The coaching matchup between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva looked like dynamite television waiting to happen, but things went south early on in filming, flipping on its head what looked set to be a classic “TUF” rivalry.
As one of the brashest trash talkers in the history of the sport, Sonnen had a knack of getting under people’s skin. His witty banter and snappy one-liners resulted in him becoming one of the biggest draws and “heel” characters in the promotion.
His most infamous rivalry was undoubtedly with UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, with the peak coming when Sonnen took aim at the Brazilian legend’s country, family, and legacy.
But, despite Sonnen (31-17-1 MMA, 7-7 UFC) squashing the beef with “The Spider” after falling short in their two championship battles, he found himself in another heated rivalry, this time with Wanderlei (35-14-1 MMA, 5-7 UFC).
Sonnen and Wanderlei filmed Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil,” where things got physical between the pair after Sonnen refused to apologize for criticizing Brazil during his past rivalry with Anderson.
“That was a mess,” Sonnen told Burt Watson on MMA Junkie’s “Legend 2 Legend” series. “So, my heat was with Anderson Silva. Anderson would be right to be disgusted with me. I invoked his wife, his entire country, his people. There was spreading that hot sauce, as you put it, all around. But somehow Wanderlei tried to insert himself in the conversation. I’m not clear to this day how Wanderlei became a part of Anderson and I’s beef.”
Sonnen had the daunting task of filming “The Ultimate Fighter” in the same country he had continuously trashed for the past couple of years in the name of fight promotion. But Silva wasn’t having any of Sonnen’s antics, which made things both heated and awkward on the show.
“We get out to ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and this story is already written, we don’t need a script, I get it, he gets it,” Sonnen explained. “He gets to wear the white hat, I’ve got to wear the black hat. I’m the guy that insulted his whole country, and now I’m in the country, it’s not going to be great for me, but he gets to be the big hero. So, on the very first day, for reasons unknown, he stands up before we start filming.
“Wanderlei stands up and goes ‘Before we go any further, unless you apologize, I’m leaving.’ Well, you’re going have to leave, man, because that’s not part of the skit. I do not give apologies, it’s part of being the bad guy. I can’t really come off-brand to make you feel better in a room of empty people when I’m trying to entertain the masses at a later date on television, that just doesn’t happen. So, he left. That was the sucker’s move that he made – he didn’t give himself any other way out.”
Though Silva would end up filming the rest of the show, it didn’t come without a physical altercation. When Silva approached Sonnen later in the filming process, Sonnen proceeded to push him, and a brawl broke out.
Sonnen couldn’t understand why Silva insisted on the apology, which he believed put him in a tough spot and resulted in a flipping of the script.
“So, all of a sudden, he who is supposed to be a hero, is now the villain,” Sonnen said. “I’m supposed to be the villain (but) I’m now the hero. Everything was wrong. So Wanderlei and I go to the back room, and I even explained this to him. … I said, ‘Wanderlei, you have to understand this, you get to be the hero, but if you bully me and pick on me, that’s going to make me sympathetic. I don’t want to be liked, you do. So go ahead and take it, I’ll take the other role, that’s the one I want.’ But he just did not understand, he was too hard-headed.”
Suddenly, Sonnen’s beef with Anderson spilled over to Wanderlei, who refused to let go of everything Sonnen had said to “The Spider” when trying to sell their fights.
“Anderson Silva, I think, kind of understood a little bit about what was happening. Whether he let the world know or not, I think he understood,” Sonnen said. “Just let this guy go sell the tickets. Wanderlei appeared to not get it and to have taken it legitimately personal.”