Bellator 222: Lyoto Machida questions what happened to trash-talker Chael Sonnen after vow of silence; Rory MacDonald defends 170 crown versus Neiman Gracie

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Gareth A Davies
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Chael Sonnen unexpectedly quiet ahead of his bout with Lyoto Machida in New York  - Lucas Noonan/Bellator
Chael Sonnen unexpectedly quiet ahead of his bout with Lyoto Machida in New York - Lucas Noonan/Bellator

Lyoto Machida has been rather mollified in the build-up to his Manhattan MMA battle with Chael Sonnen. In fact, where is the real Chael Sonnen ? Could the real Chael Sonnen stand up ?

What happened to the original bad guy, the self-styled 'American gangster'?

There is the widespread expectation borne of years of suffering, by both his aficionados and his detractors, and indeed his opponents, that Sonnen talks too much. 

Ask Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, et al... but in the built up to this contest, the rapping terror has been absent. Not any more. Almost as if Sonnen is a new man.  

Perhaps the denouement on Friday night's fight at The Garden against 'The Dragon' will prove different. Sonnen appears - almost - to have taken a vow of silence. 

There has been the odd enforced social media film, but for the most part, Chael has stayed schtum. Surely it must be a tactic ? Or has he really just run out of words ?

Not that Machida minds as Bellator return to Madison Square Garden for the second time. “He used to talk much more, now he’s kind of quiet. Maybe he’s waiting for something," offered Machida to The Telegraph in a typically present, thoughtful interview. 

"But he hasn’t said too much, and I respect that. Actually, I like the way he’s promoting the fight. Respect the difference between the way fighters fight. Some like to talk, some don’t. I like to give out more respect, more discipline and more control.”

But the iconic venue does inspire Brazilian Machida. “Of course, it’s a dream come to true to have a fight in Madison Square Garden. I’ve just been there once when my brother (Chinzo) fought there. Now I have a chance to have a fight. Everybody wants to fight there."

There was high drama there 13 days ago when British heavyweight and favourite Anthony Joshua brought the strains of Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline' crashing down when he was stopped and knocked down four times in the process by Mexican-American Andy Ruiz.

Machida witnessed it. “It’s hard to say, but it was a great between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz. It was a very good fight, a very good surprise. It's hard to say if we’ll create the same drama there, but what I can say is I’ll do my best. I’m prepared for this fight.”

Within the narrative sits MMA legend Randy Couture, and a revenge of sorts for Sonnen, who counts Couture as his greatest mentor, and a man he admits he never, ever, got the better of while training together. Machida knocked Couture's teeth out - literally - in his final fight in the combat arena in Toronto eight years ago with a crane kick, and Sonnen has mentioned that contest with me in passing.

“I don’t think about that. It’s something that doesn’t make me worry. I respect his opinion. I want to be there and try to finish the fight, for the fans," said Machida. "Give my best. The most important take away was the camp that I had was a good camp. I don’t put focus on anything else.”

Brazilian names were once at the top of MMA, the aforementioned Silvas and so on. A re-growth has occurred in Bellator, with the rose in respect for champ-champ Patricio Pitbull and Douglas Lima, the latter through to the final of the Bellator Welterweight Grand Prix Tournament.

Lima will discover his final opponent at The Garden when Rory MacDonald, the incumbent champion who squeaked through with a draw against Jon Fitch six weeks ago - faces Neiman Gracie, the fourth generation of the beloved Brazilian family to compete at the highest level in MMA.

If Gracie, who looked brilliant in the last round in Hawaii in December against Ed Ruth can emerge victorious, there will be a jiu jitsu wave across several continents. And, indeed, Neiman could literally walk five minutes from Renzo Gracie's Academy where he has trained for twelve years, to The Garden.      

"It’s interesting, because I didn’t think Ed Ruth would try and take me down and he did. The whole training camp I thought he was going to use his wrestling to stay standing up," explained Neiman to me in the build up to this fight.

