Anderson Silva is the least popular fighter of his caliber in UFC history. Despite being promoted by Dana White from on high as the best fighter in the world, Silva has continued to provide the UFC sub par performances at the box office. I created a bit of a stir last week by suggesting that race and nationality play a significant part in the public's ho-hum reaction to Silva. Although some disagreed, at least one person clearly believes UFC fans prefer their fighters to be English speaking Americans. His name? Chael Sonnen.
Sonnen has already gone after Silva for his dress and "cocky" attitude, using time tested racial code words to make it obvious what he means to a subset of the sport's racist fans. But Silva's race isn't Sonnen's main target-it's his nationality. Dedrick Muhammad called Sonnen out last month at the influential Huffington Post:
In my research into the history of racism and racial inequality I found that much of white supremacist or European racism had as its justification a belief in religious superiority and what I will call civilizational superiority. Whether it was in relation to Native Americans or Africans in America, justification for mistreatment of these people were that they were pagans or non-Christian and were not as advanced as Europeans, in other words savages. Countries such as Brazil, Haiti, and Cuba, that have incorporated African religious and cultural traditions into their national identity and way of life, have long been seen as inferior for allowing non-European traditions to "taint" their respective national identities. So when Chael Sonnen spoke of the Brazilian manager Ed Soares as praying to "a demon effigy" and referred to Soares' "piglet tribe of savages," this was right in line with racist rhetoric that has been used for centuries.
Yesterday, Sonnen took the rheotoric to the next level. On The Fight Show with Mauro Ranallo, Sonnen called Portuguese, the language spoken by more than 200 million people world wide, "just a half step up from Pig Latin." It was the least ambiguous attack yet, making it clear that his opponent's nationality was a major issue with Sonnen.
In response to his antics, pro wrestling blog Cage Side Seats ranked Sonnen as one of the "Top Heels in MMA Today:"
Chael Sonnen might be trying harder to sell himself as a heel than anyone on this list. Largely regarded as a boring lay-and-pray fighter before he came to the UFC, he's reinvented himself in the UFC as the man destined to beat Anderson Silva. At least, that's what he'll tell you. He's talked more outlandish trash about Anderson Silva than can be recounted, pitching himself as a savior come to rescue the UFC from the curse of the dancing Brazilian. In the process, he's somehow generated a good deal of hype for a fight where the oddsmakers have him as a very large underdog.
I think that's missing the mark. Sonnen is manipulating fans and the media-that much is certain. But he's not doing it to be the heel (pro wrestling jargon for 'bad guy'). Chael Sonnen wants to be the knight in shining armor, rescuing the sport from the man he sees as a "gangster," part of a tribe of "savages" that speak a language "half a step up from Pig Latin." Sonnen actually believes his xenophobic banter will make him the hero, not the heel. Sadly, he may be right.
UPDATE: Cageside Seats writer King Matt compares Sonnen-Silva to a legendary pro wrestling match:
Up until recently, it would have been hard to believe that Sonnen is going to be the fan favorite heading into UFC 117. The same thing could have been said about Stone Cold when his feud with Bret Hart started. Up until the age of Stone Cold, all the heroes in pro-wrestling had a squeaky clean imagine ("To all my little Hulkamaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong") and Bret Hart was one of those squeaky clean guys. But, Stone Cold’s I-am-going-to-do-what-I-want persona appealed to pro-wrestling fans around the world. Finally, the "switch" happened at Wrestlemania 13. Squeaky clean Bret Hart became the heel and badass Stone Cold became the hero.
Just like with Bret Hart and Stone Cold, the "switch" is happening with Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva. As we all know, for months Sonnen has talked an enormous amount of crap about Anderson Silva. Mainly saying that Silva is a fake and an a-hole. When Sonnen first started his rants a few months ago, it was fun and original, but lately it seemed to be getting desperate and annoying. It seemed that Sonnen’s never-ending trash talking was beginning to piss of MMA fans. Then the UFC 117 conference called happened yesterday. In the span of about seven minutes, it seemed that everything Sonnen was saying about Silva was justified. Silva came off as a selfish jerk and was later torn apart by the media and fans alike.