There have been countless rivalries that captured the attention of mixed martial arts fans in its relatively short history. Recent feuds such as McGregor/Diaz and Jones/Cormier proved to be incredibly popular on pay-per-view and have been a key part of the UFC’s rise to global dominance.
One authentic and all too real rivalry that captured the minds of MMA fans was Wanderlei Silva’s deep hatred and animosity towards Chael Sonnen, with the majority of the beef taking part outside of the octagon.
It all started after Sonnen failed to win the UFC Middleweight Championship against legendary Anderson Silva. During the build-up to the title fight in 2010, Sonnen unleashed various verbal assaults on Silva, insulting his skills, home country of Brazil, and even bringing family into it.
Although Silva was able to defeat Sonnen in 2010 and 2012, his comments were not forgotten.
Former Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva, who was once arguably the best 185-pound fighter, was understandably enraged with the American’s comments. The rivalry started off with each fighter taking a shot at one another during interviews, however, it soon escalated to a full-on feud. Before we knew it, Sonnen was on the mic after a victory calling Wanderlei a pile of crap.
Naturally, the UFC made Sonnen and Silva the coaches for the Ultimate Fighter 3: Brazil.
The UFC announced the season in early 2014, with Wanderlei Silva and Chael Sonnen as head coaches of their own respective teams. Sure, they had a real disdain for one another, but as professional athletes, they weren’t supposed to actually get into a physical altercation outside of the cage.
“I had a fight with Wanderlei Silva a number of years ago on the set of The Ultimate Fighter 3: Brazil,” Sonnen recently explained.
“A clip has resurfaced – Fight Pass has put it out as part of the memorable moments list. So that resurfaced… My producer was asking me to tell the story.
“So incase nobody seen the clip, Wanderlei and I were on the set of the Ultimate Fighter – you know how that looks, he was in his team’s jersey, I was in my team’s jersey – but it’s just us in a room. All of the athletes were just behind a little door of the set waiting to come out, but that was part of the shot that was being set up.
“Well they’re still through the door so it is just Wanderlei and I. And I hated that this happened and I resented Wanderlei tremendously for a while, I do not now.
“The reason I resented him was at the time I went to Brazil – this was right off the back of me having a very big and public dispute with Anderson Silva of which I took all the way to the Brazilian people. I even brought Anderson Silva’s family into it, this thing got nasty. And the Brazilian people were very loyal to Anderson and there was just heat, there was just heat at the highest of levels to when I was there, I was receiving death threats and people were promising to find out where I was.”
Because Sonnen had spoken harshly of Silva and the Brazilian people in the lead-up to both fights, he needed to be escorted around the country by armed guards while inside a bulletproof car – the threats were not taken lightly.
“There was supposed to be huge tension between Wanderlei and I, and there just wasn’t. Now there wasn’t because his way of choosing to deal with me – who he hated at that time and saw as a terrible guy – was to just not. No contact. If I passed him I would just say ‘hello,’ it was just a habit, I don’t know if I could pass anybody that I know and not say hi. He would try to ignore me and because of his approach, there was no interaction.
“I would always find a way to take a dig at Wanderlei, that was the character I was playing, I would always take a dig at him. So I did that to irritate him to get him to have some kind of exchange with me because that was a piece of the program. Now whether I was smart to do that or a jerk to do that as he viewed it, this is still what happened.”
Due to Wanderlei refusing to interact with his counterpart, Sonnen revealed that the producers took it into their own hands to bring the rivalry to new heights, all for the sake of entertainment.
“Production went back to Wanderlei and said ‘quit straight-arming this guy, quit ignoring him, he is trying to engage you: as a matter of fact, here are some things he has said about you behind your back that you don’t know about.
“So he decided premeditately that he was going to use this opportunity when it was just him and I to confront me. Now instead of doing what I think production would have liked, which is just some engaging some verbal banter, it turned physical. And I could feel this coming.”
When the two middleweights found themselves all alone in a room with nobody but each other, “The Axe Murderer” took the chance to call out the American for what he was saying behind closed doors.
Instead of just having back-and-forth trash talk, which the producers were hoping for, Wanderlei decided to take it up a notch and swung for the former title contender.
“And I don’t think this [makes me a] coward, but the idea of fighting Wanderlei Silva isn’t really on my list of fun things to do, and life in general. But the idea of fighting Wanderlei Silva without gloves, without a weigh-in, without a referee, when everybody else through them doors likes him and none of them like me; this is really low on my list of things to do. But I have an ego too. And if this is going to happen, whatever happens, happens.
“A very light scuffle breaks out, the guy’s all came through and everybody rips us apart and breaks it up. Whatever did happen and whatever you did see was very real and very authentic, he was very worked up for his own reasons. I was very calm and not wanting it to happen for his own reasons.”
The two were finally able to settle their beef inside the cage in 2017, with Sonnen walking away with the unanimous decision victory.
To this day, the short yet exciting brawl between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva on the set of the Ultimate Fighter remains one of the most memorable moments in the show’s history, and will likely be replayed over and over again.
“When I look back on that Wanderlei thing, I don’t really care about the scuffle or who the perceived winner was, or who was the aggressor – I don’t really care about that. I would like the story told that we were not working together, the producers were not scripting drama, we just happened to have microphones on.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.