In recent years, Chael Sonnen has proven himself as a master of self-promotion. So why is it that in advance of his UFC 159 clash with Jon Jones, he seems more interesting in hyping his opponent than himself?
“I don’t regret anything ever,” Sonnen said on a Tuesday media call promoting UFC 159. “But as far as my perception of Jon, I mean, it changed in about 30 seconds – about the first 30 seconds I was around him. I mean, he’s a good guy. He’s a very nice guy.
“You know, I hear people that insult him a lot, and I’m going, ‘Well wait a second, this guy is the world champion. This guy has achieved what everybody else is dreaming of.’ I think people should copy Jon more than attempt to correct me.”
Jones (17-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC) and Sonnen (27-12-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC) headline Saturday’s pay-per-view event, which takes place at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
It’s a bold new world for Sonnen, who’s probably best known for his epic (and sometimes maniacal) rants ahead of a pair of clashes with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Sonnen has also offered a few choice words for Jones in past years, honing in specifically on the UFC champion’s 2012 DUI arrest.
It was that tension that was expected to play a central role on “The Ultimate Fighter 17,” where the two served as coaches in advance of their title fight. However, Sonnen instead appeared to take the “kill him with kindness” approach.
On Tuesday, Sonnen continued his praise for Jones’ work as a head coach on the show.
“He cared a lot about his team,” Sonnen said. “He took coaching very seriously. He was on time every time. And he inspired a bunch of guys that really needed it. … They looked up to him, and he was there for them. And, you know, I think he should be credited for that.
“He was a nice person. And, you know, there’s not a lot else I can say.”
In fairness, it wouldn’t serve much purpose to question the skills of Jones, who at just 25 years old can tie Tito Ortiz‘s record of five consecutive UFC light heavyweight title defenses with a victory.
Of course, that didn’t stop Sonnen from attacking Silva, who’s widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. But the self-proclaimed “gangster from West Linn, Oregon” isn’t taking that approach this time around. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, and when Jones admitted he aspires to have his name one day mentioned alongside pugilistic greats Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali, Sonnen suggested he was already there.
“As great as Jon is, I don’t think that he understands how good he is,” Sonnen said. “You know, for him to pay tribute to Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali earlier was a very nice thing for him to do. The reality is Jon Jones could beat up Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali in the same day.
“And when he says he wants to be the best ever, Jon, news flash, buddy, you are the best. And as far as tying Tito Ortiz, yes maybe he had a couple more wins but he hasn’t had the competition that you’ve faced. And, you know, that’s not a secret. I’m not going to degrade Jon or what he’s done. He’s the world champion. He’s the best in the weight class, and he’s the best the weight class has ever seen.”
What does all the praise mean in terms of Saturday’s fight? Only time will tell. It could be completely irrelevant. After all, Jones is a 9-to-1 favorite according to most oddsmakers.
But perhaps Sonnen’s praise will have a palpable effect on the fight. Could an emotionless Jones prove listless in the fight? Could “Bones” buy into his own hype and approach things any differently than he did in five former UFC champions?
“This is a tough guy and a tough environment,” Sonnen said. “But you know, that’s the sport.
“As far as a competitive standpoint, I think I can beat him. I love watching him. I think he’s very good – but I think I can beat him.”
For more on UFC 159, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.
(Pictured: Chael Sonnen)