It all started inside a van in Austin, Texas back in 2012.
Chael Sonnen was in the middle seat and Wanderlei Silva was in the back. At the time, Sonnen said the two were cordial with each other and Sonnen considered himself a fan of “The Axe Murderer.” Things went sour rather quickly, though.
Sonnen explained the origin of his feud with Silva on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani ahead of their fight at Bellator NYC on June 24 in New York. The two were doing a UFC promotional tour and Sonnen said out of nowhere — after spending the entire day together — Silva cued a camera guy to start rolling.
Sonnen was getting set to face Anderson Silva for a second time for the UFC middleweight title. During the lead up to the first fight, Sonnen had some pointed trash talk about Silva, his home country of Brazil and his mentors, the Nogueira brothers. Wanderlei, a proud Brazilian, made it known he didn’t appreciate that in the van.
“In Brazil we have a saying, ‘if you have respect, you don’t lose your teeth,’” Silva said in the video. “In Brazil we say that. Give respect.”
The video ended up making its way to YouTube. Sonnen didn’t say much during the ride. He said he was confused about what had went on.
“He was doing this whole thing and I was like, ‘Wanderlei, this is really weird,’” Sonnen said. “‘Because first of all, you’re telling me off, which is a little bit — that’s rude. Second, we’ve spent the whole day together. We’re in a van, man. Are you trying to start a fight with me in a van?’ … And third, you brought the camera man.”
Before that moment, Sonnen said the two men had a decent relationship. The first time they met, Sonnen said they sparred at Randy Couture’s gym. Sonnen didn’t have a mouthpiece that day and Silva “took care” of him, he said, even giving him some striking advice.
“He was just a great guy,” Sonnen said.
Sonnen said he also went to the grand opening of Silva’s gym in Las Vegas. So the whole van thing caught him unaware.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, well then game on, man,’” Sonnen said. “I appreciate you looking after me that one day, but if this is the way you want to go, I’m a fighter, too.”
The two would then embark on an on-again, off-again rivalry. Things heated up in 2014 when they were booked to coach opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter Brazil and then fight at UFC 175. On the show, the two famously brawled on the set.
That whole situation is something that still ticks off Sonnen, not because he got sucker punched by one of Silva’s coaches, but by two other things: Wanderlei didn’t stick to the rivalry’s “script” and Sonnen’s wife was present the day when the fight occurred.
Sonnen, using a pro-wrestling explanation, said he was supposed to be the bad guy in the feud and Silva was supposed to be the babyface, defending Brazil. Silva bullying him while he was alone in Brazil with no one to help him did not allow Silva to come across like a good guy.
“The script is written,” Sonnen said. “I’m the bad guy. You be the the white knight. You come save your country and we’ll go fight this out on pay per view. This is really obvious. But if you bully me while I’m alone, it’s gonna have the reverse effect.”
Sonnen, 39, was right on about that. Silva was booed at Brazil events thereafter and Sonnen cheered. The roles had reversed. Sonnen also just didn’t appreciate Silva doing that in front of Sonnen’s wife.
“I don’t like you at all, but if you show up somewhere with your wife, we’re doing it your way,” Sonnen said.
The two did not end up fighting in 2014. Silva evaded a drug test and was pulled by the Nevada Athletic Commission. Sonnen ended up failing two drug tests. So, the fight at Bellator NYC will be something like five years in the making.
During Sonnen’s interview on The MMA Hour, Silva actually called in. He didn’t seem to want to discuss history, though. In an angry rant, Silva basically said the time for talking is over. Bellator has a press conference for the event scheduled for Tuesday, but Silva will not be there in person. He’ll be there via video.
“I have two balls, he has two balls,” Silva said. “Let’s prove that. … I want to beat you so bad.”
Silva did manage to get in some promotion for the big card.
“We are the top fighters in the world,” Silva said. “We’re gonna make the biggest fight in the history. One of the most famous arenas in the world. On that day, Bellator is gonna be bigger than the UFC.”
Sonnen didn’t respond to Silva while he was on the phone. He wasn’t sure if was really him initially. Perhaps it was a similar to being in the van that day in Austin.
“I don’t know what to say,” Sonnen said. “I didn’t know what to say this whole thing.”