CBSSports.com National Columnist

Sonnen makes nothing fight something with priceless talk

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Hate Mail: No neighborly love here

Until he opened his mouth, Chael Sonnen was going to fight Anderson Silva without me. They were going to slug it out Saturday night for Silva's UFC middleweight championship, but they were going to do so without my $44.99. Shell out close to 50 bucks? For that fight? Not me. Not ever.

Until he opened his mouth.

And now I have to watch Sonnen fight Silva. Look at me here, writing about it in advance. That has never happened. There have been 48 UFC main shows since I showed up at UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio, to rip the sport for its barbarism and instead fell in love with its beauty, but in all that time I've never written about a fight before it happened. It had never even occurred to me to write about one ahead of time.

Until Sonnen opened his mouth.

And now I have to write about his fight with Silva. For one thing, it helps me kill time until Saturday night. I'm jonesing so bad for Sonnen-Silva, I might just print up this story when I'm done, run it through my shredder and snort it.

Because Sonnen opened his mouth.

Trash talk happens in sports, and it happens without fail before a UFC main event. It's what these guys do. They're generating attention and pay-per-view buys, or they're psyching themselves up or distracting their opponent. Whatever their reason, it's silly. Trash-talking is a cliché, and it doesn't register with me.

Until Sonnen opened his mouth. Here's a taste:

"He's got what I want and envy keeps me up at night," Sonnen said. "There can be only one champion. We can't all get along."

Here's another taste:

"He's got a black belt [in Brazilian jiu-jitsu] under the Nogueira brothers," Sonnen said. "I think a black belt under the Nogueira brothers is saying like, 'I got a free toy in my Happy Meal.'"

And another:

"Nobody wants to hear from him anyway," Sonnen said. "I'm shocked that people ask him questions. Who cares what Anderson has to say? You [media] guys are the only fans he's got. There's nobody buying tickets to see this guy, there's nobody tuning into a pay-per-view. I'm the one they want to see. I'm the one they're paying to see. And I really don't know why he's here."

Chael Sonnen claims he will 'retire' champ Anderson Silva in their fight Saturday night. (Photo courtesy UFC)  
Chael Sonnen claims he will 'retire' champ Anderson Silva in their fight Saturday night. (Photo courtesy UFC)    
And another:

"There's never been a guy with earrings who could out-tough me," Sonnen said, "and he's not going to be the first."

Understand, Silva (26-4) is one of the most explosive fighters in the world -- and Sonnen's not. Silva broke Rich Franklin's nose beyond recognition, twice. He turned Chris Leben into a quivering pile of skin. He finished Forrest Griffin with a jab, for God's sake.

As for Sonnen (24-10-1), he doesn't finish anybody. He has just seven knockouts in 35 fights, none since he joined the WEC (and then its parent company, the UFC) in December 2007. Silva is widely recognized as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Chael Sonnen is not widely recognized -- period. But when he opens his mouth, Sonnen talks like he's the bus and Silva is the scared little squirrel. And I'm starting to believe it.

"I stuck my finger in this guy's chest for four years and he fought everybody in the world that wasn't named Chael Sonnen," Sonnen said. "Nobody's challenged Chael Sonnen twice. If you challenge Chael Sonnen to a fight, you will be fighting Chael Sonnen."

And also:

"Anderson," Sonnen said, "you've ducked me for four years and I strongly encourage you to make it four years and one week."

Some of this, Sonnen has said to reporters. Some of this he has said to fans. All of this -- predicting he will beat Silva, and beat him badly -- he has said with the nerve of Namath and the audacity of Ali. But it has come from the mouth of Chael Sonnen, a successful but nondescript fighter from the MMA old school.

An All-American wrestler at Oregon in the 1990s, Sonnen typically tackles his opponent, gets on top and pounds away. When he wins, he wins by decision. When he loses, he loses because the guy on bottom was able to survive Sonnen's ground-and-pound long enough to apply a submission hold. Sonnen has been choked out four times. He has tapped out to an arm bar twice. This is how he fights. Nothing really to see here.

And so I wasn't going to watch it. Sonnen is never spectacular, and while Silva can be, he also can be infuriating -- disrespectful to his opponent and to the fans who paid to watch. Silva ran from two of his past three foes, winning in retreat against Thales Leites and Demian Maia, and was doing the same against Patrick Cote until Cote stumbled and injured his own knee.

The backlash has been small (I demanded a refund from the UFC)) and large: UFC president Dana White has threatened to fire Silva -- even if he still holds the UFC's belt at 185 pounds -- if Silva fights like a jerk again. So Sonnen doesn't fight in an exciting way, and Silva often doesn't fight at all. And I'm going to pay $44.99 for it?

Yes. Because Sonnen opened his mouth.

"This is a one-sided dance," Sonnen said. "I saved Anderson's job. Uncle Dana was going to give him his walking papers [after the Maia fight in April], and I begged him, 'Keep him around. Keep him around for one more fight -- I will retire this guy.'"

Silva has stayed calm, saying many times, "He can say whatever he wants," which has only made Sonnen open his mouth wider.

"He says something stupid [like that] as if he's saying some sort of Nobel Prize-winning statement," Sonnen said. "He truly believes ... that people are tuning in to see a fight, and not see anything else. He really means that. He feels like he's taking the moral high ground. He couldn't be more wrong. Does he know anything about business?"

Give Sonnen this: What he's doing seems to be working. It worked on me, and MMA observers expect it'll work on a lot more people by Saturday night.

"He's saved the promotion -- totally saved it," said MMA analyst Steve Cofield of ESPN 1100 AM in Las Vegas. "If he doesn't push this fight, nobody knows who he is. Anderson Silva alone on a decent card will draw around 400,000 [PPV] buys. But this one might do 700,000. Why? Because Sonnen has talked so much s---."

More, and better, than anyone ever has. Here's your final taste:

"You have to understand -- I could drag Anderson Silva outside the hotel and beat him up any time I want," Sonnen said. "I've made a commitment to wait until [Saturday], and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure millions of people watch me do it."

Count me in. And hurry up.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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