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Chael Sonnen prepares for rubber match with Babalu, pro wrestling gig and Greco dream

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Chael Sonnen is used to being the centerpiece in promoting events, but on Saturday, he's on a show where the promoters philosophy is largely the opposite of anything he's used to.

So he's in Southern California, ready to grapple with former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato "Babalu" Sobral on the Metamoris 6 show. Sonnen considers this their career rubber match. The show will be available as an Internet pay-per-view on the Metamoris web site. It will take place from a secret location somewhere in the Los Angeles area. The show starts at 6 p.m. ET. There will be no fans present, nor any media at the event live.

And he's fine with it. At least once.

"Not only is the media not invited, they're not even telling the media the location," said Sonnen, who is in the co-main slot on the submission grappling show,  underneath Josh Barnett facing late replacement Ryron Gracie in a catch wrestling vs. Jiu Jitsu showdown. Another well-known current UFC fighter, Joe Lauzon, competes against Dillon Danis, and Lauzon has been told that he himself can't even film video blogs at the event.

Sonnen said he has been told the name of the location, but doesn't know the address.

Sonnen did say that on the surface it seems like a risky approach to promote a show this way, but he sees it as an experiment.

"It has worked before," said Sonnen, although Sonnen's example isn't an event that was shrouded in secrecy, but the promotional skills, or lack thereof, that worked, involving Nick Diaz.

He noted that Diaz would disappear when it was time to promote shows, and get fined, and it served to make him a bigger star, get more attention, and the Diaz vs. Georges St-Pierre fight was a tremendous success on pay-per-view.

"Diaz created more media by not showing up than anything Nick Diaz could have gotten from what he said," Sonnen noted. "Brock Lesnar made a career out of refusing to do media and not being accessible."

"I don't know if their approach will work," Sonnen said. "All the experts would say `No.'  But if everyone is interested it and there's no information, it's creating media. We're not going to know until hindsight. If they do the same thing for Metamoris 7, or if they change their approach, that will show if it did or didn't work business-wise."

Sonnen said his empty arena match with Sobral reminds him of when he went to the Abu Dhabi Combat Championships in 2001.

"Abu Dhabi was an extremely well run event that nobody comes to," he said. "I went in 2001. We were in a huge stadium, a huge empty stadium. Nobody was there and nobody was allowed in. There was the Sheikh and a few of his friends sitting way up top. Bruce Buffer was brought in to do the ring announcing in English even though there was nobody in the building except the six guys who didn't speak English."

Sobral and Sonnen have his history, although few will remember it, as it was long before Sonnen became one of UFC's most-talked about stars in 2010, in building up his first middleweight title fight with Anderson Silva.

They fought on a small show in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 2, 2003, which Sonnen won via decision. A rematch was held at UFC 55, on Oct. 7, 2005, which Sobral won via triangle choke in the second round.

"It means something to me and to Babalu because this will be our last chance to compete in this lifetime. We both want to beat the other from a personal level. That's why we're doing this. I want to beat him specifically and he wants the same thing. It's like Jeremy Horn (who beat Sonnen twice early in his career), I want to get guys like that. It means something to me, and if he tells the truth, it means something to him. We're one apiece and neither are crazy about that, and this is our chance between the two of us to figure this thing out."

With Sonnen has retired as a fighter, Sobral is still open to a fight that interests him. Sobral is now 39, one year older than Sonnen.

Sonnen came to Los Angeles after a trip on Wednesday to Las Vegas for the announcement of his signing a deal to be a pro wrestling announcer, and then a quick trip back home to Oregon on Wednesday, and the flight out Thursday afternoon.

Sonnen's deal with Global Force Wrestling is to play the role of a color analyst, the position popularized in 80s wrestling by the likes of Roddy Piper and future Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. He'll remain affiliated with ESPN, where he is used to cover UFC events, which remains his priority. In fact, his pro wrestling announcing debut may have come sooner. The promotion announced three television taping dates, at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, which the first taping on July 24.

