By Zach Arnold | August 5, 2010
Chael Sonnen says stupid things for his own enjoyment and amusement. He does it because he knows the media will react to whatever he says now. He takes pride in the ’shock value’ of the impact of what he says on unknowing chattering heads (like Josh Elliott on yesterday’s 8 AM SportsCenter broadcast).
However, like all good con men, Chael Sonnen does the following:
- He starts one con, gets people focused on that, and by the time the media is done focusing on the first con he’s already on the second con, and the cycle repeats.
- He starts to believe his own con and attempts to con his own con. (“Con the Con” sounds as catchy as Suzy Quatro’s “Can the Can” song.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again about Chael Sonnen — he’s treating his job right now the same way veteran pro-wrestlers look at their life. Everything is a work. Everyone is a mark. Enjoy the reactions to what people have to say to what you say. Start believing your own work to make it more realistic. The more out of control, the more the media will pay attention to you.
When Sonnen went after Anderson Silva on Twitter, The Huffington Post promptly went after Sonnen’s comments. Sonnen would later drop out of his political race (state seat in Oregon) and deny that he had a Twitter account… the same Twitter account that UFC used to promote DVD giveaways a couple of weeks later if fans sent Chael a note. Chael now says that ‘he can’t talk about politics’ whenever the subject comes up. (He later claimed it had something to do with past real estate issues.)
Like all good con men, Sonnen knows that he has to stay ‘relevant’ in order for people to listen, which is exactly what he did when he trashed Lance Armstrong. Armstrong has been in the news lately because the US Federal Government is going after him for doping.
So, naturally, Sonnen went after Armstrong but he didn’t just blurt out his name — he went after him in the same context for ‘not taking responsibility’ as he did when he went after Rampage Jackson.
Here’s the full context of what Sonnen said in an interview with Larry Pepe last week. Larry asked Sonnen if what bugs him the most is when guys don’t take personal responsibility and he brought up quotes about Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson. (Sonnen would go on to praise Tito as a great marketer.)
CHAEL SONNEN: “The deal with Rampage is real simple. Look, Rampage screwed up. He committed a horrible crime and it was terrible what he did and he needed to say that. Instead, he took a role as though he was a victim, didn’t get enough sleep and drink too much Red Bull. That is just absurd, you know, that’s just absurd. You just simply can’t spit on me and tell me it’s raining and Rampage in a leadership role that he’s in and with the notoriety and attention that he gets himself, to make like he was the victim was a big turnoff. With that said, I get it. I like Rampage’s interviews. I like his presence. I like his entrance to the cage and his accomplishments are undeniable. He’s a former World champion, he’s the only guy to come over from PRIDE and have success in the UFC. You know, that may not be fair if I was to say the only guy, maybe I’d have to rack my brain to find someone else, but he has done a great job and he’s an entertaining guy, so there you go. As far as me being a fan of his actions and the way he behaves and the way he acts, no.”
LARRY PEPE: “So, Chael, on a serious note, would it be fair to say that maybe the thing that gets under Chael Sonnen’s skin is when people don’t take responsibility? You know, you mentioned that with Rampage. You mentioned that with Jon Layne and then a large part that’s your issue with Anderson.”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Uh, you know, I don’t know if that would be fair or not, I’d suppose I’d have to think about it. I don’t know. Everybody’s got the right to get bugged but you’ll deal with some people that just have never have been wrong, they’re never wrong their whole life. You got to step back and say listen, OK, do you really think that’s a fair statement? Is that really, as an objective person, you’ve never been wrong? You’ve never made a mistake? I’ve never really understood that. So that one’s always a little bit confusing, I don’t know if that actually pertains here, I wouldn’t say that it’s the #1 thing that gets under my skin, but you know… when you get an opportunity, it’s important to be thankful and when you screw up and you… Take Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong did a number of things, uh… and he gave himself cancer. OK? Lance Armstrong cheated. He did drugs. He gave himself cancer. Well, instead of saying ‘hey, listen, I cheated, nobody else should cheat or you can get cancer,’ he actually made himself the victim and then went out and profited like $15.something million dollars from his ‘hey poor me’ campaign, ‘let’s find a cure of cancer,’ instead of just really coming clean and saying, ‘look, here’s what I did, I screwed myself up and I hope nobody else doesn’t learn from my mistakes,’ so you know you watch these guys and you go, God what a fraud, there’s just fraud after fraud here from Michael Phelps being the pothead to you know you just got to deal with these things and if you’re me, you’re glad you’re in the business you’re in where you can get ‘em in the cage and kick the crap out of them for 25 minutes.”
