Provide Chael Sonnen with the proper venue and something worthwhile to sell, and the self-proclaimed “Gangster from West Linn” rarely fails to deliver.
Sonnen was in fine form on Tuesday during a press conference in New York to promote Bellator MMA’s upcoming pay-per-view event on June 24, as he threw verbal jabs toward opponent Wanderlei Silva, pound-for-pound legend Fedor Emelianenko and hallowed venue Madison Square Garden during his microphone time.
Sonnen, who is coming off a first-round submission defeat to Tito Ortiz in his promotional debut at Bellator 170 in January, will square off against Wanderlei Silva in the main event of the promotion’s pay-per-view headliner on June 24 at Madison Square Garden. The two men have history, as they famously brawled on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3.” After Silva recovered from a wrist injury sustained during the altercation, they were booked to fight at UFC 175. However, that fight was ultimately canceled after Silva dodged a drug test and Sonnen failed a drug screening leading up to the event. Both men retired, then unretired and Silva has been in Sonnen’s sights ever since.
However, while Sonnen was in attendance at Tuesday’s presser, Silva was visible only via satellite from Brazil. Sonnen, who claimed to be irked that “The Axe Murderer” wasn’t present, wasted little time mocking his rival’s setup.
“It annoys me because I feel like Wanderlei got his way.... It looks like he found a bathroom as a backdrop at the men’s shelter he’s living in in Rio and got somebody to point a cell phone at his face. I find it a little bit weird,” Sonnen said. “You act like you just asked him a question. You just talked to plexiglass with a little bit of technology in it and he gave you an answer. You understand we’re beaming him in via satellite. We could have used that satellite technology to put it somewhere in the world to pick and predict weather patterns and protect people’s lives. Instead we’ve got Wanderlei Silva coming to us from a men’s shelter bathroom in Brazil.”
Sonnen was then asked whether his constant trash talking could ever be an unintended detriment to himself. The former UFC middleweight and light heavyweight title challenger responded in typical fashion, taking another shot at his opponent’s inability to attend the event.
“I don’t give a damn either way. It’s an ass whipping contest for 15 minutes of my life or until he gives up. I think there’s some truth to that. But these are press conferences, you’ve got to bring some attention,” Sonnen said. “Listen, I told the press three weeks ago the next time I see Wanderlei Silva, I’m going to be fighting Wanderlei Silva and he stayed home in Brazil. And that’s just the reality. The last time I saw Wanderlei Silva I fought him on the streets of Brazil. So yes, my words matter. We are back on pay-per-view and daddy is the king of pay-per-view. I’m not coming into the men’s bathroom at the homeless shelter, Wanderlei. You can call me out all you want. I told you I’d be in New York and I will be in New York on June 24, one place you are not.”
Next, Sonnen turned his attention to Madison Square Garden, one of the nation’s most historic sporting venues. Before the sport became legal in New York, the arena was unable to host MMA events. Now, Bellator will travel to the MSG with one of its biggest cards on the heels of the UFC’s November debut there, which was also a blockbuster event topped by a lightweight championship clash between Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez. Sonnen didn’t sound particularly impressed with the setting.
“Here’s what’s going down,” he said. “I’m not sure this is completely on everybody’s radar. First off, the biggest star in the history of the business is coming to New York. And why this is a big deal when you’ve got a city decorated with concrete is beyond me. I don’t come to buildings this old in West Linn. You’ve got a building as old as MSG in my hometown, we’ll tear it down. But this is a big deal for you guys and while everybody else is happy in New York, New York is happy to have me.”
Finally, Sonnen couldn’t turn down a chance to mention Emelianenko, who was seated next to him on the press conference dais. Emelianenko will meet Matt Mitrione in the evening’s co-main event on June 24. They were initially scheduled to square off at Bellator 172, but Mitrione had to withdraw just hours before the bout due to kidney stones. Sonnen reportedly was one of several fighters who offered to face “The Last Emperor” on extremely short notice. Ultimately, Bellator elected to keep the Emelianenko-Mitrione booking.
“Fedor Emelianenko in his crowning moment is going to jerk the curtain before the ‘Bad Guy’ himself walks,” Sonnen said. “Can you imagine being Fedor Emelianenko, getting that call and told you’re coming to MSG, you’re gonna pull the curtain back for Chael Sonnen to make the walk? And while Wanderlei hides out in the bathroom in Rio, when all is said and done I will promise you this, it’s going to be one more in the win column, one more for the highlight reel and one more for the bad guy.”
In closing, Sonnen poked fun at both Silva and Emelianenko in perhaps his best moment of the day. As a reporter attempted to ask Silva a question, Sonnen interjected to offer a what he deemed to be a viable interview alternative.
“Could you imagine the excitement that Fedor must have right now? Could you imagine how bad he wants to reach out and touch the largest arm in West Linn, Ore., that is sitting right next to him? Instead people keep going to Wanderlei Silva,” Sonnen said. “You want to hear from Wanderlei Silva? You want to know how you can get as much tantalizing conversation from something as Wanderlei Silva? Just talk to my shoe. Just ask the shoe, ‘What’s it gonna be like shoe?’
Even in full fight promotion mode, Sonnen couldn’t help but admire his handiwork.
“Do you see the genius at work? Do you see how I did that? That’s not really Wanderlei. That’s my boot, young lady,” Sonnen said. “Do you see why I’m a genius? And meanwhile, Fedor is up here going, ‘Oh my God he’s here. That’s the guy I read about. That’s Chael Sonnen.’ Could you imagine? He’s feeling the same thing you’re feeling. Chills going up and down your spine. Face to face with greatness at this old building decorated with concrete known as MSG.”