Ask any hardcore mixed martial arts fan whether or not they believed Chael Sonnen had a shot against Nate Marquardt in the week leading up to UFC 109? More than likely, you'd be enlightened with answers that didn't convey a positive opinion of the outcome for Sonnen. Some fans believed Sonnen's wrestling could be the ultimate deterrent to Marquardt's style, and to those fans -- I salute you.
To many fans, out picking the experts and shaming us in our theories as to how the fight was going to play out was a bittersweet victory on a Sunday morning. Fighters, on the other hand, find comfort in knowing that they've not only beat the odds, beat the experts, and beat the consensus opinion, but they've also lined their pockets with some hard earned cash as well.
Chael Sonnen has also done something that we haven't seen masterfully done since the days in which Tito Ortiz was considered to be in his prime. He's mastered the ability to sell himself as a 'heel', but instead of coming up short -- he delivered on the promise that he would win on Saturday night and put himself in a position to potentially battle current champion Anderson Silva.
Instead of talking down his opponent, Sonnen referred to him as a "decent human being". He saved his most vile comments for Silva, bashing him for his earrings, pink t-shirts, and sideways hat. But it didn't end there. He scrutinized the notion that Silva was the top fighter in the world, and stated he would "expose him" because he's "no more real than the Loch Ness Monster". Pretty colorful, huh?
Not surprisingly, this has caused a divide in the MMA fanbase. Some fans aren't buying into Sonnen's antics as a legitimate part of his personality, and they can see that he's trying to sell himself as controversial. Those fans, however, can appreciate what Sonnen is trying to do -- he's trying to build hype around a fight in order to amass a bigger payday.
The significant difference between Chael's campaign against Silva and past antics from other athletes is that Sonnen's dominating performance against Nate Marquardt proved the long-time cliche -- if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. His actions spoke louder than his words, but his words have spawned some unique opportunities for him.
Now, there are fans that will tune in because of their love-hate relationship with the newly-minted UFC middleweight contender. Should we really be upset that Sonnen used a proven marketing campaign to improve the excitement surrounding a Silva vs. Sonnen showdown?
We could argue for months as to the effects of such vile comments to fans who want to see this sport grow, but the UFC isn't stopping it. In fact, the UFC is rewarding those fighters who have the ability to garner interest from comments. Dan Hardy, Tito Ortiz, and now... Chael Sonnen. I doubt they'll be "disciplining" Nick Diaz if he finds his way into the UFC either.
And I don't believe it's truly retarding its growth. Even if you believe it's hurting this sport, get used to it. As Chael Sonnen has already stated, "If Anderson ever signed to fight me, which is highly unlikely, he’ll be getting a verbal beating like you’ve never seen."
Obviously his campaign has worked wonders for his career, and be sure that there are plenty of other colorful personalities out there taking notes. Creating two distinct groups of fans, one who loves you and another that hates your guts, is a foolproof way to go straight to the top. Now, if only Chael Sonnen can convince Don Frye to become his manager... then Ed Soares and Anderson Silva would have their hands full.