Once the season started, the talk about the volatility and even violence on the set escalated. It peaked with the much-talked-about brawl that airs on the episode this coming weekend on Globo in Brazil and on UFC Fight Pass, the company's on-line subscription channel, in the rest of the world. In the United States, the show is scheduled to air on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET/9 p.m. PT.
These days, the season and the brawl are in Sonnen's rear-view mirror. Today, he's got two main concerns. The fight, which at this point is scheduled for July 5 in Las Vegas, and getting through a training camp where he will more than likely be randomly drug tested, and where, for the first time in years, he'll be fighting without testosterone replacement therapy.
Right now, the lack of TRT hasn't proven to be a major hurdle, but Sonnen isn't sure how it will all turn out.
"I've had a pretty good amount of success so far," he's said about his early training for the Silva fight. "But I've got to reserve the right to change this answer next week if we talk again."
Sonnen said he had been using testosterone cypionate, which lasts longer in the body than some other forms of testosterone. He said the effects aren't completely out of his system yet.
"I'm still having a little bit of residue and left over, and I'm still feeling really good, but there is a difference," he said. "I'm trying a different regiment with doctors on how to fix it. I'm a bit of a test tube dummy for myself, but so far I've been pretty encouraged by how I'm feeling."
His system has also been messed with as far as training and peaking for the fight itself.
At first, he was under the impression the fight would take place at UFC 173, on May 24 in Las Vegas, but the final episode of the show airs in Brazil on May 25, the next day.
"Globo didn't like that idea, even if it's only by a day, they wanted to complete airings of the show before the fight," Sonnen said. "So we went to the next week, and we went from a co-main event on May 24 to a main event on May 31. Then he (Silva) didn't agree to that, so I don't know what's happening. I've heard from everyone, but him, that it's happening on July 5.
The difference in the changes of dates and the position on the card is significant. In the main event position, it would be a five-round fight. If it happens on July 5, with Chris Weidman's middleweight title defense against Lyoto Machida as the main event, it reverts to a three-round fight. The change of date also changes the training schedule and intensity.
Sonnen set up time for a full camp to peak on May 31, and had temporarily moved from his home in West Linn, Ore., to Southern California, rented a place for a few months and brought in a training partner from Brazil to begin intense training. Then, the day after he arrived and the camp was supposed to get into high-gear, the date was moved back by six weeks.
"It doesn't play on my mind," he said. "I have coach Clayton (Clayton Hines, who has worked with Sonnen for years running his training sessions) and Mark Munoz, they have to figure those things out. I show up for practice every day. But you're right, the intensity changes. Some days I don't work as hard as other days, for that very reason, peaking as you put it. It was a little bit tough.
"I checked in on a Monday, and Tuesday we got the announcement the fight was moved back a month-and-a-half. We're still in camp with Munoz. I'm not working quite as hard right now as I planned to."
While the confrontations on the show will help build up the fight, Sonnen felt things were tense from the first day on the set, and got worse, leading to the explosion that airs this weekend. The fight was broken up quickly by the fighters on both teams. But before they were pulled apart, Sonnen had taken several sucker punches to the back of the head by a third person, Andre Dida, an assistant coach on Silva's team, which left him bruised up and with a small cut.
While Sonnen wasn't happy with how things went down with Silva, the third party punches from Dida he felt were far more out of line.
"It ended up being a two-on-one, and in that aspect, that was the most unfortunate part," Sonnen said. "The whole thing is regrettable. It never should have happened. That's one of the deals with reality TV. If you have a bad moment, you're caught. Everyone may have a bad moment. They go in their car, you yell, turn on the radio in you car and yell. In reality TV, if you have a bad moment, you're busted.
"And then what happened was the other knucklehead jumped in, that was a crime," he said.
That's what it was. That was straight up illegal."
He said the incident, which wasn't the first or the last between the two on the show, started when the two were waiting for weigh-ins. Silva was constantly challenging Sonnen to fight, as well as demanding that he apologize for what he had said in the past. He said Silva spit at him first. Silva took a swing and Sonnen ducked and took him down and was throwing punches when the other fighters swarmed in.
"He's very difficult," said Sonnen. "I can tell you, working alongside him on The Ultimate Fighter was really the most I ever go to know him, and it was tough on a day-to-day basis. It was really tough. He really followed a gang mentality. The more people on his side, the tougher he got."
Sonnen said he tried to explain to Silva that this was a show for Brazil, and that he, as the foreigner, was expecting to be viewed by the Brazilian audience, which hit 12 million viewers in the early episodes of the season, as the bad guy. He'd even make comments to his team that they were the "bad guys," almost like it was the name of their team.
"I had to explain to him, `I'm the bad guy, you're supposed to be the good guy,'" he said. "But when you attempt to jump me, that's going to turn the people against you and for me, and I don't want to be the good guy. I had to drop the fourth curtain and explain this to him, and it didn't register."
Problems started early, almost from the minute he walked through the door into the gym.
"They kept us apart in the back," he said. "We never saw each other. We were at different hotels, the whole bit. He's in the actual gym. I'm in the actual gym. I walk through the doors and I walk right up to him. He puts his hand out, he says to me, `You have no problem with Brazil, you just have a problem with me, let's have a good show,' that type of deal. That kind of set the tone. I was thinking, `Well, good, that's what we're here for.' It wasn't two hours later, he was cursing, he quit the show, he shoved me, pretty much right off the bat."
Sonnen said he never bought the part where Silva walked out.
"He quit and the Brazil thing on the show was fake," he said. "It couldn't have been more fake. He said, `I'm gonna quit if you don't apologize,' never once thinking, if I didn't apologize, he would have painted himself into a corner where he had to quit, which, of course, you can't do."