Chael Sonnen has risen to fame by being a cocky and brash fighter who is great at selling his fights through the media.
His mouth has gotten him into trouble though as his lack of a filter has seen him advise kids to shoot and stab people, insult people who live in Brazil, and he boasted for months about being a UFC champ despite clearly tapping out to Anderson Silva.
Sonnen hasn’t always been known for having a big mouth or having the outlandish personality of a pro wrestler.
He was a state champion wrestler at West Linn High School and an All-American wrestler at the University of Oregon, who went on to qualify as an alternate for the 2000 Olympics. While lofty accomplishments, the UFC is filled with fighters who have decorated resumes and it’s tough to stand out.
Hence the creation of the persona that has helped him rise to fame, notoriety and wealth.
“I do not agree that there is any persona whatsoever,” Sonnen told Sports Illustrated when they asked him when he decided to adopt the WWE-style routine he now regularly employs. “I’m surprised you said that. I’m not sure where that’s coming from. What [you] see is what they get with me.”
A fight fan only needs to go back a few years to notice Sonnen’s personality is something new and hasn’t always been there. During an interview with UFC Connected in 2009, Sonnen lacked the brash personality he is now famous for.
So what changed? A big slice of humble pie was served up to Sonnen back in 2009. He returned to the UFC after Zuffa bought the lesser-known World Extreme Cagefighting organization and absorbed its higher weight classes. His return to the UFC didn’t go well as his first fight was a loss via submission via a triangle choke by Demian Maia.
The UFC had an event scheduled for Portland that August and since it was in his hometown he wanted on the card. A month before the fight one of the light heavyweights on the card withdrew with an injury. Sonnen figured he might as well volunteer to be the replacement but when he texted UFC matchmaker Joe Silva offering to fill in on the Portland card he received a three-word response: “Who is this?”
Sonnen realized that if he wanted to fight for UFC championships and make a lot of money he needed a shtick and persona that resonated with fight fans. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. Heck, if you could get a big pay raise at work by being a big mouth, wouldn’t you do it? I know I would.
Throw into the mix that Sonnen has always been a contrarian and this change in public perception was a natural one.
So this weekend when you’re listening or watching clips of Sonnen running his mouth take it with a grain of salt. He’ll deny it’s part of a shtick, but the talented fighter didn’t always rely on his mouth, he just needed a way to become famous and stick in the UFC.
While the schtick may have grown old, it’s tough to blame Sonnen for sticking with it when it’s gotten him fights against Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and a spot headlining the fight card this weekend in a fight against Maurício Rua.
Oh, and the money he has made the past few years isn’t too bad either.