"Everybody wants to know what old Chael's been doing. I do what I damn well please, that's what I've been doing."
Whenever you're going to sit down to speak with Chael Sonnen, you expect verbal fireworks. When his answer to the first question — "What have you been doing in your time off?" — is the above gem, you break out the riot gear, extra batteries for your recorder and prepare to be bombarded with vintage Sonnen quotes.
Except that's not exactly what happened when the most incendiary orator in mixed martial arts spoke with HeavyMMA's Megan Olivi earlier in the week.
Sonnen returned to the headlines this past weekend when his suspension from the California State Athletic Commission expired. As soon as he was clear to fight again, the 34-year-old was back to his ways — calling out fighters and injecting himself into the fray as soon as possible, seemingly making up for lost time.
But while he has been callous and combative in other interviews, it was a more genuine, less venomous Sonnen who answered Olivi's questions. He still didn't shy away from any topics — and took some shots at some of his favorite targets along the way — but for the most part, this was the most sincere Sonnen has been in some time.
He spoke candidly about everything from his recently announced bout with Brian Stann to his logic behind calling out Anderson Silva, pulling no punches, but keeping it above the belt for the most part as well.
Sonnen doesn't mince words; he tells it like it is every time, even on the most inflammatory subjects from his past hits.
"You know, I don't think I have a distaste for Brazilian fighters," offered Sonnen when questioned about his pattern of slinging insults at Anderson Silva, the Nogueira Brothers and others from Brazil. "Here's what I have a distaste for: I have a distaste for cowards, and the entire UFC locker room is plagued with them.
"Let's take it back to a fight I had with Anderson Silva. Everybody in the back wants to bow to him, get their autograph with him, take photographs with him, and I don't understand it. If you want to be a fighter, you need to be in this for one reason, and that's twelve pounds of gold.
"If you're here shake a fellow fighter's hand and get an autograph with him, than you're just a coward and a bully. So I had to call out Anderson; not necessarily because I don't like Anderson, but more to show everybody else in the back to quit being chicken."
The self-anointed "Gangster from West Linn" proved there is some pomp and circumstance to some of the things he says about Brazilian fighters when he passed up an opportunity to pile on Wanderlei Silva.
Heading into his bout at UFC 132, Silva stated numerous times that he'd welcome a fight with Sonnen. Following his rapid knockout loss to Chris Leben, the verbose middleweight could have heaped salt in Silva's fresh wounds, but chose to take the high road instead.
"Wanderlei was never going to fight me. In a million years that fight was never going to happen. I get it. He goes out and says stuff – I totally understand — but if they sent him a contract, he's not going to sign it. I never took Wanderlei seriously.
"I also don't want to disparage Wanderlei. You're never done with this business, but at some point, this business will be done with you. I think that's a hard spot; it's a spot that we're all going to have to face, and he's in it now.
"I don't think we should do anything but remember the high points of Wanderlei's career. I hope that he can look back and be proud of the contributions that he made — not just to this company, but to the entire industry. When all of our time finally comes, we can only be so lucky to have all of the memories that he has, so good for Wanderlei."
Another opponent who was briefly on the horizon was former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. After Sonnen said he'd welcome a stop in the 205 pound division to face Machida, the former champion's camp said they'd welcome the opportunity. While rumors circulated around the Internet, nothing materialized. Sonnen said he was really serious about change weight classes to begin with.
"I don't want to move back to 205; I just wanted an easy fight, and I thought I could trick everybody into giving me one," admitted Sonnen with a laugh. "I thought I had them all fooled into doing it, but they caught on and now I have to go do a real fight."
The real fight on his upcoming schedule is a meeting with surging contender Brian Stann. Though he welcomes the challenge, its a tougher test than Sonnen would have liked, and one he didn't expect to materialize so quickly.
"It's a lot harder fight than I thought I was going to have. I didn't think I was going to have the #6 guy in the world right out of the gate," Sonnen said candidly.
"I was trying to get an easy one. I was trying to get Wanderlei or Anderson or "Bigfoot" or just some Silva in general would have been really nice. When I saw that that was starting to get less likely, I called out `The Karate Kid.' They've thwarted my plans here, and now I've got to go and do a real match.
"That's a really hard match, and that's a really great guy," continued Sonnen. "We have to meet up at some point; we're ranked very close to each other. That fight is going to happen at some point whether I want to do it or not."
While not yet officially announced, the contest is expected to serve as the co-main event for the UFC's return to Houston in October. It could also be an elimination bout to determine the which of the two is next in line for a shot at the middleweight title.
"Yeah, I think that's what they'll do, but you never know," Sonnen opined when asked if thought the bout with Stann would have immediate title implications. "You never really know. There's good match-ups and good guys out there, so we're certainly no guaranteed one. I don't know which direction they're going to go, and I'm not going to complain about it either way. Brian Stann is ready for a title shot now. I'm ready for a title shot now, so we'll see."
With the ink not yet dry on the fight announcement, Sonnen admitted he hasn't had time to think about what his new opponent brings to the table, but said he's been impressed with what he's seen from Stann as of late.
"I wasn't ready for a Brian Stann style fight; I was ready to take on a Wanderlei or a Machida or something like that. I'll need to sit down and reevaluate and up the intensity, that's for sure.
"He's doing such a good job. Rewind to his match with Chris Leben. I really would have lost whatever they would let me bet; I would have lost it all. I thought Leben would beat him.
"I think Stann's an awesome guy. I didn't think he could get by Leben. Nobody has dominated Chris Leben like that — ever — in his entire career. That was kind of like an "Oh Wow" moment when I saw that in my living room. That was a special performance.
"Then they gave him a really easy fight after that, and he went out and did some more great things. Even an easy fight, you've still got to go do the fight, and he did. He's really good."
But just because he's not talking now, don't expect Stann to be off limits for the uncensored speaker from Oregon.
"I wouldn't count on that," Sonnen answered with a snicker when asked if he was planning on toning down the trash talk. As for whether he's worried that his verbal barrages may alienate fans who idolize the decorated former Marine?
"Well, any statement's true if you throw the word may in there. We may be doing this interview from Mars right now. We may not wake up. Anything is true if you include the word may."
Welcome back, Chael. We may have missed you more than we'll ever admit to.