Famed actor and martial artist Steven Seagal knows a thing or two about using your words to maximize dramatic effect.
The star of such action films as "Hard to Kill" and "Under Siege" has made headlines in the mixed martial arts world over the past couple years for training with the fighter most consider the world's top pound-for-pound best, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
Seagal, who took some time out from filming in Vancouver on Monday to talk to MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani on "The MMA Hour," carefully chose his words for Silva's UFC 148 title challenger, Chael Sonnen, as the two get ready for their July 7 rematch.
(Editor's note: The Seagal interview begins around the 2:15:00 mark.)
"Chael last time had an extremely unfair advantage," Seagal said. "Because, you know, that whole deal with I don't know what it's called, steroids, or whatever, performance-enhancing drugs or whatever. ... I think this time, probably he'll be a little more careful with that, and I think that will even the playing field."
The last Silva-Sonnen bout, at UFC 117 in Oakland, Calif., was one of the most memorable battles in the sport's history. In the most grave peril Silva has faced in his five-and-half years as champion, Sonnen dominated Silva for four rounds and appeared well on his way to winning the title. But a dramatic fifth-round submission by Silva saved the championship.
After the bout, Sonnen was busted by the California State Athletic Commission for elevated levels of testosterone, setting off a series of events in both California and Nevada that kept Sonnen out of action for more than a year. The controversy has only served to make UFC 148's main event one of the most anticipated rematches in MMA history.
"Let's just say this, I think this time, they're both going to be at their best," Seagal said. "I don't think there's going to be any controversy, I don't think there's going to be any injuries. I think two great fighters are going to go out there and have it out, and I think my guy's going to win. My guy's going to win handily this time."
Long before Seagal was an action-movie star, he was a martial artist. Seagal, a Aikido black belt who claims to be the first foreigner ever to run a dojo in Japan, gained notice in the MMA world after Silva knocked out Vitor Belfort with a spectacular front kick at UFC 126, a move Silva attributed to his training sessions with the film star.
"One never knows what a fighter is going to do until he gets out there," Seagal said. "When he fought ... Vitor Belfort, I was with him until seconds before he went out. That was exactly what I asked him to do and to a ‘T,' it was just perfect. Sometimes they do it. Sometimes they go on their own, because he has an amazing plethora of different techniques, they're very effective."
In the MMA realm, Seagal has mainly worked with fighters from Silva's Black House camp, including former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Machida lost his bout with current champion Jon Jones in December, but Seagal said he still feels there are holes to Jones' game.
"I respect every fighter that goes out to the Octagon," Seagal said. "I don't think [Jones'] punches or kicks landed well. Do I think he punches or kicks well? No, not at all, and that's just my opinion. He's a very big guy, he's like a heavyweight. He's 6-4, very athletic and very strong. Is he a better fighter than Lyoto? No. Not even close. But that doesn't mean he can't win."
For his part, Seagal doesn't want to see the Silva vs. Jones, a bout many consider a dream fight.
"It's such a huge difference in strength and size and weight," said Seagal. "I don't know what's fascinating for fans to see. And I said [Jones is] a heavyweight. He said he was going to challenge Junior dos Santos, if he really said that, he should do it. He's already cleaned out the [light heavyweight] division, there's no one left to fight him."
Before MMA came as we know it came into being, Seagal is reputed to have had an encounter with another MMA figure, legendary judoka and Hollywood stunt man "Judo" Gene LeBell.
At age 79, LeBell remains a respected figure in MMA circles, both as trainer to the likes of Ronda Rousey and as an occasional judge at California-based MMA events.
According to LeBell's version of the story, the two had an altercation on the set of Seagal's 1991 movie "Out For Justice." LeBell says he choked out Seagal, who then soiled himself. Seagal, to this day, vehemently denies such a scene ever occurred.
"I don't even know if he's still alive. Is he still alive?" asked Seagal. "Either he is a pathological liar or he had somebody making up these stories. He came over to my trailer, and he was with a guy named Conrad Palmisano, who is a legend and is still one of the greatest stunt coordinators in the history of Hollywood. We were talking about doing moves and stuff like that and we were stretching. He wanted to stretch my back, and I kind of flipped over the top of him and said ‘thank you for that.'
"There was never any confrontation with him, ever. In any way shape or form. I swear to that on my children, which are the most sacred thing in my life on my life. If he said that, he's a pathological scumbag liar."
While we might never find the truth of what went down on the set that day, one thing's for sure: We haven't seen the last of Seagal in the UFC, at least not as long as Silva is around.
"With me he's already been very, very, very humble," said Seagal. "He either fears me pretends to fear me. He's a consummate gentleman, a great student and a great friend. To me he's the way I'd want any of my students or friends to be."