Chael Sonnen flattered to be Anderson Silva's farewell fight: 'I didn't know that I mattered to him'

Before YouTube existed, Chael Sonnen waited for it. The ultimate practitioner awaiting his ultimate trade. All those years in the UFC? The years on the wrestling mats before that? Now it seems like it was just a preamble, all designed to give him stories to tell and expertise to lean on as he holds court for his 1.28 million subscribers.

Because, really, what could suit this man more? His whole fight career, he barely stopped talking long enough for them to put the mouthpiece in. Sonnen was born to sit there in his custom-built studio telling stories and cracking jokes into a camera, layering deadpan wit over surprisingly sincere asides until his audience is unsure what’s real and what’s just for laughs.

All of this is to say, a second career as a commentator and tireless content creator (do the math on the number of clips saved to his YouTube page and you'll see it works out to more than 1,000 videos per year) seems to be going incredibly well for Sonnen. So why, at 47 and with a wealth of experience as a grappler but absolutely zero fights as a boxer, would he decide to put on the big gloves and fight his old foe Anderson Silva on Saturday in São Paulo, Brazil?

According to Sonnen, the boxing aspect of this fight is at least partially the result of a negotiation strategy gone wrong.

“I was dealing with Anderson and (Jorge) Masvidal in the same week,” Sonnen said. “All of a sudden Chael P is in high demand, which, I wasn't even interested, but they weren't interested in me either. This wasn't like I was pushing people away. My phone wasn't ringing for those kinds of reasons, but all of a sudden I get a call from Mams (Taylor) over at Misfits (Boxing), wants to do (a fight with) Masvidal. (He asked) ‘Hey, what rule set? I got (Masvidal) on the other line.’ I texted him back, let him choose. That scared him. I said, let him choose. Team Masvidal backed down. I never heard a word again. There was something about that. They backed down. Tried the same thing on Anderson. He didn’t back down. He said, ‘great, boxing rules.’ So here we are.”

Before we go any further, there’s something you should know about any interview with Sonnen. His answers aren’t always meant to be taken literally. They’re meant, first and foremost, to entertain. Sometimes that entertainment even dovetails with the topic at hand. But it can be hard to know what’s supposed to be an accurate representation of the situation and what’s just in there because it sounds good.

This, too, is what makes Sonnen so good at the role he’s crafted for himself at this stage in his life. These days, he’s a professional talker on all things combat sports. Whatever may be the topic of the day — Francis Ngannou’s boxing exploits, Valentina Shevchenko’s refusal to give water to her fighters during practice, roughly 1 million different ways of looking at Conor McGregor — Sonnen can offer an opinion. Those opinions are fun and verbose and memorable. But they’re meant to be enjoyed more than they’re meant to be closely studied and dissected for facts.

That vibe changes a little bit when you get him on the topic of Silva. The two of them have such an extensive history together — two UFC title fights, the first of which will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame this summer, both of them won by Silva — that they're essentially bonded by combat. Seeing them in a boxing match feels a little strange, if only because that format seems to favor Silva so much more than Sonnen. But seeing them meet again later in life, this time more as friendly combatants than the bitter enemies they started as, feels somehow right.

When he realized Silva wanted to fight him for what may or may not be a genuine retirement bout, Sonnen said, he was flattered as well as surprised.

“I didn't know that I mattered to him,” Sonnen said. “I knew that we had some moments together. But in the body of his career, he had moments with other guys. He had title fights with other guys. He had strenuous (fights) and he had the media wanting his attention and he had pay-per-views and he had big paychecks … with other guys. I didn't. I just have him. Every big moment where somebody might come up to me and pay me a compliment, it has to do with him. Whether it was a press conference or it was something said or maybe we met or it was a fight that they came to or they watched on TV, but for me they all tied to him. I fought 51 men. People don't know about the other 50. Everything in my career does tie to Anderson. I didn't know I was special to him.”

Still, Sonnen admitted, when a guy selects you as the opponent for a farewell fight in his home country, you can’t help but realize that he probably didn’t pick you because he thinks you’re going to beat him up.

It’s no secret that striking is Silva’s specialty. While Sonnen became a much better striker over the course of his career, it was still always just something he did in between takedowns.

Silva, meanwhile, has found his second wind in the boxing ring. He’s fought five professional boxing matches, beating Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Tito Ortiz before losing a decision to Jake Paul in 2022. Sonnen’s boxing work has been limited to the gym, and when one of his coaches asked recently if Silva fights out of a southpaw stance, he had to admit he didn’t know.

“I’ve fought him,” Sonnen said. “And I don’t know.”

Under such circumstances, a lot of fans might feel like it would be a win for Sonnen just to last the distance with Silva in this fight. And that would be a nice moment, right? The two of them exchanging punches one last time before ending in an embrace as time expires. That might even count as a kind of victory for Sonnen in a matchup like this.

But then, if he said that’s what he was hoping for, how entertaining would that be? Who’d want to waste a YouTube click on that?

“I don't really care about the rules,” Sonnen said. “I am going to try to beat him. And one thing I don't like, and one thing I will not do and I'm not attempting to now, is to feather the nest for a fall. ‘Oh, I didn't have time to train. Oh, I was only in the room with my son. Oh, boxing isn't my thing.’ I don't care if we're doing a cook-off, it's me versus him. This is my final shot to beat the guy who I've never beaten at anything. He keeps me up at night. He haunts me. I will be devastated if I lose this fight and I will never come to you and tell you what the rules were. I will kick him in the nuts if I have to. I'm going to bring this man down. I got four rounds to do it and mark my words. I will not screw this one up.”

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