Chael Sonnen has never been one to mince words when it comes to his opponents. While many fighters will attempt to rile up fans and get them to tune in by playing into the dislike, the 41-year-old Sonnen is different. His opinions on his opponents are never just for show. He purposefully picks opponents that he doesn’t like or disagrees with so that what fans are seeing isn’t an act. Fans on Saturday night will be treated to true unfiltered jabs, both with words and, in the cage, with strikes.
Heading into Bellator 208 at NYCB Live! Home of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Sonnen knows things are no different. Sonnen enters the cage to square off with fellow heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko in the semi-finals of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament. Emelianenko, like Sonnen, has been in the sport for a long-time and while Sonnen may not be a big fan of Emelianenko’s “humble” front, he respects the accomplishments.
“I think he’s had a really good career and I wouldn’t try to take that from him,” said Sonnen in an interview with CBS Local. “I think he got an early start and he helped to really bring attention to the sport, particularly in his country and in that respect I think he was very helpful.”
Respect for his opponent’s career notwithstanding, Sonnen enters the fight on Saturday feeling pretty good after winning his last two outings in Bellator with decisions over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva. Despite those good vibes from the previous two fights, Sonnen isn’t reading too much into that, saying that for all the preparation that goes into a fight, once you’re inside the cage, things are pretty simple.
“I can tell you this, some of my best performances came when I felt my worst, so I never really care about that,” said Sonnen. “I think he’s got some tools that I need to avoid and I’ve got some places that I want to put him in the fight too. It ain’t rocket science though, it boils down to an ass-whipping contest.”
When Sonnen and Emelianenko meet on Saturday, the winner will advance to the final of the Grand Prix to face either Matt Mitrione or Ryan Bader. Mitrione and Bader fight on Friday night in Bellator 207 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. Sonnen knows it would be huge to earn that spot in the finals, particularly with how rare the tournament format has become in combat sports.
“It’s a big deal. Grand Prixs and tournaments are hard to come by particularly in this sport,” said Sonnen. “There’s no competitive architecture in combat. Boxing is guilty of it, we’re guilty of it. So, when you put a tournament together it brings meaning. There’s no politics, there’s no disputing that once it’s done and someone gets their hands raised, everybody has to look and say that guy is the best.”
Sonnen will have his opportunity to clinch his spot in the final on Saturday night at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Paramount Network and DAZN.