ATLANTA – The kid wore a Braves cap pulled low and camo shorts slung even lower, and as he hunched over the microphone and launched into his story, the crowd at the Fox Theatre murmured.
"About three weeks ago I took my dog, Huggy Balls, for a walk. These two guys pulled up in a pedi-cab and pulled out a machete and was like, 'Hooah!' and then they took Huggy Balls and took off with him. God knows where he is now. And I was sitting at home that night and I was like, 'What would Van Damme have done? What would Chuck Norris have done?'" Then, with the crowd still trying to process exactly what kind of performance art this might be, he dropped his hammer: "What would Chael Sonnen, the American Gangster, have done?"
Onstage, Sonnen smirked, chided the questioner for coming to a Q&A when he should have been looking for his (alleged) missing dog, and then added, "All hell would've broken loose if someone stole my dog, Danger Waffles!"
Welcome to the Sonnen Show at UFC 145, folks. Strap in.
In its day, the Fox Theatre has hosted acts from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Metropolitan Opera, the Rolling Stones to the Atlanta Ballet. But it's safe to say that in its nine-decade history, the Fox has never seen a performance quite like the one that took place before UFC 145 weigh-ins.
For an hour, Sonnen, the UFC's fighter/author/impresario, worked the stage in a Q&A session that was part comedy show, part infomercial for his new book "The Voice of Reason," part motivational seminar, and part head-cracking, gauntlet-tossing verbal throwdown. Sporting a black t-shirt with the hashtag #myfightmatters and a swooping haircut that made him look like the world's toughest newscaster, Sonnen owned the crowd, getting a full house and an online audience of thousands pumped for Saturday's landmark UFC 145 card a couple miles down Peachtree Street at Philips Arena.
In the space of 60 minutes, he made enough enemies to line up fights for a decade … and enough fans to cheer him on the entire way. (Sample goofball line that somehow worked: "They used to call me The Foreman. Not because I was in charge, but because I did the work of four men.") He zeroed in on Anderson Silva, crafting two songs to mock Silva and talking extraordinarily tough for a guy who lost the first meeting between the two middleweights through submission back at UFC 117.
"I hope he gets his excuses ready," Sonnen said in one of many jabs at Silva. "I like easy fights and he sucks. I would fight that guy every single day."
Soon enough, he'll get his chance. Sonnen and Silva will tangle at UFC 147 in Brazil, though rumors persist that the bout will be moved to UFC 148 in Vegas. And considering the way Sonnen mocked Brazil on Friday, that might not be the worst thing that could happen.
"The tooth brush was actually created in Brazil," Sonnen cracked. "If it'd been created anywhere in America, or somewhere else, it'd be called the teeth brush." Sure, it's a hack joke recycled from Alabama/West Virginia/wherever, but credit to Sonnen for calling out the hosts of his next fight.
And he wasn't done. "I have but one request" of Brazil, he said. "There will be 80,000 people in attendance and my demand is simple: silence. When I come through the curtain, they will sit down and shut their mouths and show respect to their American guest. Or I will go back in my car, back to the airport, back to America and [Brazil] won't even see me fight."
Believe that? Yeah, us neither, but it's great mythmaking, trash-talking material. And the audience rose to the challenge. Some fawned, some made speeches, and some took shots at the man himself.
"You asked Anderson [during a song] if he recognized your bicep," one particularly brave fan said. "I wanted to know if you liked how his crotch smelled after five rounds." Sonnen laughed at the question, admired the questioner's guts in asking it in front of a pro-Sonnen crowd … and completely declined to answer.
Sonnen invited fans onstage for bear hugs (he declined one fan's request for a punch in the stomach), posed for photos and autographs, and even called UFC honcho Dana White live. (White didn't answer.) All in all, it was the kind of knowing, willfully over-the-top theater that's the hallmark of 21st-century fighting.
This isn't a make-or-break weekend for the UFC; it's more of a make-or-break-big weekend. A strong performance from Jon "Bones" Jones could catapult the UFC further into the mainstream public eye. And before long, guys like Chael Sonnen are going to poke that eye with a sharp stick, laughing all the way.
Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter for updates from UFC 145.
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