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Chael Sonnen's verbal assault the last six months on Anderson Silva, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's suddenly silent middleweight champion, is unprecedented in company history. It is probably unprecedented in MMA history and perhaps even in sports history.
Sonnen has run a trash talk campaign against Silva that's been more organized and more well carried out than Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency in 2008.
He's been acerbic, he's been profane, he's been witty, he's been blunt and, frequently, he's been accurate. In a very short period of time, he's transformed himself from a middle-of-the-card guy few paid attention to into a must-watch championship contender largely on the strength of his razor sharp and extraordinarily quick wit and, yeah, some great wrestling and a vicious ground-and-pound assault.
Sonnen, who upset Nate Marquardt at UFC 109 in February to earn the championship shot against Silva in the main event of UFC 117 on Saturday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., has made thousands of new fans with his frequently hilarious insults while at the same time enraging countless others who are desperate to see Silva pummel him.
Of course, none of what Sonnen has said or will say in the final days prior to the bout will make a difference once the cage door is locked and they're alone in the Octagon with the championship on the line.
Still, he's made himself relevant not only in the MMA world but also in the general sports world with the nonstop verbal thrashing he's delivered through interviews, fan question-and-answer sessions and deft use of social media.
And, frankly, it was often hard not to shake one's head in agreement with him as he was lambasting Silva on a media conference call last month for disrespecting the reporters on the telephone and failing to help promote the fight.
Most of Silva's answers were simply yes or no. After one monosyllabic answer, Sonnen cut in unsolicited and let Silva have it yet again.
"You know, he truly believes the answer he gave a few minutes ago, that people are tuning in to see a fight and not see anything else," Sonnen said. "He really means that. He feels like he's taking the moral high ground. He couldn't be more wrong. Does he know anything about business? Has this guy ever done anything? That's not what people are tuning in to see. People don't want to just see two people fight they want to know why they're fighting.
"He comes on here and says something stupid, as though he's making some Nobel Prize-winning statement. He couldn't have this industry more backwards. It's shocking that he actually believes that and then stands there with his chest out like we should all pat him on the back and go, 'Oh, good job, Anderson. You're training really hard.' Well, guess what dummy? I've been training really hard since I was 9 years old and I still have time to bring interest to people wanting to see me whip your ass on Aug. 7."
He's also carried out an assault on Silva's manager, Ed Soares, who interprets for the champion. On his Twitter account – which he occasionally insists isn't his – he wrote on July 22, "Anderson just fired Ed Soares and replaced him with a Translation App he got on his phone for $14.95."
When he was asked by a fan at a question-and-answer session about a comment he'd made on Twitter on May 31 in which he wrote, "Ed, pray to whatever Demon effigy you prance and dance in front of with your piglet tribe of savages that I decide not to CRUCIFY you," he laughed.
"I do not have a Twitter account, but I am familiar with the line," Sonnen said during a June 11 Q&A at General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia. "People have asked me about this line. And the only thing that bothers me about that entire line, aside from the whole thing being confusing and that I couldn't completely dissect it, is the fact that the guy who wrote it only said Ed.
"It would be very arrogant for Ed Soares to think he's all of a sudden become like Cher or Prince and that this one name of Ed refers to him. Then again, he's the world's most famous interpreter. Somehow, he even got himself into the (UFC's) video game."
In the cage, Sonnen is on a great run, coming off consecutive wins over Dan Miller, Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt. But Sonnen (24-10-1, 4-3 UFC) has painted himself as an almost invincible figure who has never been behind in a fight. He's boasted about his popularity and said during a UFC spot that was a takeoff on the "Most Interesting Man in the World" commercials by Dos Equis, "When Anderson Silva walks into a room, you can hear a rat (urinate) on cotton. When I come into a room, you need ear plugs."
He's a 4-1 underdog in Las Vegas, but with his banter, he's largely been able to help erase the memory of Silva's disgraceful performance at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Without Sonnen lobbing potshots at Silva from all directions, much of the media focus would be on the way Silva refused to fight in the final three rounds of his bout in April with Demian Maia.
Silva jumped behind the referee at one point, threw very few punches in the final 15 minutes and gesticulated and shouted frequently, but did little to excite the crowd or, you know, actually fight. But instead of being hounded for an explanation by an angry media, Silva has instead been asked primarily about Sonnen's taunts.
"I think he's funny," Silva said in one of his longest public statements in the last several months.
Silva is a great fighter – UFC president Dana White insists he's the best in the world – but to say he's done little recently to make anyone pay to want to see him is akin to saying the Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series championship in a while.
So while Sonnen has tortured Silva verbally these last six months, he's in a way done Silva a favor. Sonnen, though, wants to make you believe he dislikes Silva and has had a long-standing beef with him. He insisted that Silva's dodged him for four years and mocked on Silva's opponents, like former champion Rich Franklin and Patrick Cote.
"Guys go out and they pick their fights and they take easy fights, fighting math teachers from Ohio and one-legged guys from Canada," Sonnen said. "There is going to be a tremendous difference when he gets in with an All-American from Portland, Oregon."
As often as not in sports history, such trash talk backfires. Before Super Bowl XIII in 1979, Cowboys linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson taunted Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw unmercifully. At one point, he said, "Bradshaw couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the 'c' and the 't.' "
Bradshaw never responded, but went out and threw four touchdown passes and was named Super Bowl MVP as he won the third of his four Super Bowl rings.
A similar fate may befall Sonnen, but it's been fun while it lasted.
"He's a fraud," Sonnen said of Silva, who owns the most consecutive wins (12) and most wins in a title match (7) in UFC history. "It's kind of like how when he gets into the ring and he likes to bow. He doesn't come from a bowing culture. If you bow in Brazil, they'll hit you over your head, take your wallet and walk off laughing.
"This guy is a fraud. So he comes out, he bows and he wants to be everybody's good buddy. But as soon as the cage door shuts, he's a killer. That's just fine, because I'm the same way. I'll smile to his face and if he turns his back on me, I'll stick a knife in it and I'll walk away without even cleaning up the mess.
There's definitely a mess to clean up. Sonnen's just made the process of getting to it a whole lot more fun than it would have been otherwise.