the best pound-for-pound, but I’m the best round-for-round.
“I’ve got three 10-8 rounds in my entire career, and they’re all against Anderson Silva. If you think Jon and Anderson are close, I will run through Jon because I ran through Anderson. I don’t think they’re close. I think Jon is considerably better than Anderson. Sometimes I hear I don’t deserve this fight or I’m not the right guy, but then I hear Anderson could beat [Jones]. You’ve got to be kidding me. I stomped Anderson Silva twice.”
In Jones, Sonnen must now face a 25-year-old champion whose only career loss came via controversial disqualification. “Bones” responded to that 2009 setback by winning his next eight fights, capturing the light heavyweight title from Mauricio Rua two years ago and defending the belt successfully four times so far.
During Monday’s call, Jones was asked to explain how it would feel to fight in his home state of New York should MMA become legal there. Jones stated that it would mean a lot to him to walk in the footsteps of revered pugilists like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson and compete at Madison Square Garden -- the venue Jones called the Mecca of fighting.
Later, Sonnen used Jones’ examples of fistic greatness to illustrate his own opinion of the current UFC light heavyweight champion’s abilities.
“As great as Jon is, I don't think he understands how good he is. For him to pay tribute to Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali earlier was a very nice thing for him to do. The reality is Jon Jones could up beat Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali in the same day,” said Sonnen. “When he says he wants to be the best ever -- news flash buddy, you are the best.
“As far as tying Tito Ortiz [in successful light heavyweight title defenses], maybe Tito Ortiz had a couple more wins, but he didn't have the competition you’ve faced,” Sonnen continued. “I’m not going to degrade Jon or what he’s done. He’s a world champion. He’s the best in the weight class, and he’s the best the weight class has ever seen. So, yeah, there's a lot of pressure. This is a tough guy in a tough environment. That's the sport.”
Though Sonnen and Jones traded barbs last fall after initially being cast against each other as coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17, the two co-existed cordially during the show’s taping and focused on the development of their respective teams. Though Sonnen admitted that his opinion of the champion was altered quickly after interacting with him face-to-face, that development has not stifled Sonnen’s desire to walk out of the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., with championship gold around his waist.
“As far as my perception of Jon, it changed in about 30 seconds. He's a good guy. He’s a very nice guy. I hear people that insult him a lot, but this guy is a world champion. This guy’s achieved what everybody else has dreamed of. I think people should copy Jon more than attempt to correct him,” said Sonnen. “He cared a lot about his team. He took coaching very seriously and he was on time every time. He inspired a bunch of guys who really needed it. I cared about every one of those guys, whether they were on Jon’s team or mine. I got to know all the fighters, and they looked up to him, and he was there for them. I think he should be credited for that. He's a nice person. As far as a competitive standpoint, I think I can beat him.”