Theirs is a rivaly more than two years in the making, so maybe it’s not surprising that even Chael Sonnen seems to be running low on fresh material heading into the rematch. The self-proclaimed "gangster" from West Linn, Ore., and number one contender for the UFC middleweight title dipped back into the same old bag of tricks for Tuesday’s UFC 148 pre-fight press conference in Las Vegas, lambasting middleweight champion Anderson Silva as a fake Brazilian with a fake belt who continues to hide the fact that he really speaks English.
But of course, this was the moment in the spotlight that Sonnen’s been waiting for, so he wasn’t without some scripted material to help him along. For instance, when he was asked whether he regretted any of the outrageous statements he’d made about the champ, the challenger was quick to pounce.
"First off, I offer absolutely zero apologies," he said. "And secondly, listen guys, if you’re not willing to go too far, you will never go far enough in life. And I don’t care. I don’t promote fights; I pick fights. I’m like Jon Jones, I sound like Sean Combs, and I got trombone-sized stones like John Holmes."
Three minutes in, and already Sonnen was speaking in rhyme. Silva, however, countered with a calm precision that cut immediately to his rival’s most sensitive spots.
"Chael, he tested positive for steroids, he offended a nation, he’s been charged with a crime," Silva said via his manager and translator, Ed Soares. "...How can you take anything this guy says for real? This guy’s ridiculous."
It wasn’t quite the bombastic Silva we heard on last week’s media call, the one who threatened to forcibly remove all of Sonnen’s teeth and make him swallow them. Still, "playtime’s over," Silva insisted. "On Saturday, a lot of things are going to change. It’s going to be much different after Saturday."
And Sonnen? Sonnen responded with many of the same bits we’ve all heard before. He berated Silva for "pretending" to need a translator, insisted that Soares could be replaced with an iPhone app, and claimed that he would have been fine fighting Silva in his home country of Brazil, since that would have been "neutral territory."
"Anderson lives in a mansion in Beverly Hills," Sonnen said. "Las Vegas is closer to him than it is to West Linn, Oregon. He’s got home court advantage."
For his part, Silva reiterated that he didn’t think Sonnen deserved another crack at his title. He did, after all, get submitted by Demian Maia, who Silva himself had beaten up "for five rounds in Abu Dhabi." And the mere suggestion that Sonnen might be able to stand and strike with him prompted a rare chuckle from the champ, who declared such a thing "impossible."
And yet, though he thinks Sonnen unworthy and sees past opponents as being more "qualified" for a shot at UFC gold, Silva said he was perfectly willing to do what was required of him as a UFC employee, adding: "[I]f I have to go in there and beat his ass ten more times, I’ll beat his ass ten more times."
It doesn’t seem to dampen his enthusiasm for the project that he views Sonnen’s method of hyping a fight "disrespectful" and unworthy of the UFC’s "elite" athletes, he explained.
"We can’t forget -- especially you guys, as the American people -- can’t forget the statements that this guy made about Lance Armstrong, who’s one of the greatest athletes in American history," Silva said. "[Sonnen] talking about [Armstrong] giving himself steroids and doing all the things that he said that he did, but now also Chael has got the [testosterone-replacement therapy], which to me, and to a lot of people, is pretty much a similar type of thing that he was complaining about that Lance Armstrong was [doing]. Not only for myself, but I feel that the people responsible for the UFC and the athletic commission should take a second look at that."
At this, a stone-faced Sonnen sat rubbing his hands. When asked for his response to criticism of his testosterone use, he declared it a "ridiculous question" before insisting: "I’m not proud of it. If I don’t take my medication I will die. I don’t need to apologize for that."
Then again, if you ask Sonnen, he never needs to apologize. Not for anything he’s done or said, and certainly not to Silva, who, during the post-presser staredown, made every effort to invade Sonnen’s personal space again and again. With tensions so high, was he concerned about getting too emotional in this fight? Was there any truth to rumors that, win or lose on Saturday night, he might slip into retirement once this bout is over and done with?
The champion had the same answer to both questions, and in English: "Nope."
As for a prediction, for that Silva lapsed back into his native Portuguese, saying, "I believe it’s going to end in the first round."
With as long as it’s taken to get here, and with new material getting harder and harder to come by, maybe a swift conclusion -- in either direction -- wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome.