Middleweight contenders Sonnen, Bisping await UFC showdown

CHICAGO — Chael Sonnen came into an afternoon news conference at a downtown hotel Thursday armed with an Ultimate Fighting Championship belt he never earned and enough rehearsed material to keep the assembled media and several hundred fans laughing for more than a half-hour.

The usually loquacious Michael Bisping stayed relatively quiet by comparison, though on the few occasions he spoke, the brash Brit might have won the verbal war.

"I think you can get (that belt) on eBay for about $29.99," he said. "He can keep his fake belt and shove it up his (expletive)."

Those kinds of quips could have been exchanged for several months had this matchup of top middleweight contenders been set up on a normal schedule.

Instead, two of the top talkers in the organization will meet in the co-main event of the UFC on Fox 2 card Saturday night at the United Center after finding out about the fight 10 days ago.

Bisping was to meet Demian Maia, while Sonnen was supposed to take on Mark Munoz until Munoz was forced to pull out because of an elbow injury. Bisping was more than willing to step up for the opportunity to fight Sonnen to determine the next contender to the belt owned by Anderson Silva, even if Sonnen is the one carrying it around.

"I believe that I am the true champion," Sonnen said. "This is the true UFC belt. This was Anderson Silva’s belt. I took his belt like a gangster in the night. If he wants his belt back, he can come and get it. It’s my belt. I slept with this thing last night."

Sonnen’s performance against Silva, combined with his ability to brilliantly self-promote, is what propelled him to stardom. He did not, contrary to his statements, win the title. Sonnen dominated the 2010 fight for 4½ rounds before being submitted late in the final round.

The 34-year-old former All-America wrestler at Oregon has fought once since then, dismantling Brian Stann in October. Sonnen now finds himself as a minus-450 favorite, though UFC president Dana White called that line "nuts."

Sonnen made his mark as one of the sport’s best wrestlers but believes he also can win the standup battle against Bisping, who is proud of the fact he has sent seven of his past eight opponents to the hospital.

In fact, Sonnen’s camp has been touting its fighter as one of the best boxers in mixed martial arts.

"Yeah, he’s the best boxer, he’s Muhammad Ali, he’s the best at everything," Bisping said sarcastically. "I’m just from Manchester (England); what chance do I have?"

Sonnen rotated between channeling Ali and cutting pro wrestling-type promos during the news conference.

"You’re looking at the reflection of perfection, the man who gets all your attention. You’re looking at the man with the biggest arms, the man with the greatest charm," Sonnen recited. "The man in Chicago who will do harm to the guy three doors down."

While a prolonged verbal battle could have spiced up the matchup, both fighters know nothing they say will affect the fight’s outcome.

"I am the best fighter in the world," Sonnen said. "He thinks he can beat me, I think I can beat him, and we are going to see who is right in the only debating forum that matters — the UFC octagon."

It would not be the first time Bisping has fallen short after getting within one step of a title fight. He fought Dan Henderson for the right to meet Silva at UFC 100 in July 2009, only to get knocked cold with one big right hand.

Bisping, 32, has won five of six fights since, and four in a row since a decision loss against Wanderlei Silva, to get back into title contention. Despite the odds he faces, Bisping says this time he will get the win that finally lands him that elusive shot at the belt.

"I am sure we are both going to look like car-crash victims on Sunday (morning). Never mind the trash talk; we can both do that in our sleep. Just tune in on Fox and watch the fight of the year," Bisping said. "I am going to make the oddsmakers look like fools. I am winning this fight."

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.

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