Chael Sonnen never fails to surprise.
The No. 1 contender said during a media conference call on Monday that he praises light heavyweight champion Jon Jones ahead of their UFC 159 main event scheduled for this Saturday.
The compliments are a 180-degree turn from his usual, and well-rehearsed, verbal attacks that he’s had for previous opponents. While foes like Anderson Silva remain targets for Sonnen in his tirades, Jones gets nothing but positive remarks from the self-proclaimed “American Gangster.”
“As great as Jon is, I don’t think he understands how good he is,” Sonnen told reporters on the call. “For him to pay tribute to Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali … was a very nice thing for him to do. The reality is Jon Jones can beat up Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali in the same day. When he says he wants to be the best ever, Jon, newsflash, buddy, you are the best.”
Jones said that he’s looking at this fight as the one that will allow him to tie Tito Ortiz for most consecutive UFC light heavyweight title defenses. It’s a mark that means a lot to Jones, but Sonnen already put him ahead of Ortiz because of the level of fighter the current champ has seen during his reign as the 205-pound king.
“Yeah, maybe [Tito Ortiz] had a couple of more wins, but he hasn’t had the competition that you’ve faced,” Sonnen said to Jones, who was also on the conference call. “I’m not going to degrade Jon on what he’s done. He’s the world champion, the best in the weight class and he’s the best the weight class has ever seen. So if you ask me if I feel pressure, yeah, there’s a lot of pressure. This a tough guy and a tough environment. But that’s the sport, that’s what it is.”
Jones was unamused by the praise from his upcoming opponent. In fact, he took to the offensive, saying that he focuses on idea of Sonnen taking his title away from him, and that keeps him angry going into the fight.
The champ takes it with a grain of salt, Jones said. Regardless of the polite approach from Sonnen, he still takes UFC 159 very personal.
“I can’t afford to worry or feel any type of feelings of him being kind or anything,” Jones reacted. “The thought of someone taking my nickname away from me, and that nickname is ‘champ,’ I take that very personal … That’s the way I need to keep my attitude. I need to keep my focus. Someone’s trying to take away my dream. The thought of going home without my belt, it keeps me angry.”
Sonnen has received criticism leading into the Jones fight from several fighters and other personalities within the MMA industry for talking his way into the opportunity. Sonnen addressed those who have come out against him, returning to his fight-promoting approach and explaining why he’s the best fit for No. 1 light heavyweight contender status.
“And (if) you’re saying I don’t deserve the shot or whatever, look, I don’t earn title shots, title shots earn me. I don’t go after main events, main events come after me,” he exclaimed. “Whether I earned it or not or deserve it … I don’t talk in those terms. I take what I want and that’s it.”
UFC 159 takes place on April 27 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The card will also feature a co-main event between Michael Bisping and Alan Belcher.