Skeptics and cynics, beware: If you think Chael Sonnen is just running his mouth with no substance behind it, he might just be telling the truth.
In late April, just days before he boarded a plane with UFC president Dana White for a news conference in Brazil, Sonnen maintained there was no rematch signed between him and middleweight champion
Anderson Silva– despite reports he was going to Brazil to help announce the fight.
On Monday, White told MMAjunkie.com Sonnen's stories were legit and added a little more depth and intrigue to what the UFC is saying could be its biggest fight in history, "UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen II" – a fight that nearly didn't happen.
"When we did the press conference down in Brazil, Silva hadn't even agreed to fight him," White said. "That fight wasn't happening. I had them bring Anderson to the place where the press conference was, and we sat in a room for three hours fighting about the fight."
Fans may remember the April 24 news conference in Rio de Janeiro for its late start. And White said that late start was because he and his biggest star were at odds over Silva signing on for the rematch.
Silva, as should come as little surprise, is not a fan of the brashness and trash talk that led up to UFC 117, and the talk that Sonnen has continued for nearly two years since then. But when Sonnen got on the plane with White, he flew to Brazil with no guarantee of a fight – only the hope that White could get Silva to agree to the rematch.
"Yeah, (Chael knew)," White said. "He knew there was no fight. (What Chael said) was true, absolutely true. We went down there to make that fight. We set up a press conference, and I had to get it done."
Silva and Sonnen first met in August 2010 at UFC 117 in Oakland, Calif. In that fight, Sonnen gave Silva the biggest test of his UFC career, battering him for more than four rounds before Silva pulled off a fifth-round miracle submission to retain his belt.
Sonnen tested positive for elevated testosterone-to-epitestosterone levels after the fight and was suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission, delaying a planned immediate rematch.
"(Silva wants to fight) anybody but Chael," White said. "He thinks Chael is disrespectful and doesn't deserve a shot at this title at all. So leading up to the press conference, it was delayed an hour because I was fighting with him in my room."
White, of course, eventually was able to get Silva to sign on the dotted line for the fight, which takes place Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas – and not at the soccer stadium in Brazil it was originally targeted for, which likely made Silva even less enthralled with the thought of giving Sonnen another chance at his title.
On a conference call this past week with media members, Sonnen and White, Silva showed a level of anger toward his opponent he hadn't displayed before. And his comments have been the story of the fight in the last two weeks leading up to the bout. But White said it even took some battling to get Silva to be on the call – further proof the champion still may be turning up his nose over having to fight Sonnen again.
"He's pissed at us about that. He's genuinely mad," White said. "And that's part of the reason he flipped out on the call, because he wasn't even going to get on the call. [UFC vice president of communications] Caren Bell found out in Brazil that he wasn't going to be on the call, and then I made the call and said, 'You better be on the call.' And it led right up until (the call started)."
Both situations have been part of White's behind-the-scenes headaches for months, culminating in Saturday's main event at UFC 148. But at the end of the day, the rematch is one White believes had to happen because Sonnen earned it with the way he fought Silva the first time, plus wins over Brian Stann and
Michael Bispingsince then.
"My philosophy is always, if you don't like it, handle it in the octagon," White said. "You can't say a guy doesn't deserve it because you think he's mean. He definitely deserves the rematch. More than anybody. It's true. He's the only guy who's ever come close to beating him in the UFC."