If you’ve only ever been an MMA fan from a distance – meaning, you watch your fight shows from the comfort of your living room and have never been to any sort of event in person – then maybe you think that what you see when the cameras are rolling is the truth. Maybe, from your vantage point, you think those harsh words fighters often have for each other is 100% real and not done in the spirit of fight promotion and drumming up interest, and you believe that the personas you see on television and read about on websites and magazines are based on reality. That’s fine if that’s what you believe. It’s your right as a fan to put your beliefs in anything you want. But often, what you see isn’t wholly accurate.
Take Chael Sonnen, for instance. In his time in the UFC spotlight, he’s talked a world of trash. But the truth is, he’s not the gigantic douche you may have thought he was.
BloodyElbow has the story of Sonnen, motivated by nothing more than altruism, funding a wrestler’s training in Russia. And this was a wrestler he didn’t even know. Said the wrestler in the BE story:
Like a month and a half before I was leaving, Chael Sonnen after his first fight with Anderson Silva…I thought it was a joke, I thought the Paulson brothers were messing with me, cause we were watching the fight, and I’ve wrestled so many people in the UFC, you know, like Sonnen, Munoz, Jon Fitch, Mo Lawal, I’ve wrestled Cormier, Aaron Simpson. I’ve wrestled so many of these guys. So yeah, I’ve wrestled [Sonnen] once, it was at University Nationals, it was my freshman year in college, I didn’t even think he’d remember it…
So after the fight, I get an email from him saying ‘Hey, I want to send you some money, it’s going to be in an envelope that looks like junk mail, because it was from his bank, his bank just cut a check and sent it and they send them in unmarked envelopes so people don’t steal the mail.
He sent me three or four thousand dollars, and for me every thousand dollars was a month’s pay. Room and board were a thousand dollars a month.
Why would Sonnen do something like that for a stranger? Because when you strip away the trash talk and postfight rantings, Sonnen is an extremely cool dude.
Chael is a big wrestling fan, and I had a rough year in 2009, I had a staph infection in my ankle so i wasn’t able to wrestle. I was up a weight at the [World Team] trials, and lost only one match, in the clinch, and it really hurt me. [Sonnen] said he saw an interview afterward where I said I wanted to go to Russia for a year and train, and he said he thought that was a really great idea and he wanted to help contribute, get me over there, and help me out along the way.
After I was already there, I won tree tournaments, I beat the number three wrestler in Russia from the year before. [Sonnen] ended up sending me another 2 or 3 thousand dollars, he told me to enjoy myself over there.
He would send me emails every once in a while and check up on me, see how I was doing, and I was doing the same with him. He was just following up and seeing how training was going. We talked about the experience over there.
I had no existing relationship with him before this, but now we still keep in touch.
Rarely do we see even a fraction of the things fighters (and even Dana White himself) do in the name of charity and kindness. But that doesn’t mean those charitable and kind acts don’t occur. They do.
Keep that in mind the next time you throw a shoe at your TV and call a particular fighter an “asshole”.
Front-Page Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports