by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
(photo courtesy of Team Quest)

Evan Tanner was originally slated to be Jeremy Horn’s opponent at UFC 60 on Saturday, May 27th, but Tanner was removed from the card. Chael Sonnen stepped up and accepted the bout with Horn, a familiar foe, on short notice. Chael has known about the fight for four weeks, and the deal wasn’t finalized until three weeks ago.

Sonnen recently spoke with MMAWeekly Radio about his background in fighting, his third match-up with Jeremy Horn, his first two fights with Horn, and why this time will be different.

Chael Sonnen told MMAWeekly, “I don’t know what had happened with Evan’s fight. Evan disappeared, then they wanted [Chris] Leben to take the fight. Leben didn’t want to fight him [Horn], or they didn’t want Leben to fight him, the management. I don’t know if it was ever offered to Chris, so here I am.”

Sonnen, an accomplished wrestler, made the transition from wrestler to Mixed Martial Artist, and from fan to fighter. Regarding his background, Sonnen stated, “I just had my twenty-ninth birthday. I’m twenty-nine years old. I started out as a wrestler. I came from a family of wrestlers. My dad was a wrestler. My cousins were wrestlers. My uncles were wrestlers. I started when I was nine years old. I wrestled through high school. I got a scholarship to the University of Oregon. I went there and wrestled. I tried to make an Olympic team in 2000. I lost in the semifinals, came back through, and ended up as an alternate for that team. In 2001, I finished college. I graduated with a degree in Sociology.”

Sonnen continued, “I was a huge fan of MMA. In 1993, when it started, I used to get all the videos like everybody else. I’d watch them after school, and I just always wanted to do it. Actually, being a fan is one of the things that hurt me at certain points of my career. The first time I fought Jeremy Horn, he was someone I looked up to, at least admired on some level. I’ve had to overcome that over the years, as opposed to being a fan of these guys to becoming one of these guys. That was mentally the hardest part, I think… I started fighting at Team Quest before it ever even was Team Quest. It was just a group of us that got together.”

Chael Sonnen and Jeremy Horn have a history. They have faced each other two times in the past, with Horn winning both outings. Horn defeated Sonnen at Extreme Challenge 57 in May of 2004 via a first-round TKO due to a cut, and again at Sportfight 6 in September of 2004 with a guillotine choke in the second round.

Some people have asked why Sonnen would take a third fight with Horn when he has already lost to him twice. On that subjected, Sonnen commented, “People are asking a very good question. Why a third time? That is a great question. Usually you’ve got to split with a guy… you’ve got to win one of those fight two to get chance number three. I guess I’m not exactly sure. Right place at the right time is probably the most candid answer.”

A lot of fighters would be affected mentally going into a third match-up with someone who had previously defeated them twice, but Chael made it clear that he is not one of those people. He said, “It doesn’t add anything to it. I haven’t been beat up by a guy three times before, but then again, I’m not sure of too many that I’ve fought three times, so it doesn’t change anything mentally.”

On the topic of his mental approach to each of his fights, Sonnen said, “I don’t look at it like Jeremy Horn or whoever is across the ring. I’m going to fight as hard as I possibly can for 15 minutes, or until he gives up, no matter who is standing over there. I don’t put much thought into the opponent. I never asked Joe Silva when he called me who the opponent was. I just kind of sat back real quick and said, ‘Let me call you back.’ I want to ask myself if I’m going to be ready to fight that quickly. I don’t care that it’s Horn at all.”

Sonnen added, “There was enough time. Like I said, they called me last week. There was about three and a half weeks, which generally from start to finish isn’t enough time to prepare for a match, but I had just come off a match with [Trevor] Prangley less than a month ago, about a month ago. It was a very hard fight that I prepared for, so I was already in shape for the most part. Like I was saying earlier, I don’t look at the opponent very much. I just try to look at myself and figure out if I’m going to be ready to compete. In this situation, it was enough time, and I would have moved forward regardless of the other gentleman involved.”

Having lost twice to Horn, what can change the third time? Sonnen responded, “What can change? All sorts of things can change. The first time I fought Jeremy Horn, I got dominated. I got taken down three times by him, and I don’t believe he has ever wrestled before… and it was just a bizarre match, which ended with me in the hospital in the only time in my career I had ever been beat up. In fact, I dispute every loss I’ve ever had except that night, including the second time I fought Horn.

As far as his second fight with Horn, Sonnen said, “The second time I fought Horn, I beat him up from bell to bell and lost about four seconds of the match, which was where I was put in the guillotine, and he won. As far as changing things, I’m not sure I need to change anything to be successful. However, I would say that I’ll have a little bit better game plan, or attempt to.”

Sonnen had previously lost by Trevor Prangley in 2003, before defeating Prangley in their rematch last month. Posed with the question of whether he can pull off a similar feat against Horn, Sonnen replied, “For sure, I can do it again with Jeremy Horn. There are two guys inside that ring, so he can definitely stop that from happening, but there’s no question that I can beat him. The past losses don’t matter. I hate to speak for Jeremy Horn, but if you asked him, he’s not going to say, ‘Well, I’ve already beat him twice, so of course I’m going to beat him again.’ A lot of things can happen in there.”

Chael’s first two fights with Jeremy Horn had unique timeline issues. Chael elaborated, “The first fight with Horn, I think we fought on a Thursday night, and I got the call on a Tuesday. I got on a plane the same day I got called, weighed in the next day, and was in the ring with him. I’ve never used that excuse before, and I never thought it was a legitimate excuse until I did it, and I go, ‘Jeez, you’ve got to prepare for these matches a little bit more.'”

The timeline issues for the second fight were the exact opposite. Sonnen said, “The second one, not only did I get to prepare more, but the shoe was on the other foot for him where I think he had three or five days notice. The whole match was put together for the both of us at the last minute, but I happened to have been training, and he happened to have been not. I had a little bit of an edge there, plus he came down a little bit [in weight]. It leveled the playing field a little, so it is one of the things that happened. I think that was the only difference [between the two fights], but it made a big difference.”

Sonnen has competed as a light-heavyweight (205 pounds) and as a middleweight (185 pounds). When asked about his preferred weight class, Chael answered, “I’d rather be at 205. I’m trying to adjust to it again mentally. I’ve had the fantasy of being the 205-pound champion. I generally don’t like the 205 pounders. I’ve put myself in that frame of mind for years… but a guy has to have some friends. You can’t go through the world with no friends, so I made friends with the 185 pounders. Now I’ve been pushed down there, so I’m fighting guys that I do like and trying to convince myself that I don’t like them. At the end of the day, if you’re a fighter, you don’t want to be a small guy anyway. You can be the world’s toughest 155 pounder, but you still weigh 155 pounds, you know? I would much rather be at 205, but it’s not my choice.”

His UFC 60 match with Horn will take place in the middleweight division. When asked if he will be physically ready to fight after winning a hard-fought decision over Trevor Prangley on April 6th, Chael responded, “Physically, I’m okay. I’ve got a lot of things that are hurt, but I always do. I can’t ever think of a time since I was a little kid when something didn’t hurt. If I ever went into a match, or even woke up someday and something didn’t hurt, I’d be a lot more worried than having bruises and swollen this or swollen that. Prangley took a lot out of me. I won that fight, but I got beat up in the process… but like I said, I can’t ever think of a time when something wasn’t hurting.”

Will the third time be the charm for Chael Sonnen? He certainly thinks it will be. Sonnen and Horn are both fairly new to the middleweight division, and we’ve already seen bigger upsets in MMA this year.