Bellator 208: Chael Sonnen sees ‘so many cowards in this sport’ but labels Fedor Emelianenko as greatest ever

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Chael Sonnen is in generous, pay-out mood just hours before he fights Fedor Emelianenko here in the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island. The Russian will be “the greatest heavyweight ever”, there are “cowards everywhere in the sport”, and always thought that it would be his mentor Randy Couture who would meet the enigmatic ‘Last Emperor’ of the division of the big men.”  

Sonnen has admitted he will likely take a leaf out of Ryan Bader’s book, the Arizonan having ground out a dominant victory over Matt Mitrione in Friday night’s first Bellator heavyweight Grand Prix semi-final at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Bader will meet the winner at The Forum, Inglewood, on January 26. 

Fedor, for his part, says he does not pay attention to the Sonnen trash talk. “Saints say we can be offended to the extent we feel offended. But if we don’t feel offended, it is not possible to offend us,” said the Russian this week. Fair enough. Sonnen will not get much change out of him, for sure. “It will be a different type of measurement when we get inside the cage, though,” adds the 42-year-old former Sambo fighter. Thump.  Intentions clear.

Put Sonnen and Fedor in a room, and Sonnen would be talking to himself. Every subject is an essay for the American. And entertaining at that. It is why he has become a formidable fighter — and broadcaster.   

How is it, he is asked, with someone who won’t respond to swipes, Fedor being rather like Khabib Nurmagomedov in the face of Conor McGregor last week.  And we know what happened afterwards in that one.

“It’s probably helpful. I mean what are you going to do? You can either be the useful idiot that’s going to get abused, annoyed and ridiculed. Or you could just not speak the language. Guys are getting up and walking out of press conferences to avoid getting ridiculed,” he said in reference to Nurmagomedov last week. “It’s a tough spot. Those guys get put in a tough spot because we’re not intellectually equal.”

Was it the right call for Nurmagomedov to walk out? “I think it was bad for media. I would always encourage guys to stay for the media. I don’t know if guys fully understand the value the media brings, you do it for free so they should show them a certain amount of respect. At the same time he was going to get ridiculed, it was going to be brutal. So if you can move out with the moral high ground as ‘this is what the clock said’, it’s as good a move as any to get out of there.”

Sonnen: Fedor a tough fight for me he interviews the way he fights … power on his feet, no sharp edges

“It’s a tough fight for me,” added Sonnen. “I’m not a bully. I’ve never walked into a fight I knew I was going to win. He can win this fight, but I can beat him too. The shorter the fight is the better. It’s going to be a quick turnaround for whoever comes out of this thing. So, yes if I was being fair I’d say I want the fight done as quick as possible.”

Can Sonnen KO Fedor ? “I’m not predicting that, I’m predicting I’m going to fight. Grind and push and win the rounds where I can, win the spots where I can, protect myself where I can. I’ve never dealt with power like his. It’s a very intimidating power, and I haven’t even felt it in the practise room. I find that intriguing. That’s part of the motivation for me. It’s a positive and part of why I do this sport.”

Sonnen is under no illusions that he will be met in the middle. “He fights the way he gives interviews, there’s no sharp edges. He’s got power on his feet. If you want to take him down he’ll roll you over and start beating you on top. Then all of a sudden he’ll go for an arm or the neck. He’s really an open guy, he’s really diverse. There’s no spot that I’m going to be in this fight where I’m going to be comfortable. He’s got explosive power and I doubt many human beings have it. I’ve never dealt with it. The size and the strength difference creates more explosion. And that’s a problem. That’s an intangible that you can’t really train for – explosion. You can train for punches and kicks. I think he’s a very good fighter.”

It will mean, for Sonnen, making the fight his own, his territory, his terms, not allowing his opponent the space to work.  

“I’m not confident I can get him down. I am confident if I can get him down he won’t get back up. That doesn’t make me right, but that’s where my confidence lies. I don’t think he can get up from underneath me. Getting him there is going to be hard. He’s a little bit shorter than any opponent I’ve faced. He’s a little under six foot, and that makes it hard. As a wrestler it will be harder to get him down.”

Deep down, Sonnen always thought that it was one of his original mentors, Randy Couture, who would fight Emelianenko. Sonnen never really contemplated fighting him when competing at middleweight and light heavyweight. “I thought this was Randy’s fight. I used to think about Fedor a lot when I was training. I’d be thinking about him when I was running. But I was a middleweight and he was a heavyweight and he was wrestling in Japan and I was fighting in America. So no, I never thought I’d fight him.”

But the fight is here now. And very real. “This is combat. He doesn’t bring anything that I don’t.”

Then Sonnen is firing… “We have so many cowards in this sport. Our fans are turning into cowards. The fighters in the locker room have been chickens for years. That’s really who my message is for. It’s not for Fedor, it’s for the guys on the roster who duck and dive and call in sick and don’t want to make weight and need more money. Any other excuse they can think of rather than go out there and do the heavy lifting. That’s who the message is to. Fedor had to brunt it, I don’t know if he misinterpreted it. But I don’t really care if he did.”

If there any illusions of disrespect, forget it. Sonnen is clear where Fedor stands if he finishes triumphant at The Forum, Inglewood, on January 26, as the tournament winner. The best heavyweight of all time. “I think if he wins the tournament he would be. Because he transcending generations. He beat all the guys in yesteryear, he beat all the guys of his time – some of them twice over – and then he beat the next generation. So yeah, I think so. If he can beat guys from three generations then he should get his credit. He probably gets it anyway.”

“I’m just here to fight. I don’t have a comedy night. You have to understand it’s a bit different for us athletes. It doesn’t come from animosity. These fights didn’t get picked out for personal reasons. It’s a straight line bracket. You advance and take on whoever.”

Time to fight. Talking over. Sonnen is certainly unique. Win tonight, and he will have put on his resume a victory over a name he never believed possible, but attained due to grit, desire, and relentlessness to be at the summit at every corner.  

Source : https://www.telegraph.co.uk/mma/2018/10/13/bellator-208chael-sonnen-sees-many-cowards-sport-fedor-emelianenko/