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UFC 95: Chael Sonnen Talks Demian Maia Fight and the Middleweight Title

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Chael Sonnen says the only reason he fights in MMA is to win a world title, so the circumstances of his most recent fight were extremely disappointing. In November, Sonnen was given a middleweight title against the World Extreme Cagefighting champion Paulo Filho -- but when Filho didn't make weight, their fight was changed to a non-title contest.

Sonnen won that fight and later was given the title belt, but the WEC has now eliminated its middleweight division, and he was never officially the organization's champion. But he's not dwelling on that, because he's now in the UFC and has a big fight coming up against Demian Maia at UFC 95 in London, on February 21 on Spike TV. And in an interview on Thursday, Sonnen told me he views that fight as a big step toward winning the UFC middleweight title.

The full interview -- which also touches on Sonnen's 2003 fight with Forrest Griffin, his admiration for Georges St. Pierre and his relationship with Randy Couture -- is below.

You started fighting in 2002 on Indian reservations. What were those fights like?
That was just par for the course back then. The only place you could fight was on reservations. I don't even really remember those. The only problem with fighting on the reservations -- this was normal back then, but in hindsight I can't believe we allowed it -- was they could change the rules partway through the fight. The first fight I ever had -- and this wasn't on a reservation but it was the same thing without an athletic commission -- we agreed that it was a seven-minute fight. I beat him up for seven minutes and 34 seconds, and then he put me in a triangle and choked me out. After seven minutes, the promoter decided he liked the match so much that he wanted it to keep going, so 34 seconds after time ran out, I lost the fight. And at the time I didn't even think to argue. That's just the way it was.

You fought Forrest Griffin in 2003, two years before he became famous on The Ultimate Fighter. What do you remember about fighting him?
That was the toughest tournament ever put together. It had Jeremy Horn, Babalu, Forrest Griffin, myself, Trevor Prangley, Shogun Rua. It was the toughest tournament of all-time. It had a guy in it from Russia who had submitted Randy Couture. It was kind of fun, and it's really fun to see Forrest do so well.

How much money did you make for those fights?
That day when I fought Forrest was huge. I made $2,500. That was the biggest payday I had ever heard of. I had fought Trevor Prangley for free. Both of us received zero. So a few fights later to get $2,500, that was all the money in the world.

When did you realize you could make a living in MMA?
I probably didn't have an opportunity to make a living until 2006, with Bodog Fight. The UFC was picking up, they were doing a great job, but I wasn't with them anymore. I first could make a real living at it in 2006, and I was with the Bodog organization.

Was there ever a time when you thought about giving it up because it was too much work for not enough money?
No. Money's still not a factor for me. I'm in this for the accomplishment. I'm not after the money or the fame. I'm after the world championship and that's it. I have absolutely no other goal or interest in the sport. Were there times when I asked myself, should I move on and do other things with my life? Sure, I've had those moments. But not for financial reasons. I'm a wrestler, so I'm used to not being paid, and I'm used to doing five or six competitions a day, and paying someone else to allow me into the event. I'm not in this for the money.

You mentioned that you're in this for a championship. You were supposed to be fighting for a WEC championship in your last fight, but that turned out to be such a weird fight, with Paulo Filho not making weight, and I thought it turned out to be fairly dull. What are your thoughts on that fight now?
Well, there's no way to deny what you just said about it being dull. I'm not delusional. It was dull. One thing about that fight, in my defense -- and this isn't to insult Paulo -- it's not that Paulo did not show up. Paulo was 100 percent when he stepped in there. I cracked him in the first round. Paulo got very frustrated about three minutes into that fight, and it started going downhill from there, and by the third round he was gone. The reason the fight was dull was that I didn't have the foggiest idea that he was gone. I didn't know that he had checked out. The entire time I thought he was setting me up. I thought it was a bit of a rope-a-dope or he was playing possum. I never once was secure or confident. The entire time I was just waiting for that big move.

Do you think to yourself, "I want to win the fight of the night," or "I want to win the knockout of the night," or do you just go in there and want to step out of the cage having won the fight and not caring about style points?
I can't really say yes to either. I don't go in there thinking about fight of the night or knockout of the night, but I've also never been the one who just took this as a sport where you can get your hand raised. I understand the business side of it, I understand the entertainment side of it, and I do think you need to go out there and perform and put on a show. I do not think the style of match that Paulo and I put on the last time is acceptable. I'm not delusional, I get it.

