GLENDALE, Ariz. — Flashback to 2010 and the suggestion that Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva could one day be friendly would’ve felt like an impossibility. That’s because the two were at each other’s throats. Their middleweight rivalry was one of the most intense of the era, a two-fight series won by Silva at UFC 117 and UFC 148 that transcended the sport and elevated both men to new heights of superstardom.
Twelve years later, they’re still attached at the hip — just in a different capacity. Sonnen worked with Showtime this past week as an analyst and emcee for Silva’s press tour alongside Jake Paul ahead of the Paul vs. Silva boxing match on Oct. 29.
For longtime MMA fans, it was quite a sight — Sonnen using his promotional charm to help Silva, rather than antagonize him. The two came off like old pals, and even Sonnen couldn’t help but marvel at the continued success his old foe is finding at age 47.
In a way, it’s given Sonnen a different perspective on the man who used to keep him up at night.
“When his career dies, mine dies,” Sonnen told MMA Fighting. “There’s something, no matter how small — I’m in that ring with him. I’m a part of that journey, I’m a part of what got him here, the hard workouts he did or the motivation somewhere along [the way]. A small part, but in fairness, he’s my last connection. When he goes, that’s it. The wrestling community felt that when Daniel Cormier stepped away. But I’ll just share that I cling — I cling to Anderson hanging in there. I cling to him still being able to do this. I cling to how good he looks, showing his motivation and hard work. It matters, in some way.”
Sonnen, 45, hung up his own MMA gloves in 2019 following a 2-3 run under the Bellator umbrella.
Silva’s legendary MMA journey may have ended in 2020 following a 1-7 (1 NC) slump in the UFC, but “The Spider” has found new life in the boxing ring, making his return in 2021 with dramatic wins over former champions Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Tito Ortiz, then effortlessly outclassing Bruno Machado in an exhibition bout this past May.
That revival is what prompted the booking of Paul vs. Silva, and there’s no doubt that even at his advanced age, “The Spider” is the most credentialed opponent Paul has faced.
Sonnen admitted to MMA Fighting that the day Silva retires for good is going to be bittersweet for “The American Gangster,” but he also cautioned that anyone pointing to Silva’s age as a reason to overlook the future Hall of Famer is making a big mistake.
“That’s a hard moment [when Silva retires],” Sonnen said. “I’ve had to go through that just with other sports, but you know when you’re a fan and you’re connected, you want to live on. Some guys want to have children so that when they die — that’s a very real thought that they have, and a career is much smaller, but it’s an example that I know that you’ll understand.
“[But] people love to bring up this age of Anderson, and I won’t just dismiss 47 years old versus  years old. I won’t just dismiss that. However, this is not like the other stories. This is not somebody that walked away and is coming back. This is not a return, it’s not a comeback. This is the same career. This is an extension. This is a guy that never got out of shape. I was just doing an interview with Anderson — he used to not like to do them, he’d pretend he didn’t speak English, it used to drive me crazy — but he’s doing an interview over here, he’s quite articulate, he never missed a beat.
“Some of these older fighters that we have that come back, they can’t go cut interviews because you can’t understand what they’re saying. I’m not looking to put somebody down, [but] this is a different story. We have not seen a guy that extended his career. Jake Paul, this is as real as it gets, man. You don’t play — you don’t play with Anderson Silva.”
Check out Sonnen’s complete interview with MMA Fighting above.