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A win at UFC 95 puts Chael Sonnen one step closer to a middleweight title shot

There are very few times in life when you get a second chance to make a first impression. However, that was exactly the case for Chael Sonnen when he performed well in two head-to-head matchups with former WEC middleweight champion Paulo Filho.

The WEC middleweight division may be no more, but Sonnen showed enough to convince Zuffa officials to give him a second chance to establish himself in the UFC.

When Sonnen faces Demian Maia at the O2 Arena in London, England this Saturday at UFC 95 (9 p.m. ET on SPIKE TV) it will commence his second tour of duty inside the Octagon. His first tenure ended in disappointment as the long-time Team Quest veteran was not re-signed by the UFC after going 1-2 from in bouts contested in 2005 and 2006.

In addition to losing to Renato Sobral at UFC 55 and Jeremy Horn at UFC 60, Sonnen’s lone win in the UFC — a unanimous decision victory over Trevor Prangley at UFC Fight Night 4 — was widely regarded as a boring encounter.

But Sonnen has gone 7-1 since leaving the UFC and finds himself in a position at UFC 95 where a win could put him in contention for a UFC middleweight title shot. recently had the opportunity to catch up with Sonnen as he made his final preparations for Saturday. During our conversation, we asked him to share his thoughts about his bizarre two-fight saga vs. Filho in the WEC as well as whether a win vs. Maia will be enough to guarantee a title shot.

Bryan Levick: You are now on your second tour of duty with the UFC. In between you have fought with both Bodog Fight as well as the WEC how would you compare fighting for those two organizations as opposed to fighting for the UFC?

Chael Sonnen: I don’t know how to compare them, I have had good experiences everywhere that I fought. Bodog was great but they are gone now so there isn’t a whole lot to discuss about them. The WEC is the same thing but it’s just a different acronym, the contract is with Zuffa and Dana White signs the checks. The rules are all the same. The people that you deal with are all the same and working for Zuffa is awesome. They are the leaders, the trailblazers they have been great and I can’t complain about anything.

BL: Paulo Fihlo had a lot of hype behind him coming into your first match-up do you feel as though he was overrated or he was he as good as the pundits made him out to be and simply had taken a few steps back?

CS: No I think Paulo is great he was ranked number four in the world for our first fight and #2 for our second fight. Paulo was great no one was able to beat prior or since. He still has a great record that includes some great wins.

BL: Did his management ever deliver the title to you as promised after you defeated him in your second fight?

CS: The title no, the physical belt yes. I do have the physical belt hanging up in my garage right now. He will still be recognized as the last WEC middleweight champion according to the commission.  It was a nice gesture by them and it’s a nice piece of hardware to have but the actual title does not belong to me.

BL: Do you see any similarities between Damian Maia and Paulo Fihlo?

CS: Well sure, they are both Brazilian, they are both jiu-jitsu black belts with competitive grappling backgrounds. There are some similarities right there, they are both cage fighters and neither of them have had to show a lot of stand-up but I am not convinced that’s because they don’t possess it they are just so good at what they prefer to do and they haven’t had to show it yet. I think there a lot of similarities there.

BL: Do you feel as though this fight is a must-win in order to maintain your spot on the UFC roster?

CS: For sure I think they all are imagine if I said the other way and that I could lose and my job would be safe that would be ridiculous. You need to win them all, is it a must win no probably not, I don’t think my job is in jeopardy but they are all important to win. I am not in this sport for any other reason than to be the champion. I am not in this to get famous or make money I am in it just specifically to be the world champion. For me they are all a must win I can’t afford to go backwards.

BL: How many fights are left on your current contract?

CS: I have four fights left.

BL: Is this under the same contract when you entered the WEC or is the a new contract?

CS: This is a new contract. I had one fight left with Zuffa. It may have one or two I am not sure. Joe Silva said let’s tear it up and do a fresh one right now. This will be the first fight of a new four fight contract.

BL: Has the UFC mentioned anything to you about fighting for the middleweight championship if you come out victorious against Maia?

CS: They have hinted at things and this match between Damian and I will certainly bring one of us a lot closer to a shot but there is nothing promised to me or insinuated. It has come up somewhere in this four fight deal I will meet Anderson Silva.