"First minute of the fight he went for the takedown and I was thought: Thank you. I don’t think Rory will want to take me down, of course he will want to strike. I love my jab too so it’s going to be a good fight.”

Renzo, meanwhile, would be made up if Neiman can take the belt from the Canadian, which would make for an all-Brazilian final in the fall.

"We are living the dream right now to see those kids representing the family and representing jiu jitsu," Renzo told me. "It's extremely important for every single Gracie alive. Or dead." Being there, rather than just winning the belt, is what counts, he believes.

Machida, meanwhile, thinks that compatriots Lima - and Pitbull - merit greater praise in his homeland. “Brazil has a tradition of martial arts, so we’ve had great results. Big names, like Anderson Silva and Wanderlei Silva - many, many names. But, the sport is changing a lot and growing. So many things are different right now. We now have other champions." 

“Yeah, it’s about time Pitbull and Lima were more recognised. When Bellator has a chance to advance in Brazil, that will change. We haven’t had that chance yet. We’ve had great champions but we didn’t have the chance to have a Bellator in Brazil. When that happens, with Patricio as a champion, we’re going to be mainstream in Brazil.”

“Of course, this is my country, so I would like to have a chance to fight with Bellator in Brazil. People talk about Bellator a lot in Brazil, but they can’t see it yet. They would like to have a chance to see an event in Brazil.”

Famously, of course, Machida is the man who dilutes droplets of urine during training camp. His own. Is it really so ? “That’s true," confirmed the popular former world champion.

"My father studied a book that said that urine was good for your health. He taught us how to drink our own urine during camp. What time to drink it, usually in the morning. It contains a lot of vitamins and hormones. My father likes to practice that more. He keeps telling me things during practice. My father is very serious about that.”

Urine this camp? “No, not this time.” Perhaps against a quiet Sonnen, there was no cause for the substance. Tonight will tell on that one.

Bellator 222: MacDonald vs. Gracie Main Card:

Welterweight World Grand Prix Semifinal Title Bout:  Rory MacDonald (169.4) vs. Neiman Gracie (169.8)

Light Heavyweight Co-Main Event Bout: Lyoto Machida (204.4) vs. Chael Sonnen (205.6)

175-Pound Catchweight Main Card Bout: Dillon Danis (175) vs. Max Humphrey (174.4)

Bantamweight Main Card Bout: Ricky Bandejas (136) vs. Patrick Mix (135.6)

Featherweight Main Card Bout: Eduardo Dantas (145.6) vs. Juan Archuleta (145.8)

Bantamweight World Title Bout: Darrion Caldwell (134.6) vs. Kyoji Horiguchi (134.4)

Preliminary Card:

Featherweight Undercard Bout: Aaron Pico (145.4) vs. Adam Borics (145.4)

Women’s Catchweight Undercard Bout: Heather Hardy (127.8) vs. Taylor Turner (127.8)

Women’s Flyweight Undercard Bout: Valerie Loureda (125) vs. Larkyn Dasch (125.8)

Welterweight Undercard Bout: Robson Gracie Jr. (168.6) vs. Oscar Vera (168.8)

Bantamweight Undercard Bout: Mike Kimbel (136.6)* vs. Sebastian Ruiz (135.6)

180-Pound Catchweight Undercard Bout: Haim Gozali (178) vs. Gustavo Wurlitzer (176)

Women’s 112-Pound Catchweight Bout: Rena Kubota (111.2) vs. Lindsay VanZandt (111.4)

Middleweight Undercard Bout: Phil Hawes (186) vs. Michael Wilcox (185.4)

Lightweight Undercard Bout: Marcus Surin (155.6) vs. Nekruz Mirkhojaev (154)

Flyweight Undercard Bout: Brandon Medina (124.8) vs. Brandon Polcare (126)

165-Pound Catchweight Undercard Bout: Kastriot Xhema (164.6) vs. Whitney Jean Francois (163.8)

Featherweight Undercard Bout: John Beneduce (146) vs. Kenny Rivera (145.8) *Missed weight

Bellator 222 is live on Sky Sports in the UK in the early hours of Saturday morning.