Five months from now, Chael Sonnen (27-12-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC) will fight for the UFC's light heavyweight title.
He hasn't registered a 205-pound win in the octagon since 2006, and he was soundly defeated by UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in his most recent appearance. So why did UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones (17-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC) agree to coach opposite Sonnen on "The Ultimate Fighter 17" and ultimately face him in the octagon?
"Bones" said it was an easy choice. This is his chance to silence the trashtalking master by beating him down in a cage.
"Chael definitely doesn't deserve to fight me, and everybody sees that," Jones told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
). "As long as people see that at the end of the day, I'm happy with that. But at the same time, a lot of people have said, 'Why not be the guy to shut him up once and for all? Why not be the guy to make his words very irrelevant once and for all – put a stamp on what Anderson did to him.' That's what I'm going to try to do."
Sonnen, of course, has in recent years established himself as one of the sport's biggest superstars by not only beating the likes of Michael Bisping, Nate Marquardt, Yushin Okami and Brian Stann but also serving up some of the most memorable trashtalk in MMA history. For the past few years, Silva had been Sonnen's primary target, but after falling short in a July rematch with "The Spider," the self-described "gangster from West Linn, Oregon" turned his attention to Jones.
Sonnen often refers to the champ as "Little J.J." and frequently offers wisecracks related to Jones' May arrest on a misdemeanor DWI charge. Of course, Sonnen was willing to back up the talk when he accepted a proposed UFC 151 with Jones that the champ ultimately turned down, resulting in the cancellation of the event.
In typical Sonnen fashion, he responded by offering up "The Jon Jones" at his Oregon restaurant Mean Street Pizza. "Loaded with chicken and full of cheese," the menu read. "Comes with a six-pack of beer."
Jones has endured previous run-ins with the likes of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans, and he admits their verbal barbs often affected him personally. This time around, however, he insists Sonnen's quips are more entertaining than hurtful.
"Earlier in my career, I would have taken things a lot more to heart, I think," Jones said. "But I've faced so much adversity in such a short amount of time, it's just really making the game so easy. I'm facing all the drama, all the controversy, I'm facing it at such an early stage, there's going to be nothing left for me sooner or later."
Still, if Sonnen's barbs didn't bother Jones, then why take the fight? After all, Jones has defeated former UFC champions in each of his past five appearances, so facing a middleweight coming off of a loss hardly seems necessary.
Jones said it was the challenge of taking on the sport's most-revered trashtalker and doing so in the pressure cooker that is "The Ultimate Fighter."
"I'm doing what most people wouldn't dare to do: face this guy's main gift while being around him all day, every day for six weeks," Jones said. "Most people can't stand to have Chael be interviewed about them. Most people want Chael on their side. Chael can be intimidating when it comes to insults and selling a fight. But I'm doing what most people would think I'm crazy to do. I'm going to be around you all day, every day. Let's hear what you got.
"I'm a winner. I believe I'm a winner. When you're a winner, why should you be afraid of anybody's gift? He's got the gift of gab. So what? I believe me just simply being myself will prevail. I'll out-do any tactics or insult that Chael has for me, and at the end of the day, I think I'll win because I'm confident in being a good person."
Jones, Sonnen and a cast of prospective UFC fighters are currently in Las Vegas filming "TUF 17," which debuts in January on FX. The two coaches then face off on April 27 at a UFC pay-per-view event that is expected to take place in New Jersey.
Sonnen's wit is unquestionably going to play a major role in not only the reality competition series but also the build-up to their championship fight, and the tension is expected to build. Additionally, both Jones and Sonnen have proven polarizing figures in their UFC careers and seem to strike major chords with fans who either love or hate both the dominant champion and the brash challenger. So while the fight between the two doesn't necessarily make a ton of sense in a traditional rankings manner, most fans seem to a have vested interest in watching one of the two men get his ass kicked.
Jones said it's that fan emotion that ultimately swayed him toward taking the fight.
"First and foremost, it was about giving people what they wanted to see," Jones said. "Chael Sonnen is somebody that I respect because of his past performances, but he doesn't intimidate me at all. I have no doubt in my mind that I'll beat Chael. But this is a chance to give the fans what they want, to show who I am as a person for 'TUF' and to let Chael show who he is as a person and to just entertain the fans – to be that guy.
"I'm confident. I have no worries. People will get to see who I am, and that's awesome. In the cage, that speaks for itself. Outside of the cage, I'm excited to let who I am speak for itself, too."