To understand how Sonnen views the media, take note of comments he made a few minutes earlier in the same interview:
LARRY PEPE: “Well, talking about calling people out, there was your infamous open letter to the fans which included a reference to this interview that you did with I believe it was Jon Lane?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Yes.”
LARRY PEPE: “Right. Now, what was it, did you just feel like there was no place for you in the interview? I mean it was actually a very funny read. But what was it that struck a nerve for you? And you said something about media circling the wagons? So, did somebody say something to you afterwards or what did you say?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Well, here’s the deal. The media wants to contact you for interviews and the media will then charge people to hear the interviews but there’s no pay for the content. So you have these continuous, implied interviews where people will just contact you out of the blue and simply say, ‘when’s a good time to do an interview?’ as though they’re somehow granted your time. And it’s a little bit confusing, BUT… we scratch each other’s back. The media gets the content, we get the exposure, and that’s just the deal we have. Well, Jon Lane sent over a perfectly fine interview. It was a little bit rambling but you can say that about anyone. I gave him a fantastic read. My responses were great. I was proud of them, they were fun to read, it was a crack-up for everybody that saw it. Jon Lane, I had no problem with the questions he asked and I had no problems with the interview. What I had a problem with was that he wasn’t willing to be a willful participant when it put a little bit of egg on his face and what Jon was missing is, hey Jon, don’t focus on the reality of the content, focus on the enjoyment of the content. And if you can’t laugh at yourself a little bit, well who can you laugh at? You know if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re in a world of sorry and that’s where Jon’s at and so I wrote him a number of times and said, Jon, I’ve spent a long time on your interview, you know you took an hour of my life here and I did it for free, I’m expecting you to publish this and he danced around, wasn’t going to publish it. And it’s like, Jon, you need to be a willful participant. Even if it brings a little bit of embarrassment to you, you got to be able to look at that and laugh. That’s a great read and that’s what we’re doing this for, so that people want to read it. DUMMY. And he didn’t seem to get that. I’ve done him a favor, even in the open letter I’ve done him a tremendous favor and if he was a guy that could all laugh at himself and laugh with this and go with it, he’d realize that. I mean, here we are, we did an open letter, everybody’s talking about. I responded to him, everybody’s talking about it. I’m doing this interview with you, you got a circulation, people are going to talk about it. I’m doing him a tremendous favor.”
Translation: If I take a dump on you, be grateful that I gave you my time and name in order for you to get eyes reading your name.
When Sonnen got heat from The Huffington Post on his Twitter comments, he backed away like a coward. When he got heat for his comments about Lance Armstrong, he also backed off from those comments and said that he never commented on Lance Armstrong.
ARIEL HELWANI: “Chael, how you been?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Awesome, buddy. Thank you.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “It’s been an interesting ride for you up to this point. Have you enjoyed it? You know, just getting ready for the fight, the media and just this is some might say the biggest fight of your fight?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “OH, it’s the worst. It’s the worst. Uh… there’s a lot to do and it effects my sleep pattern. I’ve been doing shows on the East Coast at 7 AM, I live on the West Coast so I’m in the studio at 4 AM which means I’m up by 3 AM so it looks like I’m awake. No, it’s been very hard. Yeah.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Has it been a nuisance?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Yeah, absolutely, yeah.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Would you rather have not done all the media and focus on the fight or do you kind of accept the fact that it kind of comes with the territory fighting in the main event?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “No, I love it. I love it. I love nuisances. I love adversity. I love being hurt when I walk to ring. I don’t feel good right now and I love that. I got like a little stomach bug going around. That’s exactly how I want to be.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Yeah, I noticed you saying earlier that you weren’t feeling well. Has that effected you at all? How long have you been dealing with this?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “It came on Sunday. I started feeling it on Friday night. I got it really hard Sunday and I’m already coming out of it. The worst day was Monday, today’s Wednesday, I’m coming out of it. But, uh… yeah, it was a drag. It was hard.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Well, there have been some very big UFC main events this year, but one can make the case for this being the most anticipated one largely in part because of you and all the talk leading up to the fight. Do you feel as though you’ve had to carry the promotion and keep people interested especially after what Anderson did at UFC 112?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Yeah, I mean, it’s the way it should be. Nobody cares about Anderson Silva. Nobody buys his merchandise. he’s the worst-selling PPV draw in the history of the UFC championship division. He doesn’t talk to the fans, he doesn’t talk to the media, he pretends he doesn’t speak English. This is the way it should be. It should be the Chael Sonnen show. I’m the one they’re tuning in to see, I’m the one that’s selling out the arena, not him. So, yeah, I do feel that way, but that is the way it should be.”
