When UFC president Dana White announced Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva would serve as opposing coaches on the third season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, many fans expected one of the most explosive and confrontational seasons since the program’s inception in 2005.
Sonnen, after all, had long played the role of the villainous American who seemed to take aim at some of Brazil’s greatest heroes every time a microphone was put in front of him. This all culminated with Sonnen’s now infamous statements at the UFC 148 pre-fight press conference back in April 2012.
In front of hundreds of Brazilian fans and media members and only a few feet away from the UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, ‘The American Gangster’ let spew a barrage of insults aimed at the Brazilian crowd and their home country.
“As far as my impression [of Brazil], it’s a lot like America. When I was a little kid, I remember going outside,” Sonnen said. “I’d sit around with my friends, we’d talk about the latest technology in medicine and gaming and American ingenuity and I look outside and Anderson and the Brazilian kids are sitting outside playing in the mud.”
While many just shrugged off Sonnen’s most recent tirade off as simply him promoting his upcoming fight, Wanderlei Silva took great exception to insult and quickly put Sonnen in his crosshairs.
Three years later, in front of a sold-out crowd at the T.D. Garden in Boston, Sonnen is choking out Wanderlei’s close friend and former training partner Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua in the main event of UFC Fight Night 26. With all eyes him, Sonnen took the microphone and not only called out his nemeses, but showed the world why he is still the only non-professional wrestler to earn the title of ‘Best on Interviews’ by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Wanderlei would respond with a comically staged ambush of Sonnen at the 2013 Olympia Fitness & Performance Expo in Las Vegas. With a camera crew in tow, Wanderlei made his way through the crowd towards Sonnen, who was in the middle of an autograph signing. Appearing from behind, Wanderlei got within inches of Sonnen’s face and shouted, “Your time is going to come.” The two were quickly separated before the argument could turn physical.
Wanderlei would go on to post a video of the confrontation on his YouTube channel and even managed to work in a terrifying warning aimed at his rival while declaring he would destroy Sonnen as a gift to his native Brazil.
“You are fearful,” Silva said. “You are afraid of me. And I will beat you up. I wanted to beat you up today. But I’m a professional, and I don’t fight in the street. Real men talk face to face. With me the talk is straight up. I will punch your face. It will happen soon. The beating I will give you will be my gift to the people.”
The two would briefly become linked to a possible fight at UFC 167 last November before the bout was scrapped due to Wanderlei holding out for more money. Sonnen would eventually be matched up against former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans.
Then White dropped the bomb and revealed both Sonnen and Wanderlei would serve as opposing coaches on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.
While fight fans became giddy because of all the trash talking they were about to witness, they quickly began to realize that Sonnen would have to spend nearly 12 weeks in the very country he mocked not so long ago. How on earth could the man once labeled public enemy number one in Brazil make out of the country alive let alone lead a team of Brazilian fighters? Sonnen seemed more than eager to play the role as the invading foreigner and oppose one of the Brazil’s proudest sons.
But then something incredible happened. Wanderlei’s constant bickering and confrontational attitude continued to draw the ire of everyone in the fighting community, while Sonnen’s cool and collected attitude came off more sympathetic. In layman’s terms: Sonnen was no longer the bad guy.
Making an appearance on the Power MMA Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, Sonnen reveled that during the taping of TUF: Brazil he actually tried to warn Wanderlei that he was not playing his part in the rivalry.
“I had to pull him aside on the very first day and say ‘Wanderlei, I’m the bad guy. I said all these things about country and now I have to come here and answer for them. You get to be the good guy. You get to be white knight that gets to ride in and rid Brazil of Chael Sonnen.
“I told him, ‘You’re this screwing this up. You’re flipping the script and it’s our very first day. You like to be cheered and you need that. I don’t. So lets just play this out the way it was intended.’ Sure enough he didn’t get it. He was incorrigible.”
In a much talked about segment on the show, Wanderlei actually threatened to walk off the set if Sonnen didn’t apologize for his past comments about the people of Brazil. Sonnen, completely caught off guard, refused to apologize, citing his TKO loss to Anderson as payment enough.
“That whole thing was very confusing. On our very first day there, he quit. He demands an apology and says ‘if Chael doesn’t apologize for all the things he’s said then I’ll quit the show.’ That was just so weird. It was such a checker player move as opposed to a chess player. He never envisioned that I would refuse the apology.
“Now he’s only left with one option, which is to quit. But he’s the one that gave himself this one terrible option so it was the weirdest thing.”
While Wanderlei would eventually settle down and return to the show, the seeds for the role reversal had already been planted. But what followed will undoubtedly go down as the most talked about moments in the history of the program.
During another heated argument between the two coaches, Wanderlei took a swing at Sonnen, who ducked it and dragged the Brazilian to the concrete with a perfectly timed double leg takedown. As both camps swarmed to separate the two, one Wanderlei’s assistant coach, Andre Dida, connected with several sucker punched to the back of Sonnen’s head.
The reaction to the melee has severely damaged Wanderlei’s image in the eyes of the fans. In fact, a poll conducted by the Brazilian media outlet Globo, showed that 70 percent of viewers are now siding with Sonnen.
Wanderlei would go on to criticize the editing process for the shift in popularity in his native country.
“They edited a lot of things, and unfortunately, the production decided to paint me as the villain,” Wanderlei told MMAFighting.com. “But that is not right, because he said horrible things about us, and disrespected me at every moment during filming. This good guy you’re watching on television is not how things are for real. He said and did a lot of things that aren’t being shown.”
The much hyped fight was originally scheduled to take place on May 31 in Brazil but was was moved to July 5 in Las Vegas, due to Silva suffering a back injury during his scuffle with Sonnen on the show.