A strange thing is happening in the middleweight division, where it used to be pretty easy to separate the loudmouth pro-wrestling heels from the sober professionals.
In the immediate aftermath of Chael Sonnen’s win at UFC 136, however, the rhetoric coming from Anderson Silva’s camp has been nearly as weird and nonsensical as the stuff we typically expect from Sonnen. It’s almost enough to make you wonder if Silva and his people are just giving the crazy-talking Oregon grappler a taste of his own medicine.
The 185-pound champion hasn’t had a lot to say thus far about Sonnen’s newly rescinded challenge for a loser-leaves-town rematch during Super Bowl weekend, except to cover his mouth and giggle at the audacity of it. Meanwhile, Silva has dispatched manager Ed Soares to tell anyone who will listen that they’re not all that interested in giving Sonnen another shot at the title. At least not right now.
“I think Chael’s delusional, man ...,” Soares told HDNet’s Inside MMA recently. “Take a number and get to the back of the line. You had your opportunity.”
What to make of this strategy? Of course, it’s just gamesmanship. I mean, we all hope it is.
To actually deny Sonnen’s status as No. 1 contender would be to exhibit a disconnect with reality befitting Sonnen himself. Even after his 14-month absence from the cage for his various personal and professional transgressions, he remains the second-ranked middleweight in the world and his bout with Brian Stann 12 days ago in Houston was roundly considered a title eliminator going in.
After easily cruising to victory over Stann, a second fight between Sonnen and Silva is now being referred to as “the biggest rematch in MMA history.” It’s the middleweight match-up fans want most for Silva and would be the hottest-selling 185-pound match the UFC could make between now and, well, eternity. It would give “The Spider” another shot at his nemesis, the opponent who gave him the stiffest test of his UFC career and the guy Silva’s camp has implied would get smoked the second time around, provided everybody involved has normal testosterone levels and healthy ribs.
And now the champ doesn’t want to do it? Yeah, right.
When Soares dismisses Sonnen as a realistic foe and insinuates that Silva would rather take a comparatively much easier, much lower-profile fight against Michael Bisping -- as he did this week -- they’re clearly just messing with Sonnen as much as Sonnen is trying to mess with them. It stands to reason that nothing would irritate a guy like Sonnen more than being ignored and -- that’s exactly what the champion has done so far.
But as much as he sometimes acts like one, Sonnen is not a schoolyard bully. You can’t just ignore him until he goes away. Silva’s camp knows that, and they also know it’s only a matter of time before the UFC greenlights second bout between the two fighters. When that happens, Silva will take it and take it gladly.
Otherwise, we might start thinking Sonnen is the sane one in this scenario.