Chael Sonnen couldn’t wait until his Bellator 208-headlining fight against Fedor Emelianenko on October 13. “The American Gangster” just had to get a piece of “The Last Emperor” right away.
So, when a conference room glass door of Paramount’s Network’s Downtown Manhattan, New York offices slowly slid open Tuesday, Sonnen proceeded to press and assault Emelianenko … with questions.
MORE: Fedor Emelianenko vs. Chael Sonnen to headline Bellator 208
“Have you met [Russian wrestling legend and three-time Olympic gold medalist Aleksandr] Karelin?” Sonnen politely hijacked Sporting News’s interview with Emelianenko to ask his opponent out of pure curiosity.
“Yes, I met him many times,” Emelianenko replied through a translator.
“But not trained [together]?” Sonnen shot right back, inching forward in a conference room chair.
“No, not trained,” Emelianenko said.
A few minutes later and Sonnen continued to pepper Emelianenko with hot-button questions as if they were stinging punches.
“Khabib [Nurmagomedov] versus Conor [McGregor],” Sonnen asked about the long-rumored UFC fight. “You predict Khabib?”
After explaining that Nurmagomedov will be able to take McGregor down, Emelianenko suddenly said in English, “I don’t like Conor,” drawing a laugh from Sonnen, before he excused himself from the room.
The improbable scene between the future opponents made two points clear: Sonnen has gotten ultra comfortable — and really good at — bringing the conversation, as evidenced on Ariel and the Bad Guy podcast with MMA journalist Ariel Helwani.
That, and the cordial factor between Sonnen and Emelianenko will obviously take a violent turn when the two meet in Bellator’s Heavyweight World Grand Prix semifinal matchup in less than three months at NYCB Live Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, NY. The bout will air on the Paramount Network and stream on DAZN.
There, all questions will be answered by hands, feet and grappling. Sonnen scored a unanimous decision over Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in Bellator 192 in January, while Emelianenko crushed Frank Mir via a first-round TKO in Bellator 198 this past April to cement this Grand Prix semi matchup. The fact that Emelianenko scored the win after suffering a first-round knockout loss to Matt Mitrione in June 2017, makes Sonnen proud to be going up against the embodiment of a true “fighter.”
“The term fighter has been so corrupted over my lifetime,” Sonnen told Sporting News in an interview, before briefly crashing our conversation with Emelianenko later in the day. “A fighter used to be somebody that moves forward when it was hard, that got up when they were down. That’s what a fighter was. And now, it’s about aggression or punches and kicks or somebody’s record. I’ve watched the biggest wimps in the world come to this sport and light it on fire that sucked. They just had even-suckier opponents. Those aren’t fighters; those are athletes that are punching and kicking. There’s a place for them at the table, but they’re not fighters.”
He added: “The fact that Fedor could bounce right back — as soon as he goes down, he looks for another opportunity, while the media is calling for his retirement — against a two-time world champion and stops him in 40 seconds. I think that’s an honorable thing.”
That being said, while Sonnen knows the “fighter” Fedor, he claims to not know anything about the person.
“I don’t know Fedor. I don’t like Fedor, I don’t not like Fedor — I don’t know him,” Sonnen continued. “He doesn’t speak to us, he doesn’t let us in on his life. He could be a really nice guy, which is how I perceive him, or he could be a total jerk. I don’t know him, but either do any of the fans.”
To that, Emelianenko couldn’t care less.
“No, [I don’t care about that],” he told Sporting News through a translator, while flashing a big grin.
What the pair of 41-year-olds could agree about, however, is sticking to what they know training-wise, while also adding in new wrinkles.
Emelianenko (37-5) says he’s constantly working on the “technical” aspects and “nuances” of fighting, while Sonnen (31-15-1) would only offer, “if you don’t evolve you become extinct.”
How do you see their October 13th fight panning out?
– Sonnen’s last two wins came against Quinton Jackson and Wanderlei Silva. Considering that Jackson and Silva are fighting for the fourth time on September 29, Sonnen wouldn’t make a prediction, but did say, “I’d be stunned if it went out of the second round.” Us, too.
– Like Emelianenko, Sonnen gives the edge to Nurmagomedov over McGregor if the two UFC stars clash as expected. Why? His rationale is simple. “I look at Conor’s weaknesses, which is his wrestling, which happens to be Khabib’s strength, Conor’s weakness, which happens to be his endurance, which happens to be Khabib’s strength, and that’s what leads me to that conclusion,” Sonnen offered. That said, Sonnen admittedly didn’t think McGregor could beat Jose Aldo and he did … in 13 seconds. Sonnen didn’t think McGregor would defeat Eddie Alvarez and he did convincingly. “I’m aware that I often get it wrong with Conor McGregor,” he added. “[McGregor] is a once-in-a-lifetime talent.”
– When asked about dream guests for Ariel and the Bad Guy, Sonnen fired off two names outside of the MMA world — Hulk Hogan and Mike Tyson. Sonnen says that he has had the chance to speak with Tyson for Fox a couple of times, but that he’d “like to go a little out the box with him.”