Chael Sonnen remembers his infamous (and oft-memed) encounter with Wanderlei Silva on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) like it was yesterday.
Sonnen and Silva’s blood feud came to a boiling point while coaching opposite teams on TUF: Brazil 3 in 2014. A pre-weigh-in altercation turned physical when Sonnen took down an advancing Silva, leading to a pull-apart brawl.
“I kept looking at the cameramen and the director, and I was like open the door and let the guys come in,” Sonnen laughed in a new interview with UFC.com. “This is getting heated. I wasn’t smart enough to understand that, yeah, that’s what they wanted. They kind of wanted some of those moments. You got to understand from my perspective this is not the first time he put hands on me, so I was very cautious.
“A lot of people will say let the other guy throw the first punch; my dad did not believe in that at all,” he explained. “He said the fight begins as soon as they’re within arms’ reach. There’s a confrontation and they get within arms’ reach, they just started the fight. You don’t have to wait for anything.”
As it would turn out, the famous phrase blurted by Sonnen just before pushing Silva away, “I can’t let you get close” that now litters Twitter and YouTube comments on an hourly basis wasn’t in jest. Sonnen wasn’t mocking Silva (at that moment); he was instinctively acting on advice he had heard many years ago.
The encounter spawned the iconic “I can’t let you get close” line, and apparently did quite a bit for Sonnen’s reputation.
“I got to tell you, I got more street cred for winning that fight in flip flops and I never really understood it because I’m used to getting in fights barefoot,” Sonnen said. “Flip flops were a step up from what I’m used to.
“One of the producers told me, ‘You know, I watched what happened and we thought about editing it out just making it go away because it’s such a black eye moment,’” he revealed. “He said, ‘Chael, there’s just something very compelling about two fighters fighting when they’re not supposed to fight.’”
Sonnen and Silva never actually fought in UFC; however, they eventually settled their rivalry Bellator 180 on June 24, 2017, with Sonnen winning a unanimous decision.
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