I saw you quoted saying you think you're better than Anderson Silva and Demian Maia is better than Anderson Silva. You really believe that?
Yeah, I think either one of us would beat him. I think Demian is just a really hard match-up for him. Anderson has said publicly many times, "I can't beat Paulo Filho." This wasn't because they're buddies, Anderson massaging Paulo's ego. Anderson said, "Paulo can beat me," and Paulo said, "Yeah, it's true, I can beat him." Their manager -- they're managed by the same guy -- said Paulo is the better of the two fighters.

So I already beat someone Anderson said he can't beat. I realize MMA doesn't always work that way -- A beats B and B beats C, that doesn't mean A beats C -- but I can beat Anderson Silva. Yes, I truly believe that.

Where do you think Anderson Silva ranks among the top middleweights?
If I was to rank Anderson Silva, I'd put him No. 1. I realize that contradicts everything I just said, but I do not think the guy with the belt should be any lower than No. 1. You have to show him that respect. With that said, there's guys who can beat him. I'm not the only one. Now, Anderson can beat me too. Anderson can beat Demian too. I'm just simply saying that if Demian was going to fight Anderson and I'm at the window of the MGM Grand, I'm going to put my money on Maia. And I'm telling you, if I'm fighting Anderson, Mike, you should really think about putting your money on me. I'm not dismissing Anderson's ability.

What do you think of the upcoming fight between Anderson and Thales Leites at UFC 97?
I like the fight. I'm looking forward to seeing it. Thales can definitely get it done. I think the fight will be won or lost by Thales prior to getting in the ring. Physically he's got the skills to do it. If he goes out and competes he can win. I don't know if he will win. Thales can beat Anderson or Anderson can beat Thales. But if Thales doesn't get in the ring mentally prepared to compete -- like several of the other guys who have just laid down for Anderson -- he's not going to win. Physically I believe in his ability. The question is, if he's mentally not ready to compete he's not going to have a shot.

What makes you say other guys have just laid down for Anderson?
I don't want to get into Anderson. ... I've got Maia right now, so I don't want to get into this Anderson routine.

Who do you think is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world?
Georges St. Pierre.

What makes you say that?
I don't really know how you can refute it. He's the best wrestler in MMA and he's never wrestled. He's got the best jiu jitsu in MMA and I don't know of any jiu jitsu events he's ever entered. His kickboxing is outstanding. His conditioning is the best of any athlete I've ever come across in any sport. I've never seen a guy who can push as hard as he can push for as long as he can push. I've simply never seen anybody pound-for-pound where he's at.

Let's get back to your own fight. What's your preparation like now that we've got nine days to go before the fight?
I've got two more days of hard training. Full speed ahead today and full speed ahead tomorrow, and then I'll take three full days -- 72 hours -- off, just completely off, on the couch, play on the computer and watch a movie or two. Really get three days off. By then I'll be in London and the emphasis will be on making weight. I probably won't think a whole lot about the fight. I'll just go into weight cutting mode. And then Friday will be a really good day because I'll have that relief gone and we'll just have the match in front of us and zero in just on the match.

And what will you do Saturday, the day of the fight?
Every fight day, I just stay in my room the entire day and I just stay in bed. I sleep as late as I can, which usually isn't very late, I'm kind of an early riser. But I try to just stay there in bed. I don't usually eat the day of the fight. I don't eat until after the fight. About half an hour before we leave for the venue I'll get up, shower, get my bag and my mouthpiece and get going.

Do you follow a routine outside of fight week?
My routine is I go to Team Quest every day at 3. I train every day but Christmas. I'm not the guy who gets a contract signed and then trains for a fight. I'm at practice every single day whether I've got a match or not. I'm bragging -- I'm kind of proud of that. I learned that from Randy Couture. Randy has a fight on Saturday and he's back at the gym on Monday. I try to copy him as one of the examples set for me.

Is Randy the main person you've tried to emulate, or are there others you've tried to model your career after?
Randy would have to be one of them. I've got three great examples at Team Quest: Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland. Those are the guys who were in this sport when I was just a kid trying to make it, and they've shown me the way to take my career where it is today.

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