SAN FRANCISCO – As Chael Sonnen
demonstrated at the UFC 117
press conference, the key to any good schtick is to maintain the ruse that it is not a schtick at all.
Don't laugh at your own jokes. Don't crack a smile. Don't nod and wink your way through your routine. Just keep plowing forward as if you have no idea that the words coming out of your mouth are utterly absurd.
For the better part of a half-hour in the Fisherman's Wharf Hilton on Thursday afternoon, this is exactly the game plan Sonnen followed. By the time it was over, Sonnen was the only one who could keep a straight face.
His insult comedy routine got off the ground right away, as he accused Anderson Silva
's manager, Ed Soares, of mistranslating one of Silva's remarks.
"You're not the only one in the room who speaks Portuguese even though you act like you are," Sonnen boomed. "It's a step harder picking up that language than it is understanding Pig Latin."
And just like that, the tone for the afternoon was set.
Sure, there were some questions for the other fighters. Heavyweights Roy Nelson and Junior dos Santos got a chance to talk a little about their number one contender bout, and even Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves weighed in with a few comments of their own. But before long even they conceded the floor to Sonnen, and they seemed just as eager as the media to hear what he'd say next.
"I don't really know what respect means," Sonnen said at one point. "That sounds like something a kid in the street says after he's getting ready to take your coat and your shoes. Everyone talks about respect, I don't do that. Listen, I'm here to fight. This is a fist-fight to me. You can talk mixed martial arts and you can bow and do all this crap you see in the movies, but when you're done with it, and the guy in the shark[-skin] suit gets done saying our names and gets the heck out of the ring, I'm going to be in a fist-fight on Saturday night in Oakland, California."
By this point, former welterweight champ Matt Hughes was breathless with laughter.
"I've got to say this is the funnest press conference I've ever been to," said Hughes.
Even Dana White had to admit that he was enjoying himself.
"He says some funny sh-t. It's hard not to laugh."
One man who stopped just short of laughing, however, was Silva. As Sonnen described himself as "under the weather, over-trained, under-motivated, and still tough enough to beat this guy," Silva just rubbed his eyes and shook his head. When asked whether all the trash talk from his opponent had begun to annoy him, the champ shrugged.
"I'm used to fighting idiots like him that are talking about me. It's a constant battle. I've fought idiots all over the world Some have beaten me, some haven't."
So far Sonnen's mouth has succeeded in getting him mainstream exposure on ESPN's SportsCenter, and even an appearance on Jim Rome's show to talk about the incendiary Lance Armstrong comments that Sonnen still insists he never made.
But if any of the publicity is bad for Sonnen's image, he's the last to know about it.
"I never receive backlash for my comments," he said. "I receive praise. In fact, I ran for public office and received 99.6% of the vote."
Was that the Republican primary for the Oregon Statehouse where Sonnen ran unopposed, asked MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani.
"That's correct," Sonnen replied.
And for a second there, it almost looked like he was laughing along with the joke. Almost.