BL: Have you had to alter your training regiment because of the time difference over in the U.K.?

CS: No not at all I still practice every day at three.

BL: How long have you been training with Team Quest?

CS: I have been Team Quest even before it was called Team Quest. I started there in 1999 when it was just Randy Couture, Dan Henderson and I. It was just the three of us and we were wrestling. We were trying to make the 2000 Olympic team. Those two already had fighting backgrounds and were taking a year off to train just for the Olympics and I tagged along and got in with them. After 2000 we continued to train every day together but instead of training wrestling we began trained in MMA. I am not sure when Team Quest became the official name I believe it was created somewhere around 2002, maybe 2001. So I have been there since the beginning even prior to the inception of Team Quest.

BL: Matt Lindland is still an integral part of Team Quest I believe?

CS: That’s correct.

BL: How is he doing after his fight with Vitor Belfort?

CS: He is doing great. Physically his fine, I was in his corner that night and we went out to dinner immediately after he left the hospital that night. The reason I referenced dinner was because he was punched in the face and he could still chew. He was able to carry on a conversation and he didn’t have a swollen jaw. He didn’t any teeth knocked out or anything like that. He was just fine he just got hit really hard.

BL: You have fought a lot of big names throughout your career. Can you tell me who your toughest opponent was?

CS: I have had a lot of tough opponents. The toughest fight I was in was against a guy named Terry Martin from Chicago. Terry is a very good opponent and there were a few factors that made that fight very difficult. I can’t recall them all now because it was a number of years ago but I remember that was the toughest fight I have ever had.

BL: Who are some of the fighters that you really enjoy watching when get a chance to watch MMA?

CS: I always like to watch Randy fight, that’s probably a bit of a boring answer because most people probably say that. Randy is a lot of fun to watch. St. Pierre is the best fighter out there right now. I enjoy watching him compete. I enjoy watching Urijah Faber fight and I really enjoy watching my teammates fight like Matt Lindland and Dan Henderson. I like to watch Ed Herman compete. The fights I really like to watch are names that you probably wouldn’t recognize because they are amateurs. I really enjoy watching the guys who are just starting out. There looking to get in to the sport and are competing for all the right reasons, they don’t let money get involved. They are out there for the purity of the sport so the amateurs are my favorite guys to watch.

BL: Is there any fighters training with Team Quest now that you feel will be someone to watch out for in a couple of years?

CS: We have guys who are ready right this second they are just waiting for their chance. Aaron Stark is one of them. Two of the best kept secrets in the sport, one of them is a guy names Tyson Jeffries and the other is Nate Coy. We also have an undefeated fighter named David Jansen who I believe is 16-0 including his amateur record. I believe he just won his ninth pro fight last Friday (February 6th) in Atlantic City.

BL: What do you feel are your strengths?

CS: I really don’t know how to answer that question humbly. I have been competing my whole life since I was nine. I have learned to train properly and deal with adversity. I have fought injured, sick and tired. I have had a lot of those experiences. I don’t get rattled too easily, I would have to say that is my biggest strength. I know how to compete.

BL: What areas do you feel like you need to work on the most?

CS: I don’t know that I would want to reveal those. There is no one area where I am secure. There is no one area that I feel confident and I say I have this mastered. I need work and I do work on everything almost every single day.

BL: Now I realize you have Maia coming up and most fighters refuse to look past an opponent no matter how good they are or how inexperienced they may be but have you given any thoughts on who else you would like to fight in the UFC’s middleweight division?

CS: There sure is and I will gladly answer that question for you the evening of the 21st, but right now I have to keep my mind focused on Demian Maia. He presents a lot of problems and I am still working on some of those in my mind trying to figure out how I am going to deal with him. There are a few guys under contract that I have a moral obligation to beat up. Zuffa has a few thugs under contract that I would like to help them get rid off but first things first Demian Maia next Saturday.

BL: Do you have any final messages for your fans or sponsors you would like to thank?

CS: I would like to thank you for taking the time out to interview me I appreciate you thinking of me.

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