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How to win (or lose) a one-night MMA tournament: Chael Sonnen tells his greatest wrestling story

Excerpt from How to win (or lose) a one-night MMA tournament, a look back at the early days of mixed martial arts.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Chael Sonnen: I don't have any tournament stories, but let me tell you the greatest story that I have in wrestling. It's one of just the greatest stories that I have, period, but definitely in wrestling.

Matt Lindland. Matt Lindland has just a number of incredible stories. If you ever get a chance to talk with him, you'll love it. The guy is so entertaining, but socially, sometimes he misses the mark. And when he does that, it can be extremely hilarious because he's not trying to be. Anyway, so here's what happens.

There's a guy named Filiberto Azcuy (Ed. note: pronounced As-quee). Azcuy is a Cuban and he may be the greatest Greco wrestler of all-time. You've probably never heard of him, but he would be in the argument for the best ever. He's a two-time Olympic champion at two different weight classes, and the second time he won the games he technical falled everybody. He also, in between winning Olympic titles, he would always medal in the worlds. I think he won a world championship once. I know he was second a couple times. And Matt would beat this guy all the time. He just couldn't do it in the Worlds or Olympic Games. The way they matched up, this guy would always beat him.

At any rate, the reason I tell you all of that background is because, when you wrestle somebody, it's a very small community. And you know, Matt's a couple-time world medalist himself, Olympic finalist. So these guys have a bond. And they're out wrestling in the World Cup. The World Cup for wrestling takes place in a high school gymnasium in front of nobody. They bring in the Russians, they bring in the Iranians, they bring in the Cubans, whatever it may be at that time, the Americans, they do a dual meet format, they raise some guys' hands, then they walk out.

Matt and Azcuy wrestle. Matt has a move in Greco where, if things aren't going well, he's pummeling the wrist, he comes over the top with an elbow -- elbows you right in the face. Supposed to stun you, makes it look like a complete accident. He's done it to me in practice a number of times. Makes it look like an accident, and in that brief moment where you're stunned, he scores.

So he's wrestling Azcuy. There's 11 seconds left. He's down by two. So even if Azcuy falls down, Matt gets a point, he loses by one. There's no scenario that's likely, at least, where he's going to beat this guy. So he's out wrestling in the World Cup. Pummel, pummel, pummel. Come over the top with the elbow. Breaks three of Azcuy's teeth.

Azcuy doesn't fall down. Stands his ground, Matt loses the match by two, they walk off. A couple more matches go on, the dual meet is over, the event is over, and Matt is now leaving the building.

So as Matt gets towards the exit, he's all by himself. He's got his bag over his shoulder, he's headed for the exit all by himself. And Azcuy comes through the exit with, like, an 11-year-old kid. And the kid is there to serve as an interpreter. So Azcuy starts yelling at Matt, and Matt has no idea what he's saying.

Azcuy is a Cuban, Matt doesn't understand anything he's saying. So the kid translates and says: ‘This is not a fight! This is a wrestling match! If you want to fight, we can fight! But we are here to wrestle! In my country, it's not like it is in yours! There's not dentists and medical insurance! I can't go get this fixed! I have to live with these broken teeth! I've known you a long time! Why would you do this?!'

So Matt puts his bag down and tells the kid: ‘Tell him, okay.'

And the kid says huh?

Matt says: ‘Tell him I will fight him now.'

So the only part of that entire heartfelt speech that Matt Lindland made out was: ‘If you want to fight, we can fight.'

The kid won't do it. The kid will not tell Azcuy that. And Matt says, ‘You tell him! You tell him right now!'

He puts his bag down. He wants to fight.

Now you have to also understand, there's no one around. The building's cleared out. It's just the three of them. If they fight, they're not fighting for anything. There's no ego on the line. I mean, there is no reason to fight. And Matt put his bag down and says, ‘tell him okay.' The kid says what. Matt says, ‘You tell him I'll fight him now.'

So the kid finally says it to Azcuy, and Azcuy starts yelling: ‘No! No fight! Wrestle! No fight!'

Matt picks up his bag and goes: ‘That's what I thought.' And walks out the door.

He told me this story and he didn't tell me it to be funny in the least. His point of the story was: ‘Can you believe that? Can you believe this guy challenged me to a fight and then backed down? You know, what a coward.'

And I'm just like, no, man... no... Matt... he wasn't challenging you to a fight, man. He goes, ‘Yeah he did! Yeah he did!' And he retells me the story. I'm like, no, please, just, he didn't challenge you to a fight.

That was his entire point and he was totally sincere. It's one of the best stories I've ever heard.

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