When Chael Sonnen first broke into the middleweight title picture, he did so using a quick tongue and a blatant disregard for the truth. He would try his best to convince anyone who would listen that he was undefeated, despite double digit losses on his record.
This worked to serve his purpose, of course. After a few victories, he was awarded a title shot against Anderson Silva at UFC 117 in Aug. 2010. He talked more trash in the lead up to that bout than every one of the champion's previous opponents combined. And when the fight came, he almost went out and backed it up, dominating for four and a half rounds before falling to a triangle choke.
Later, he would claim a misunderstanding of the rules. His performance was enough to generate interest in a rematch, so he went back into full blown pro wrestling mode, cutting promo after promo on "The Spider," truth be damned.
He made claims that he thought his tap signaled the end of the round, not the fight. He said he was the true champion because he punched Silva over 300 times when all the Brazilian did was throw his legs up for a few seconds. In his world, he was king and his foe merely a peasant.
Naturally, this helped lead to the rematch that took place at UFC 148 last night (July 7, 2012) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Again, Sonnen spit venom in the months before what the promotion called the biggest fight in its history.
Then, just like before, he lost. He was stopped via strikes in the second round, leaving little doubt that Silva is the better fighter between the two.
What came as a pleasant surprise, though, was his reaction in the immediate aftermath, both in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan inside the Octagon and at the post-fight press conference.
Sonnen owned it. He owned his loss, he owned up to his own shortcomings and he owned up to the fact that Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter on Earth today.
He was the picture of class.
That's not even what makes his candor so refreshing. Whereas the first fight was clear cut, the rematch was dripping with controversy. Silva has faced accusations of greasing, illegally grabbing Sonnen's shorts, and illegally kneeing him in the face while he was down on the mat.
The media even served up a great big softball for Sonnen, hoping he might bite. But he didn't. He stayed as classy as could be.
On Silva grabbing his shorts:
"Yeah, Anderson grabbed my trunks but I grabbed his right back. It goes both ways. We can't sit and nit pick some of that stuff. It's a two man sport. It's kind of like moving the chains in football, it evens itself out. What goes around comes around. Anderson grabbed my shorts tonight, I'll grab someone else's shorts down the road."
On the knee on the ground:
"You know, I don't make those decisions and I hate those rules anyway. You know, I'm an old school guy before we had rounds and weight classes and all that stuff. We're in a lot better spot now, I don't propose we should go back to that but I don't care about legal or illegal. I could see him, I could see it coming. That's just the way it goes."
On making peace with Silva and being invited to a barbecue after the fight:
"That's the way you deal with combat. You always shake hands and you always leave it in the Octagon, or in the ring, or on the mat. Those are the rules and I follow those same rules. That was great that he did it, it was very nice of him. Man, the Brazilian fans have it down right. They back their guy. North American is the only country in the world where we don't do that, and that's fine. But I really admire the Brazilian fans, including when I'm getting booed on the way in. I should be getting booed when I'm taking on their guy."
On how grateful he is for the chances he was given and what's next:
"I really believe if you're going to be in this company and you're going to take up a spot that you gotta be chasing a championship. Don't be there just to be there. There are plenty of young guys that can come in and get their opportunity. I had my chance and then I got it again. I'm not going to ask for anything. I'm grateful for it. I'll make those decisions later. But I will not hang around not for one day to blend in. It's either to be the world champ or move on and do something else."
This isn't to say Sonnen won't change his tune sometime down the road, especially if a third fight is on the table. You might think even the idea of that is silly but the UFC is in the business of making money, above all else, and Silva vs. Sonnen 3 would make a lot of it.
Either way, Sonnen deserves to be lauded for how he reacted to this loss, the most devastating of his career.