Is the Rivalry Between Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen Real? Yes… and No

March 10, 2014

Chael Sonnen vs Wanderlei SilvaThe UFC is relying on a few changes to The Ultimate Fighter Brazil to spice up its third season – adding two female coaches from outside the MMA world that are prominent professional athletes in their chosen sports and the addition of an Octagon Girl contest within the confines of the show – but as everyone knew coming into the show much of the promotional focus is on the coaches: Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen.

Silva and Sonnen have been taking shots at each other outside of the Octagon for years, each trying to goad the other into a fight. The UFC finally put the fight together, taking full advantage of their rivalry to fuel TUF Brazil 3. Silva and Sonnen are heading the teams on the show and then are expected to step into the Octagon opposite one another on May 31 in Brazil.

The question for most fans has been whether or not their rivalry is simply promotional hype or a true bad blood.

Much like the feud between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock in the past, it appears that it’s a little bit of both. There seem to have been cameras in tow at the most opportune times, such as when Silva chased Sonnen down at the Mr. Olympia festival, and then again when the two exploded into fisticuffs on the set of the show.

There is an element of personal disdain for both men, but each is also taking advantage of opportune moments to build the hype that is so common in sports rivalries these days.

For Silva, however, it may be a little more personal than those who call it a hypefest might believe.

Again, timing it for the full promotional effect following the debut of TUF Brazil 3 on UFC’s Fight Pass on Sunday, Silva released a video that acknowledged some of the hype aspect of their rivalry, pointing primarily at Sonnen’s side of the equation, but personalized his own approach to the rivalry.

Silva says that Sonnen puts on a happy face when the cameras are on him, but then talks smack about Silva behind his back to producers and others. When Silva approached Sonnen about his alleged behind-his-back comments, he said Sonnen told him it was only so-much promotional propaganda.

That doesn’t fly for Silva, who doesn’t take it well when the smack talk starts to get too personal. He is a proud Brazilian, and takes Sonnen’s derogatory comments about Brazil and its people personally, extremely so.

“For me, it doesn’t work this way. But when the cameras would come [on]: ‘Hey, Wanderlei, good morning!’ Then the director would come to shoot the interview and and would say that Sonnen said terrible things about me,” Silva recounted. “Then later, in front of the camera, he would try to be nice. So when the cameras are on, it seems like he is the nice guy and like I am arrogant. That’s not the truth.

“When I came up to him, he said it’s only promotion. To say things and then say it’s only promotion just doesn’t work. The guy makes jokes about homeless children. You use poor children in your jokes to make a few extra bucks? Be a man! I told him never to do that again. It’s not something you can do.”

To be sure, Silva has his head wrapped around the promotional game as well as Sonnen does. The question appears to be more about where each of them draws the line.

And as much as Silva may take Sonnen’s approach personally, it seems to have lit a fire under him, and played well into his own attempts at promotion.

“It made me feel younger to brawl with [Sonnen]. I got a feel for it and I can tell I will destroy him,” said Silva. “The UFC got it right, picking us as coaches. It couldn’t be a bigger rivalry.”

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