(Ratings for the UFC 117 Countdown show were poor, 0.3 range, and business in Oakland is OK but not great.)
ARIEL HELWANI: “You said on the conference call that you haven’t watched tape on him yet. That was like a week and a half ago. Have you watched tape on him yet?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “No, I came here to watch tape and we don’t have Internet in the hotel, so… I’m struggling to try to get a feed and watch it. That’s not to say that I’m not familiar with him, I’ve seen some of his matches. I’ve watched (Dan) Henderson fight with him. I watched Leben fight with him a few years ago. So I’m not going in blind, but in terms of sitting down and being able to study, yeah I’m hoping to be able to do that tonight.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “So, you’re comfortable, though. Is this something that you usually do, you know, two or three days out from the fight, only starting to watch tape on a guy?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Yeah, I mean, you take any advantage you can get. If I could watch tape on him before I would have but I don’t have any tape, so you know, it’s a little bit tough. I still don’t have any tape but I’ll get an internet connection and check him out.”
(This is hilarious because UFC gives out DVDs of past fights to any fighter who requests it for opponents they are facing. I can’t believe he pulled this off with a straight face.)
ARIEL HELWANI: “Have you thought about what life will be like for you once you win the title?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Uh… yeah, a little bit, but I mean, I don’t think anything will change. I mean, I’ll still go home and take care of my dog on Sunday and feed the cat and make sure she’s comfortable and that’s about it. I’ve only got a few friends and they’ll still be my only friends.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “So you said that some of the stuff where, you know, the media obligations are a bit of nuisance. It’s going to get a lot more if you win on Saturday night.”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Yeah, you know, that’s a nuisance you want, though, I mean that’s a problem you want to have. So, I mean, we got a country at war. I’m certainly not complaining about my situation but yeah, the media can be tough, you know. Getting your game face on and doing interview after interview. It’s a lot of the same questions, media wants different answers, I’m going ‘guys, it’s like music, there’s only so many notes here,’ you know, if you ask the same questions, I can only dance to that tune so many times so… yeah it’s a burden but you know again I like burdens and nuisances. I like problems.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Well, then final question. Just to ask because you talk about the answers, anything from you know Abu Dhabi till this point that you have regretted saying?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Uh… yeah… a couple things. Regarding the fight?”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Well, maybe in general. I’ll give the forum right here.”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Well, fight-wise, no. I assume you mean towards him. No. I would never apologize to Anderson, in a million years I wouldn’t apologize to that guy. I’ve held back! I’ve been nothing but a gentleman to Anderson Silva. I offered him a way out. That treaty needed to be signed and faxed back to me on Sunday, he missed it by three days. Now we’re going to go to war.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Well, you said nothing on the fight side. A lot of people took offense to what you said about Lance Armstrong recently to Larry Pepe. Can you elaborate on that?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “I never did an interview with Larry Pepe.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “The Lance Armstrong stuff you never said?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “I never spoke of Lance Armstrong ever.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Of Lance Armstrong?”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Never. Not until just now.”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Great, now we can clear it up.”
CHAEL SONNEN: “Perfect.”
Larry Pepe, whose radio show we have touted for a while on the site, understands Sonnen’s act and laughs at the spectacle. In this interview with Steve Cofield of Yahoo Sports, Pepe further elaborates his feelings on Sonnen’s comments.
STEVE COFIELD: “All right, we’re back here on Yahoo Sports and we wanted to catch up with a guy, Larry Pepe, who I like and is always prepared and he always get good stuff out of guys and he got some great stuff this week out of Chael Sonnen. But Larry, I gotta tell you, they asked Chael Sonnen about some of his comments especially on Lance Armstrong today at Workout Day in Oakland and Chael was like, Larry Pepe? I don’t know who that is, I’ve never talked to Larry Pepe.”
LARRY PEPE: (laughter) “Well, listen, you know, obviously if you watched the 117 Countdown or if you’ve listened to my show where I’ve interviewed Chael five times, obviously he knows me. Maybe I’m just that forgettable, I hope not, but… you know, listen, Chael is a master at saying outrageous things, promoting, and it kind of makes me think when I had him on this last week we talked about the whole Jon Lane thing and he talked about how, you know, he did this interview and he gave all these wise-ass answers and he thought it was hysterical and it was a fun read and it was a comedic read and he was upset that Jon did not want to be what he called a willing participant. So, I’m going to be a ‘willing participant’, I’m pretty sure Chael knows who I am, at least I hope so, and at least I have some evidence that he knows, but… thank you Chael. Because I’m going to hire this guy as my publicist because I wouldn’t be talking to you if he didn’t make those outrageous comments.”
