Mauricio Rua is quick to note that Chael Sonnen has been respectful to him in the buildup to their headliner at this weekend’s UFC Fight Night 26 event.
Not that it’s really mattered in how “Shogun” approached the fight, but still.
“I kind of imagined he wouldn’t start talking smack this time,” Rua (21-7 MMA, 5-5 UFC) said of his silver-tongued opponent in a recent interview with MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com).
The ex-UFC champ did, however, take exception to something Sonnen (27-13-1 MMA, 6-6 UFC) said at the outset of the promotional cycle.
While announcing the fight on FUEL TV’s “UFC Tonight,” Sonnen took a swipe at one of his favorite targets, Wanderlei Silva, who’s a former teammate of Rua’s at Chute Boxe academy.
“It did bother me,” Rua said of Sonnen’s words. “He didn’t say bad things about me, but he said bad things about Brazil and Wanderlei, so it’s extra motivation.”
Sonnen said Rua was the next best thing because he used to beat up Silva at the famed gym in the Brazilian city of Curitiba. In a separate interview, he also disparaged Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who was scheduled to fight Rua at UFC 161 before the bout was canceled.
Sonnen hasn’t directed any vitriol at Rua and has called the fighter a legend. But Rua, who like Sonnen is coming off a loss heading into Saturday’s FOX Sports 1-televised event at Boston’s TD Garden, still flies the flag for his former team.
The 31-year-old fighter, who lost the light-heavyweight title two years ago to current champ Jon Jones, took offense to Sonnen and said he still misses the camaraderie of Chute Boxe in its heyday.
At one point, the gym was occupied by a laundry list of world-class fighters, including Silva, Rua and his older brother, Murilo, and Anderson Silva. The team was a dominant force in the now-defunct PRIDE and spawned several dominant champions.
“Back then, we were all very united and very friendly,” said the younger Rua. “They were good friends, all of them.”
The team eventually fractured, and most of its top talent fanned out to different gyms both in Brazil and the U.S. Anderson Silva found his greatest success after leaving the team.
“Basically, everybody started looking out for what was best for them,” Rua said. “All of us started looking for what was interesting to our careers.”
“Shogun,” however, hasn’t forgotten about the gym that molded him into a top fighter. After starting his camp for Sonnen in the U.S. with boxing guru Freddie Roach, he sought out Chute Boxe and its head trainer, Rafael Cordero, to help him prepare for the fight.
“We have a very good relationship,” Rua said of the trainer. “He gave me all my graduations from white belt to black belt. I feel bad he lives in a different country, but whenever we’re together, I train with him.”
Rua also invited a fighter who beat Sonnen earlier his career, Renato “Babalu” Sobral, to join him in Brazil.
“We all know that Sonnen is a guy that comes from wrestling, and that’s really his strong suit, but he likes to exchange punches,” Rua said. “He’s a good striker, so I need to prepare for all types of situations, so this time I’m not surprised.”
That’s exactly how he felt in his previous fight, which took place at UFC on FOX 5 and ended in a unanimous decision loss to current No. 1 contender Alexander Gustafsson.
“When I walked into that fight with Alexander, I never thought that Alexander would be the one to take me down,” Rua said. “I thought Alexander is always trying to stand up, (so) I was surprised. I’m coming into this next fight 100 percent aware of everything.”
For the latest on UFC Fight Night 26, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.