The funny thing about this season: Chael Sonnen is making it difficult to hate him.
His pep talks to his team feel sincere and inspiring. He does a twist of the Hoosiers scene measuring the height of each basket, telling his fighters about a researcher finding people had no trouble walking across a 2×4 when it’s down on the ground but unwilling to do it when it’s suspended between two ladders. It’s not the fight making you nervous, he says — it’s the environment, with “Uncle Dana” watching.
While he drops the occasional Muhammad Ali rhyme (“How you gonna deal with the team of steel?”), he isn’t trash-talking. He and Jon Jones have had a cordial relationship throughout. They agree far more than they disagree. (We’ll see if that changes when the time comes to pick the wild cards.)
He’s impressed with Team Jones’ Bubba McDaniel, praising him for running on his day off and saying he wanted to push for a wild-card slot for whoever faces him.
This week, he called on his cool friends to help out. He got Ronda Rousey on the phone to talk with a smitten Kelvin Gastelum, promising to come out to Vegas to teach a session if he upsets Bubba McDaniel. (He does, and she calls back again while his teammates tease him.)
More surprisingly, he brought in Mickey Rourke, who has been a bit more successful as an actor than he was a boxer but is eager to tell stories of dealing with adversity. “Discipline into my life came very late,” he says to an attentive group of fighters.
In today’s MMA Fighting live chat, Luke Thomas said we may be seeing the real Sonnen now that he has talked and postured his way to comfortable positions as an analyst who is getting his third title fight. He no longer needs to do the act.
The counterargument to that would be that Sonnen did some bad stuff that wasn’t part of the act. His non-UFC career led him to court. He had a muddled testosterone-therapy case that may have affected the performance against Anderson Silva that vaulted him up the UFC respectability ladder.
But if that’s in the past, and this is “the real Sonnen” with a bit more maturity and responsibility, then a lot of people are going to like him.
Oh, and then his fighter upset Bubba. Not a bad fight at all, though Bubba broke down in tears of disappointment afterward. Kelvin, blasted by Josh Sannan as having “the worst diet in the house,” looked solid on his feet and terrific on the ground. After a first round that featured more sweeps than the 1-vs-8 matchups of the NBA playoffs (“Quit floppin’ around!” yells Sonnen from the corner), Kelvin established better control in the second round and eventually sunk a deep rear naked choke on the startled veteran.
Sonnen called it the best fight of the tournament so far, again complimenting Bubba. “One more for the bad guys,” he says, still willing to play the heel even if he isn’t acting like one.
We didn’t see much in the house other than an entertaining game of charades. Bubba didn’t participate, opting to stare at the fire and reflect on his troubled youth. “The law sometimes doesn’t agree with me.”
The next fight is Tor Troeng (Sonnen) vs. Josh Sannan (Jones). Sonnen says they made the matchup because everyone else in the house is scared of them. Everyone’s also scared of Uriah Hall. Maybe they should just let Hall fight the Troeng-Sannan winner?
But earlier in the episode, we see that all is not well with the show’s favorites. Samman is dealing with a few injuries to his finger and knee, and he asked the Team Jones coaches not to pick him next if Bubba gains control for the team. Jones appreciates the communication but worries that the better fighters are starting to dictate things on the team.
And in the scenes from the next episode, Josh is describing a nasty hamstring injury in his past. Over on Team Sonnen, Uriah Hall is falling into the old way of annoying TUF teammates, punching too hard in training. Ouch.