Bellator MMA's big guns hit Madison Square Garden this week with one notable absentee: 'no show' Wanderlei Silva.
That didn't stop his June 24 pay per view dance partner Chael Sonnen letting rip in that self-styled 'American Gangster' personality he takes at the hallowed fight venue in Manhattan, as the mixed martial arts organisation revives a contest that should have taken place after their rivalry ignited five years ago.
There's plenty of history. Sonnen was fighting Anderson Silva at the time and had used every putdown of Brazil he could muster to scalp the skin of ’The Spider’. Pig-latin, criminals, lack of honour, a nation of back-stabbers, you think of it - or make it up - Sonnen said it.
Silva - Wanderlei, not Anderson - took it much more personally and said his nation’s integrity had been attacked. When the pair went head to head in Brazil in a series of The Ultimate Fighter, it got very ugly indeed when a brawl erupted in the studio. It was ugly. They all looked like losers. Worst of all, we never saw the pair fight.
Fast forward to this week, the two of them will now headline Bellator MMA’s first pay per view bonanza - at the mecca of fight sports on the US’s eastern coast - as the organisation ramps up its act.
Heavyweight Matt Mitrione is back on track after clearing up a kidney stones problem that kept the heavyweight from fighting Fedor Emelianenko at last month’s Bellator 172 event.
Two title fights have been added to the line-up, and much-touted young wrestler Aaron Pico will make his debut, while another Irishman making noise - James Gallagher - will draw the support of a wave of green on the card.
Sonnen punched more than his weight with some verbal sparring at his old adversary, who is in camp in Curitiba, Brazil.
“I feel like Wanderlei got his way. It looks like he found a bathroom as a backdrop at the men’s shelter he’s living in in Rio and got somebody to point a cell phone at his face. I find it a little bit weird,” Sonnen said. “You just talked to plexiglass with a little bit of technology in it and he gave you an answer. You understand we’re beaming him in via satellite. We could have used that satellite technology to put it somewhere in the world to pick and predict weather patterns and protect people’s lives. Instead we’ve got Wanderlei Silva coming to us from a men’s shelter bathroom in Brazil.”
Sonnen is clear what will happen when they do meet. “It’s an a--whipping contest for 15 minutes of my life or until he gives up. I told the press three weeks ago the next time I see Wanderlei Silva, I’m going to be fighting Wanderlei Silva and he stayed home in Brazil. And that’s just the reality. The last time I saw Wanderlei Silva I fought him on the streets of Brazil. So yes, my words matter. We are back on pay-per-view and daddy is the king of pay-per-view. I’m not coming into the men’s bathroom at the homeless shelter, Wanderlei. You can call me out all you want. I told you I’d be in New York and I will be in New York on June 24, one place you are not.”
Sonnen had his own take on The Garden, too. He was centre-stage, of course. "The biggest star in the history of the business is coming to New York. And why this is a big deal when you’ve got a city decorated with concrete is beyond me. I don’t come to buildings this old in West Linn. You’ve got a building as old as MSG in my hometown, we’ll tear it down. But this is a big deal for you guys and while everybody else is happy in New York, New York is happy to have me.”
Sonnen will see legend Fedor Emelianenko in the ring before he fights on the night. “Fedor Emelianenko in his crowning moment is going to jerk the curtain before the ‘Bad Guy’ himself walks,” Sonnen said. “Can you imagine being Fedor Emelianenko, getting that call and told you’re coming to MSG, you’re gonna pull the curtain back for Chael Sonnen to make the walk? And while Wanderlei hides out in the bathroom in Rio, when all is said and done I will promise you this, it’s going to be one more in the win column, one more for the highlight reel and one more for the bad guy.”
Silva, whose 'no show' was granted by his paymasters at Bellator, did plenty of shrugging and will fight Sonnen with plenty of emotion, and no little needle.
Mitrione, meanwhile, opened up about the kidney stones that saw him withdraw from his last fight on 90 minutes notice. The revelation was that there were 24 of the little blighters down his stem.
“We don’t know what caused them,” Mitrione said. “Initially, she (the doctor) said it was serial dehydration. But I don’t cut weight, so I don’t know what that would have been. Probably from my years when I was younger, hanging out, partying and drinking, going to practice still drunk or hungover, and then drinking again, when I was way too young.
“Probably just being irresponsible, and not having the cleanest diet. But obviously, having 24 stones, they’ve been there for a long time. I was just lucky enough not to pass them at the worst time ever in the history of ever, which this one did, and that’s what happened. But I feel great, other than that.”
But Mitrione added that his health is now perfect and he's ready to fight Emelianenko at 'Bellator NYC' at MSG come June.
“First of all, I feel fantastic,” Mitrione said. “Fedor, thank you for accepting the fight again. I really appreciate it. It’s a massive opportunity, so I’m really thankful for that. That’s first.
“Kidney stones, man. It just happened. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know why it (happened). I passed a couple of them a few times before, and this one, when they finally called the fight (off), they said, ‘Ok, we need to get a CAT scan and see what’s really going on here.’ The stone had still not passed; it was still in my tract somewhere. And we finally got that one to pass, and in the CAT scan they thought they found six or seven stones in my right kidney, and none in my left.”
Scott Coker, the CEO of Bellator, which is owned by media giants Viacom, said that pay per views will be regular. But not every month.
On Friday, 'King' Mo Lawal defends the fight organisation's heavyweight crown against Quentin 'Rampage' Jackson, in Chicago.