Sonnen was contacted by Jeff Jarrett, a longtime pro wrestling star, whose father was one of the most successful territorial promoters in the 70s and 80s, last fall. Jarrett is not an MMA fan, and had never seen a Sonnen interview. But Sonnen was recommended by one of his Vice Presidents, Kevin Sullivan, a longtime television producer of pro wrestling events, sometimes confused with the former wrestler of the same name.

There was preliminary talk to use Sonnen with Jim Ross to announce a Jan. 4 wrestling event from the Tokyo Dome, which Jarrett had the U.S. pay-per-view rights to distribute. But with the time difference, that show started right after the completion of UFC 182, with the Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier main event, and it was right at the start of his gig with ESPN.

"I did a thing with Jim Ross (the two broadcasted an MMA pay-per-view show from Tulsa last fall), so there was an opportunity we were going to do that show together," he said of the Tokyo Dome event produced by New Japan Pro Wrestling, which ended up being regarded as among the greatest pro wrestling pay-per-view shows in history. "I had just signed with ESPN. My first date with them was Jan 3 (actually his debut was in November for UFC 180), so it didn't match up. The last thing I was going to do was call in sick on the first day at ESPN, so that kind of fizzled. But Jeff told me he had something else in the works, and he did have something in the works.  He did get back in touch. It's exciting. He's starting something new, just like Metamoris. It takes time to get all the pieces in place, and you need a bit of luck. He's got a casino, some dates, and he's finalizing some TV stuff and he's got a show coming.

"I had Jeff on the phone, and he said, `I don't know who you are. I've heard of Dana White and I don't watch the product, but my Vice President, Kevin Sullivan, said you'd be great and I'm taking his word for it," said Sonnen. "That was before the Tokyo Dome show. We've been in contact ever since. As far as him landing the Orleans, and moving forward with the press conference, I found out six days, five days or a week before."

Sonnen said he's agreed to do three different taping dates in Las Vegas, and each taping will produce four one-hour television shows. While Sonnen used to pretend that he never watched pro wrestling as a kid while doing interviews obviously inspired by pro wrestlers, he admits he watched everything he could in the 80s growing up. But he said he's going to have to study for this gig, because he hasn't seen most of the talent with the group.

He was familiar with Davey Boy Smith Jr., the son of the British Bulldog, who Sonnen grew up watching, Smith Jr. has an MMA background as a training partner with Barnett. He's the grandson of Stu Hart, a Canadian amateur champion in the early 40s who had a reputation as one of the best submission grapplers in the pro ranks during his heyday. Smith's uncle is Bret Hart, a modern pro wrestling legend.

"I haven't seen him wrestle," he said. "Chris Masters (who will go by the name Chris Adonis in GFW) is he only guy I've seen. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the regional scene. I read Pro Wrestling Illustrated and I watched Portland Wrestling and everything I could."

Sonnen said that he knows Jarrett has a television deal in place, which has yet to be announced. He doesn't know who he'll be working with as an announcer, but hopes it'll be Ross.

"That's the only name I've heard," he said. "I'm under the impression from Jeff and Jim that they want a deal to come together. I don't know if it's a date issue or a contract issue. I know Jim is interested and Jeff wants Jim, and I know I want Jim. The pieces have to fall into place, but we're going to have to have the answers pretty quickly since the first show is July 24."

Sonnen, who just turned 38, announced his retirement from MMA last year after two different drug test failures for multiple substances. At the time, he talked about wanting to try Greco-Roman wrestling. His goal was to compete and place in the 2016 Olympic trials. Back in 2000, he had placed third in the Olympic trials in the 85 kilogram division. He said that at his age, the idea of his making the Olympic team may be far-fetched, so his goal was just to get to the trials and place.

But he admits that may not happen.

"I've been back in the (wrestling) room, in a college workout room and I've been practicing Greco-Roman wrestling," he said. "I've got a long way to go is as plain as I can say it. The dream had a big light at the end of the tunnel, but the light is getting smaller, even if the dream is just as big. Maybe I'm fooling myself. I need to get more committed. My body got out of shape. I hadn't done Greco-Roman since 2003, and it's a different sport. I'm in there with 18 to 23 year olds trying to get through a two-hour workout. My workouts are getting longer and the scores are getting closer, but it's still a big gap."

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