Is Chael Sonnen's Smack Talk to Build His UFC 117 Fight With Anderson Silva Just Bad or Bad for the Sport?

Photo by Ken Pishna via MMA Weekly.com

Tomas Rios votes bad for the sport:

Chael Sonnen's attempts to build the hype for his UFC 117 middleweight title bout against Anderson Silva have run the gamut from standard-issue idiotic to appallingly racist.

With that said, Sonnen and his 1950s insults have generated far more interest than the overplayed wrestler versus striker narrative imposed on this fight. With every tweet, interview and media appearance, Sonnen has dominated the headlines and managed to build a considerable following of fans who find amusement in his vitriol.

Constructing controversy has long been the golden ticket in fight sport, and Sonnen relying on racial and cultural divides to up the ante is hardly new. However, between this and the unfortunate race-baiting that marred the Quinton Jackson versus Rashad Evans match, we could be witnessing the birth of a trend that will only worsen the image of a sport dealing with ignorant, politically charged pontificating both at home and abroad.

Weighing the short-term financial payoff of these cheap ploys against the potential long-term collateral damage is a dicey game and one the UFC has almost no choice but to engage in. At a time when the sport can't even get sanctioned in New York or a fair shake in Germany, the last thing anyone wants to deal with is a Sonnen quote hitting the mainstream media and going viral.

Ben Fowlkes comes down on the just bad for Chael Sonnen side:

It's fine for a pro wrestler to stand up with a microphone and spout five different kinds of nonsense, but Sonnen is in a different business. When he disparages opponents, when he makes everything personal, and when he intentionally disconnects himself from reality in order to create a more interesting narrative, eventually fans are going to start thinking that Sonnen himself is insincere and disrespectful.

Maybe I'm giving him too much credit, but I doubt that's how Sonnen sees himself. My guess is he thinks of himself as an actor playing a role. In real life, he probably tells himself, he's an upstanding, honest man who does what he says he'll do. When the cameras come on, he adopts a persona and gives us the absurdity he thinks we want.

That's fine, and so far it seems to be working out for him. It's great to be known as the guy who can sell a fight. At least, it's great in the weeks before the fight. But afterwards, I'm not sure anyone -- even Sonnen -- really wants to be known as the guy who would say absolutely anything to get attention. At that point you're not an actor -- you're a clown.

Personally I think Sonnen is doing a great job of hyping the fight AND a great job of making himself look like a jackass. But I agree with Rios that it's incumbent on the MMA community to police ourselves before the mainstream media does. If Sonnen does cross the line into outright racism or homophobia, rather than just dancing all over the line, we owe it to the sport to call him out on it. 

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