The Many Faces Of Chael Sonnen, And The One Face Of Wanderlei Silva
On one side of the spectrum, there’s Chael Sonnen.
If you love Chael Sonnen, there’s little doubt in my mind that some of that love (or possibly a lot of it) hinges upon his seemingly effortless ability to entertain you on the microphone. He’s quick with his quips, he’s deadly with his deadpan, and he blurs the lines of fact and fiction so well that you almost find yourself believing that West Linn is the murder capital of the world; far more dangerous than any Stockton or South Central LA alleyway you could possibly find yourself in. “The American Gangster” would fit right in, I believe, if he were to someday jump ship with Brock Lesnar and join the ranks of the WWE – his ability to play a “character” is just that good. In fact, he plays it so well that I’m not exactly sure when Chael is in character and when he isn’t. Other than the most egregious of times.
And on the other side of that spectrum… is Wanderlei Silva.
If you love Wanderlei, it’s for a very different reason. And that reason is one that speaks to just about every man’s primal instincts: he’s a violent, aggressive whirlwind of destruction, who puts “entertaining the fans” at the top of his priority list (sometimes eclipsing his need for actually winning a fight). He’s all fists, feet, elbows and knees; an axe-murdering warrior who isn’t happy unless he lives and dies by the sword.
In other words, there is little doubt as to who the “real” Wanderlei Silva is.
You cheered for Silva when he violently (and happily) stomped Yuki Kondo’s head into the mat, in PRIDE… you cheered for him when he went off-script, climbing into the ring and shoving Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, simply because Rampage dared to tell him that he was going to take his belt… and you cheered for him when he charged Mark Coleman in the ring, before stalking him backstage in an attempt to continue their “disagreement”… yes, if one thing is certain, it’s that Wanderlei Silva’s temper, heart and penchant for violence is exactly what endears him to his rabid fan base – no matter if he’s in a ring, a cage, or if he happens to be in his street clothes, getting in someone’s face.
This is exactly why, when I hear people critique Silva for his actions this past weekend on TUF, I have to wonder what these fans were expecting from him.
If I told you that a man walked up to Wanderlei on the street… called him stupid in front of his peers and friends… insulted his homeland with sarcastic comments about his countrymen’s supposed lack of hygiene, technology, intellect and wealth… if he told Wanderlei that his wars in PRIDE – wars where he put his health on the line for us, his fans – were fake, and predetermined… and then accused him of showing up drunk and reeking of alcohol, to tape an episode of TUF… what would you expect Wanderlei to do? Would you be at all shocked, if you heard that Wanderlei got in this man’s face, or scared him with a threat of violence if he were to continue talking?
Of course not.
Then why is anyone shocked when Silva does it on the show? Do you want Wanderlei to only have anger issues when it suits you? That’s just not the way this man is wired. After all, anyone that can soccer-kick a downed fighter in the skull, knee someone in the face a dozen times, or stomp the back of a man’s head like it’s perfectly normal behavior, well… he probably shouldn’t be expected to play nice, when he’s put in the same room with a man who’s been taking audible swipes at him for years.
Perhaps these naysayers are new fans of the sport; unaware of Silva’s quick temper and genuine, palpable anger that fueled his violent 5 year reign over the PRIDE middleweight division. And if you are in fact new to the sport, let me clue you in on something: this is not an act. There’s no switch that Silva throws, as he enters the ring, or the cage. He is, and always has been, a violent, very short-tempered, aggressive fighter who demands respect from his opponents, in and out of the ring / cage. To naively expect Silva to suddenly play nice with Chael, simply because they’re on a television show, is wildly ignorant.
Chael and Wanderlei are both leopards with very specific spots on their respective fur. No one expected Chael to suddenly “stop being Chael” when he started this season of TUF, and no one should expect Wanderlei to, either. And while I understand that this is not a confrontation with some stranger on the street, and that these two professional fighters need to use a modicum of decorum when dealing with one-another, I also understand how Wanderlei reacts to disrespect – as did everyone from the UFC, going into the tapings. Everyone, it seems, except Chael.
Chael apparently believed that he would be allowed to come coach on The Ultimate Fighter, say anything he wanted to say to Wanderlei, and take advantage of his quicker wit and sharper tongue to make Silva look foolish for the duration of the show. It was the perfect plan: he would be able to insult and frustrate his foe, with no threat of physical retaliation. But when Chael tested the waters, telling Silva to “call it the Wanderlei Show, stupid ” after Silva started his speech to both teams in week 3, things didn’t go as planned. Instead, Silva calmly walked up to Chael and shoved him in the chest, leaving Chael with a concerned, shocked look on his face, as he reminded Silva “…you’re not allowed to touch me. ” - a very clear sign that Chael’s well-laid plans were now crumbling to pieces. It looked like Chael would have to weigh his words – and the possible physical responses they might incur him - after all.
Chael would again try his luck in week 6, intentionally needling Silva to his very fragile breaking point, before dropping his schtick and concernedly asking Silva to “please stop” as Silva suggested to Chael that they have their scheduled bout right then and there. Chael would end up shoving the slowly advancing Silva away, putting up his dukes and slipping under a right-handed slap from Silva, before taking him down and beginning a bench-clearing brawl.
It’s like if a man walked into a wolverine exhibit at the local zoo, poked the aggressive animals with a stick, and then insisted that they not attack him. Twice.
Should a person be able to deal with Chael’s verbal jabs in a more calm and peaceful manner? Absolutely. Did just about everyone on earth know that Wanderlei Silva would not deal with Chael’s verbal jabs in a calm and peaceful manner? Absolutely. And while Wanderlei has shown a softer side as of late, telling his fans in interviews and videos that he loves them and wants to give them all a “big hug”, people need to remind themselves that he’s still that same Wanderlei Silva from the highlight reels. The same man who - while displaying the eerie calmness of a disturbed sociopath, pushing a pillow into a sleeping man’s face - held Keith Jardine down by his throat with one hand, and used the other hand to batter his skull until ”The Dean of Mean” was no longer moving.
In other words: Wanderlei Silva can be nice, yes. He can be a sweetheart to his fans, and to his family. But he’s also capable of sinister moments of the old ultra violence; moments that would make the gang from Clockwork Orange question their resolve.
For better or worse, for right or wrong, Wanderlei Silva has always been the man you saw this past weekend. He’s short-tempered, aggressive, and immensely protective of his pride and self-perceived honor. And just like you wouldn’t expect those wolverines to act any differently if you placed them in another environment, we shouldn’t expect Wanderlei to suddenly be a calm, docile “axe murderer”, simply because he’s on a reality TV show.
Does this completely excuse Silva’s actions on the show? Of course not. But no one – including Chael - should be shocked when Silva resorts to violence and physical confrontations, when that’s exactly what he’s been doing for well over a decade.
In other words: If you book Wanderlei Silva for a show, don’t be surprised when he shows up.