Make no mistake, Chael Sonnen will take on all comers. Whether it is an opponent in a UFC fight, a superstar NBA player, a popular former UFC ring girl, or a US senator who ran for president, Sonnen doesn’t discriminate. If you make him angry, he is coming for you.
Sonnen will take on his next foe, Mauricio “Shogun’’ Rua of Brazil, in a light heavyweight bout Saturday night at TD Garden. The two stars headline the card of Fight Night 26, which marks the UFC’s return to Boston for the first time in three years.
UFC president Dana White said Sonnen is certainly colorful but he’s also highly intelligent.
“He’s one of those guys who will step up and face anybody, and fight anybody, any time, any place,’’ said White. “Yes, he is very opinionated.
“When you have a beef with Chael, [he’s] going to make it very personal and say a lot of things to upset you. But when you deal with Chael in a business setting or anything else, he’s the exact opposite. He’s a gentleman, he’s a good guy, and he’s a pleasure to deal with.’’
Sonnen, 36, has been called the Howard Stern of MMA because he has no filter. He tells what he believes is the unvarnished truth.
A feud with Miami Heat superstar LeBron James, who made what Sonnen considered an inappropriate comment to his fiancée (now wife), has been resolved.
“We’re good,’’ said Sonnen. “We’ve squashed that.’’
It turns out they got back on good terms by accident.
“My friend Paige was in Las Vegas and she was locked out of her room,’’ said Sonnen. “She didn’t have a key or an ID. He doesn’t know this is my friend. This is a total stranger to him.
“She’s sitting in the lobby of the Mandalay Bay and he comes up to her and says, ‘What’s wrong?’ She tells him the story and he said he could fix it.
“So he went up to the front desk and he said, ‘We need to get her a key.’ They say no. He put down $500 and said, ‘We need to get her a key,’ and they say no. He throws down another $500 and they said no.
“He quit bidding, but it was the thought that counted. He tried to help a perfect stranger, so I’ve forgiven him.’’
A while back, Sonnen was in a Twitter war with former ring girl Arianny Celeste, but Sonnen said it was a misunderstanding and he was just trying to help her.
Among other things, Sonnen is also an author. He wrote a book, “The Voice of Reason: A VIP Pass to Enlightenment,’’ with a cheekily written foreword by none other than “Jesus Christ.”
Sonnen, who fights out of West Linn, Ore., and graduated with a sociology degree from the University of Oregon, felt he had hundreds of pages in his head initially, but when he sat down and put pen to paper, he wrote just six — mostly about John McCain.
Sonnen is definitely not a fan of the senator from Arizona.
“All you need to know about government is through professional wrestling,” said Sonnen. “Professional wrestling was legalized in 36 states, including my home state of Oregon, up until a trial took place in 1988 when Vince McMahon went on the stand under oath and said, ‘This is all scripted, it’s just a play, this is not a sport.’
“In a state like Oregon, it cost the taxpayers $200,000 a year to have a wrestling commission set up. They thought this was real and needed to be regulated. In 1988, the first states started pulling back and letting these go, but it still stands in 11 states, including my state of Oregon.
“These same guys who were duped into believing professional wrestling was real are in Washington, D.C., overseeing your health care, Social Security, and our national defense, not to mention the education of our kids.
“That leads me to our sport. John McCain has made our sport violent. We used to be able to go bare-knuckle. It doesn’t look right, but it’s a very safe way to fight. If I let you wrap your hand and turn it into a cinder block, you can hit me as hard as you want.
“John McCain made that rule on his own. He didn’t talk to doctors first, he didn’t talk to competitors first. The wraps are to protect the fists, not the target. This guy was a number of votes away from being the most powerful man in the world.”
Sizing up opponents
Sonnen (28-13-1) has lost his last two bouts, both to outstanding fighters. On July 7, 2012, he suffered a technical knockout in the second round against legendary UFC fighter Anderson Silva in a middleweight title bout. On April 27, 2013, he was TKO’d in the first round by Jon Jones in a light heavyweight title bout.
Asked if he’d learned anything from those battles, Sonnen smiled and said, “Probably nothing. I don’t learn a lot from any fights.
“I work really hard. I have coaches. I don’t have to think, I just show up and react.”
It’s not as if Silva overwhelmed him, Sonnen said.
“He’s terrible,’’ said Sonnen. “He is by far the luckiest [expletive] I have ever seen in this sport. He’s thrown more crappy moves out there. He kicked Vitor Belfort in the mouth and knocked him out. That’s ridiculous.
“The guy is not very good but he knows how to win, and that’s the most important thing. He’s done a great job.”
There is not a lot of love lost between Sonnen and Jones, but Sonnen said Jones has a great deal of ability.
“He’s the best, he’s a natural talent,’’ said Sonnen. “He didn’t earn it. He doesn’t work hard or take it too seriously, but boy, can he play.”
Sonnen is relishing his opportunity to fight Rua, who has a record of 21-7-0. He said there isn’t any need for trash talking.
“I like him as a fighter and I like him as a person,’’ said Sonnen. “We don’t speak the same language, so we try to communicate the best we can. He’s a tough guy. He’s not me, but he’s tough.’’
Focused on Rua
Sonnen has been a strong ambassador for his sport. Despite having an uncle who won two NBA championships with the Celtics (Mel Counts in 1965 and ’66), Sonnen said he’s never made it through a full football, baseball, hockey, or basketball game because he gets bored. He is passionate only about MMA and the UFC.
“He is a character,’’ said former UFC fighter Kenny Florian, a native of Dover who is partners with Sonnen in the broadcast booth for Fox Sports in Los Angeles. “Chael Sonnen’s big secret is that he is a very humble and pretty quiet guy and a thoughtful guy. I’m not sure Chael wants anyone to know that.”
Sonnen had one brush with the law several years ago when he pleaded guilty to money laundering as a result of a 2006 house sale when he was in the real estate business. He was given probation in 2011 and fined. “Something went a little astray in his real estate deal, let’s just put it that way,” said White.
Sonnen has long moved on from that, and his focus is on Rua. It’s a fight Florian thinks Sonnen can win.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy,’’ said Florian. “Without a doubt, Chael has the skills to defeat a guy like Shogun, who is certainly one of the legends in our sport. He’s a very dangerous guy but Chael has this style that can really give him a lot of problems if he’s able to do it and fight mistake-free.
“[Sonnen’s] timing on his takedowns is phenomenal. He’s capable of making great fighters look very bad.’’ , as he did against Nate Marquardt and Anderson Silva.”Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @elle1027.