STEVE COFIELD: “Sometimes he twists things so much, like dude we can go back and find things out that he said, I mean there are records of this stuff and you know like you said, you’ve done five interviews with him. Even the Twitter thing… like, he said the same thing he said on Twitter to me, Iole, and other people in interviews like we can go back and get it, Chael, you can’t just say it was never said. Don’t you think it’s weird?”
LARRY PEPE: “I’m not sure what the method to that madness is except, you know, another thing I just keep going back to in the interview. There was a point where I was talking to him about Ed Soares and he said and he seemed almost sincere and I say almost because you’re never 100% sure, but he said you know we’re talking about this guy again, he’s coming up in yet another interview and I think he has this certain respect for an ability to self-promote and I just think Chael’s going home at night and laughing his ass because we’re going to talk about all the outrageous things that he says even if they’re provable.”
STEVE COFIELD: “No, I think it was a little disservice and a little lazy in some ways on the quote that was pulled on the Armstrong comments. First of all, you have to put it in the context it came in, which was a good lead-in on Rampage Jackson which is very quotable as well. On the Armstrong comments themselves, are those the kind of comments when you heard them, yeah, they’re lightning rod comments, are those the kind of comments that are overboard, that every once-in-a-while Dana White will get pissed off at a fighter? Are those the kind of comments that should get him anger or angry and where he’ll go to Chael and go, Chael, tone it down a little bit?”
LARRY PEPE: “You know, I’m not sure, and you know, I appreciate you bringing up the lead-in because it’s not like I asked him about Lance Armstrong, I mean (laughter) Lance Armstrong is about the furthest thing from my mind before he said his name that I could think of, I just king of picked up in the interview that it seemed like if there was a theme to what pisses Chael off or gets his under skin, it’s when people don’t take responsibility for their actions. He said that about Rampage, he referenced that about Jon with that interview, and he referenced it about Anderson repeatedly and when I asked him about that, the Lance Armstrong thing came out of nowhere. You know, look… You know from being a sports guy and not just an MMA guy that there’s rampant rumors about what Lance may have done in terms of performance-enhancement. There’s lot of information and beliefs out there, accurately or otherwise, that performance-enhancers can cause serious illness. There’s a lot of rumors out there that Lyle Alzedo got cancer because of steroids. You can agree or disagree with any of that. I don’t know if it rises to the level of a Dana White intervention. I think when Frank said, you know, he wanted to kill Brock in the cage, that didn’t bother me all that much because I don’t know how different that is than what a lot of fighters say like BJ about GSP, I’m going to kill you, I’m going to try to kill you. I don’t know how different any of that is but I get that you’re concerned is that you don’t want to further the perception that MMA is barbaric. This doesn’t further that perception. This is one guy’s opinion and I just don’t know that it really colors MMA. If a football player said that would the NFL call the guy and say, hey, you shouldn’t? I don’t know. But while it’s weird that it kind of came out of nowhere, that it definitely is inflammatory, I just don’t know if it’s the type of thing that we need to legislate.”
STEVE COFIELD: “Well, I think what we got out of this, and go back to the beginning of the conversation when we talked about Chael maybe not knowing who you are or saying he never spoken to you, you remember it was just last week so I don’t know if you follow how closely the blogosphere, but Arash Markazi from ESPN.com got in some trouble because supposedly he didn’t properly identify himself with LeBron James?”
LARRY PEPE: “Right.”
STEVE COFIELD: “Have you not been telling Chael you’re name? Is that the problem? When you interviewed him face-to-face?”
LARRY PEPE: “Well, here’s the thing…”
STEVE COFIELD: “And five times you didn’t say your name is Larry Pepe?”
LARRY PEPE: “(laughter) Well, the great thing is, he says, HEY LARRY, it’s great to be here! So… I’m very sure he knew who I was but listen, Steve… I’m going to be a willing participant in the Chael Sonnen circus and I am going to thank him because you’re interviewing me now about it, which wouldn’t be happening if he didn’t make that comment today. I ended up on the 117 show because of him, so I’m telling you, when it’s all over, I’m going to call him, I’m going to hope he recognizes my name by that point, and I’m going to see if he’ll be my publicist because I can’t imagine having a better guy to do that for me.”
Everyone’s a mark and wants to get worked. That’s why Chael gets away with what he does because the ‘fish’ think they are getting some benefit out of it, too.
And when a media member isn’t your mark and playing along, just brush them off and ignore them. Like he did with Jim Rome today when confronted about the Armstrong comments: