Chael Sonnen works out at his open training session Wednesday in Boston. (Getty Images)
BOSTON – The late Irving Rudd was one of the most clever and shrewd publicists in boxing history. He dabbled in other sports, as well, and once was working for Yonkers Raceway in New York.
One year, when the horse racing season was about to begin, Rudd began to call the city's turf writers, hoping to drum up a little bit of publicity. He was, however, rebuffed.
It was a loss for Rudd, but Rudd was a guy who didn't take no easily. He wanted a story in the New York papers telling the city's horse racing fans that racing season was about to start, and so he figured out a way to circumvent the writers' lack of interest in his pitch.
He arranged to have a sign touting the track's opening put on a very busy freeway where thousands of cars would pass it daily. The sign was to say, "Yonkers Raceway opens Saturday," or some similar message.
But that was not exactly what it would say, because Rudd had a plan. He instructed the workers that no matter what, no matter what anyone told them, to spell "Raceway" incorrectly. So when the sign was put up, it read, "Yonkers Racewya opens Saturday."
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Word about the "misspelling" quickly spread and photographers from the city's newspapers were dispatched to take pictures of the error. And so, in the next day's papers, Rudd didn't have the story he was trying to get from the turf writers, but he did have a photo in every one of them telling the paper's readers that racing at Yonkers was about to begin.
Chael Sonnen has a lot of Irving Rudd in him.
The UFC star will fight former light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on Saturday at TD Garden in the main event of a loaded card that will be broadcast nationally on the new Fox Sports 1 cable channel.
It's a noteworthy accomplishment, because Sonnen is coming off back-to-back losses, yet is still in the main event of a card in which there is great interest.
It wasn't all that long ago when Sonnen was virtually ignored in mixed martial arts. He was fighting in small promotions and struggling to make a living, but he never lost hope he'd catch a break and make the big-time.
He was training with some of the sport's greats, and knew he was good enough to compete at the highest level, but he wasn't getting that opportunity. It wasn't always easy to take, but Sonnen persevered and found a way.
"There was a little bit of frustration, and a lot of it was in my own workout room," Sonnen said. "It was very impressive in terms of who was there from a name-dropping standpoint. I knew from working out with the very best guys in the world where I stood, but it was tough getting opportunities. But you know what? I'm not one to cry about anything. That's life in general. You have to learn to deal with it."
And deal with it he did. Sonnen has turned himself into one of the UFC's biggest attractions, and did it even though he lost his three most important bouts.
There are some who were critical of the UFC for booking Sonnen in a title fight against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in April, and on many levels, the criticism was correct and made sense.
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Sonnen was coming off a loss in a middleweight title fight and hadn't competed in a light heavyweight fight in more than seven years.
That, though, largely missed the point. There was no clear cut, obvious challenger that Sonnen had cut in front of to get the bout against Jones. Jones had largely cleaned out the division, and the guys who remained – Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Texeira – were viewed as not ready.
Sonnen got the title shot by coaching against Jones on "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC's reality show. Sonnen's presence assured the show of high ratings, helping it rebound from a poor previous season in which the ratings declined noticeably.
Once the reality show ended, Sonnen went out and sold the fight with Jones relentlessly.
Sonnen's selection sparked outrage among a segment of the UFC fan base, and some alleged he took the fight just for the money.
Those people, though, don't really understand what motivates Sonnen. They say he fights for the money, and clearly, money is a factor for every professional fighter, because it's how they make their living.
For all his jokes and wisecracks, Sonnen is one of the most fierce competitors in the game. Losses gnaw at him.
As he sat at the dais inside the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., awaiting the start of the postfight news conference following his loss to Jones at UFC 159, he hung his head.
A person in the front row, who mouthed, "Are you OK?" to him. Sonnen arched his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders. Physically, he was OK; emotionally, he was not. He wanted to win, and wanted to win desperately. And while many saw his title fight as a joke, he saw it as a serious opportunity.
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"The way I see this, we're in this business to test ourselves against the best in the world," Sonnen said. "That's really what I'm in this for. I've never done this for the money. I come from a wrestling background and paid my own way. I had to pay to get into wrestling tournaments.
"I paid to get in when there was nothing you could win. It was all intrinsic value. That's kind of where I'm at now. I don't want to win these fights for the money. I'm in it because I want to win these matches. That accomplishment is important to me."
A win over Rua, he notes, would give him his first victory over a former UFC champion. That's the kind of thing that motivates him.
Sonnen has a great career as a broadcaster ahead of him, and could quit fighting today because of how good he is at it.
"I love fighting and I love talking about fighting and breaking down fights and doing interviews about fights," Sonnen said. "That's just a lot of fun for me."
But he continues to fight because, despite all the shtick, he's a competitor at heart.
For a competitor, there is nothing that replaces the feeling of a victory over one of the best in the world. And as long as Sonnen has a chance to be competitive with the best, he's going to continue to fight.
He may occasionally spell "Racewya" incorrectly to attract attention to his fights, but it's all in the cause of fighting, and defeating, the best.
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