Sonnen's head games
"Guy talk, blah, blah, blah."
This was Anderson Silva's assessment of Chael Sonnen while speaking with Ariel Helwani, and though it's not all that illuminating, it does a decent job of summarizing Sonnen's current M.O.: act obnoxious, be loud and get paid.
Sonnen has been spending the months leading up to his Aug. 7 fight with Silva antagonizing his opponent in various ways: in interviews, on Twitter -- where, as it turns out, he has become a master of the 140-character put-down -- and occasionally even to Silva's face. (The two apparently exchanged words at last weekend's Fan Expo; had it escalated, it might have thinned out some of the autograph lines.) This is not at all out of character for Sonnen (who frequently has been a dismissive personality), but the volume has gone up. If he doesn't currently get a cut of the pay-per-view proceeds, he soon will.
For most, Sonnen's rap is an entertaining diversion. For others, it embodies a disturbing trend in fight sports dictating that opportunities go to the athletes who can come up with the best insults.
Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson used verbal assaults -- most of them simple-minded and redundant -- to register unprecedented interest for a fight that was otherwise not all that intriguing. Dan Hardy famously talked his way into a title shot against Georges St. Pierre. "Tank" Abbott wound up extending a limited skill set by a solid decade because his persona was too abrasive to be believed. Talking trash is almost a guarantee of future employment.
The biggest danger that Sonnen -- or any orator -- runs is failing to deliver on promises of violence. If he gets steamrolled by Silva, that library of Tweets is going to take on a whole new meaning. And there is clearly a danger of getting carried away: Fighters who have sworn to murder opponents or have hurled racial or sexual epithets don't do themselves any favors. (Already, Sonnen has devolved into some nonsensical commentary -- something about "crucifying" Silva's manager, Ed Soares. More than a non sequitur, it's just creepy.)
Do fans really care? Jackson-Evans delivered a sizable live gate, and the pay-per-view business is expected to be tremendous. But the fight itself was mostly slow going. (Months of talk followed by 15 minutes of anti-climactic cage-leaning is going to produce jaded spectators.) Will audiences buy Jackson and Evans railing against their next opponents now that it's understood it won't result in any more dramatic a fight?
Part of this surge in dialogue can be traced to the rise of social networking funnels. Instead of waiting for an interviewer to pull out a notepad, fighters can -- and are encouraged to -- disseminate their ill will on Twitter, Facebook or using any number of instant-communication tools. The downside is that there's no common-sense pause: an impulsive thought comes in, goes out and can sometimes be embarrassing for the athlete. If Marcus Davis had slept on it, he probably wouldn't have wished a terminal illness on Dan Hardy.
The most offensive part of the talk is how insincere most of it seems. For a sport selling reality, empty threats and insults are a poor fit.