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Jones, Sonnen Fire off First Shots before TUF 17

TUF 17 coaches Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen meet the press...

“I think Jon Jones is the best fighter I’ve ever seen.”

It’s probably the last comment you would expect to hear coming from the mouth of Chael Sonnen, but there it was, an odd quip of honesty or a peace branch of sorts before the self-proclaimed Gangster from West Linn travels out to Las Vegas to begin filming season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter as a coach against the UFC light heavyweight champion.

“If I was to compare him (Jones) to somebody, I would put Randy Couture above him, but a lot of that’s just out of respect,” continued Sonnen on a Wednesday media teleconference. “I don’t believe he’s Randy Couture, but I believe he’s fantastic. He’s got techniques, I don’t even know what they’re called. So good for Jon.”

Sonnen’s compliments toward “Bones” weren’t the only oddities on the midweek call, as it turned out that in the early stages of what is expected to be a lengthy trash talk war between the two that will carry through filming of TUF 17 and into an April 27th bout, it was Jones who came out the early victor.

“Chael’s an interesting guy,” said Jones. “I respect some things about him, like the way he goes out there and gets what he wants, everything except for a world championship or any championships. So he’s a good talker, he’s definitely good for the sport in some ways, and he’s extremely disrespectful and not much of a championship level athlete at all, but he has his qualities, and most of his qualities are gonna come to light when he retires and when he’s able to do his TV shows and commentating and things like that. But right now I feel as if I’m doing a lot of people in the sport a favor and I’m doing Chael a favor by showing him what his true calling is, and that’s using that gift of gab, not athletic talent.”

Sounds like the beginning of an interesting few months, and that’s certainly the reaction in the online world, where debates are sprouting up in rapid-fire fashion discussing the merits – or lack thereof – of Sonnen getting an immediate title shot at 205 pounds after making the decision to move back to the weight class after a lengthy run at middleweight. But according to UFC President Dana White, with Jones sidelined until next year with an arm injury suffered in his September title defense win over Vitor Belfort, this was the right move to make.

“It made sense for him (Jones) to do The Ultimate Fighter,” said White. “(Lyoto) Machida can fight, Dan Henderson can fight, (Alex) Gustafsson and Shogun (Rua) are gonna fight in December, and so everything will keep right on moving. These guys will both coach The Ultimate Fighter, they’ll fight when the season’s over, and whoever’s next in line at 205 pounds can fight Jon Jones next for the title. It’s not like we’re clogging up the light heavyweight division for a guy who wasn’t a contender.”

Sonnen had an even sterner message for those who believe that he doesn’t deserve a shot at Jones’ belt.

“Welcome to life,” he said. “We don’t deserve things, we get what we get. And let’s understand, not one of those fighters said ‘Hey Dana, I’ll fight Chael. Let me prove that I’m the number one contender, let me fight that guy.’ Not one of them. They all sat there and said their little things, so I’ve called every one of those bastards out and I’ll call them out right now. And I’ve got no problem getting a tune up fight and slapping any one of these guys around, including the Karate Kid (referring to Machida). So not only do they not want to carry the heavy water and fight me, they don’t want to fight Jon Jones. Not one of them called out Jon. The only fighter to call Jones out is me. Nobody called me out. I don’t turn down fights and I never get hurt. I will fight anybody at anytime. So these guys can say all these things they want, but not one of them has stepped up. I gotta deal with this all the time, where guys always get jealous or envious of an opportunity, but they never want to walk out to the mound and point to the crowd and tell them where they’re gonna hit the ball. I will. I’ll call my shots. And as far as talking my way into it, what do I care about that? So what I talked my way into it? I wanted it and I got it. I talked a cat out of a tree earlier today. Good for me, and chalk one more up for the bad guy.”

When it comes to Jones’ change of heart when it comes to fighting Sonnen, his motivation goes back to the August cancellation of September 1st’s UFC 151 card in Las Vegas, where he was criticized for not taking a short-notice fight with the two-time middleweight title challenger after original opponent Henderson was forced out of the bout due to a knee injury. For him, this is the next step in the process of ridding himself of the stigma attached to that entire situation.

“It really just had to do with getting over this chapter in my career,” said the champion. “I’m trying to move forward and do a lot of amazing things, and the UFC 151 cancellation was a tough moment in my career, and I think beating Chael Sonnen and after that beating Dan Henderson will help me have closure to that whole situation.

“Just two months ago I had the whole world calling me a sissy and a wuss and saying that I’m afraid of Chael Sonnen, and even my own fans in my hometown questioned why I wouldn’t fight him,” Jones continued. “And it seems like a lot of people have jumped on this train of Chael not deserving a title shot, but they jumped on that train a little too late. I think I’m over the fact of whether he deserves it or not, and I’m getting more realistic with the fact that the fans really want it. And without the fans, who are any of us?”

And love him or hate him, the fans apparently can’t get enough of Sonnen, who is not afraid to light up the entire 205-pound division with one incendiary comment. So despite his acceptance of Jones’ skill and talent, he’s still got plenty to say.

“Look, he needs me, he hasn’t beat anybody until he beats me,” said the Oregon native. “He beat (Ryan) Bader, he beat Shogun, he beat - who’s that glorified Hollywood extra – Rampage (Jackson), he beat Vitor. What’s next, he’s gonna fight Scott Ferrozzo? Listen, he needs me, and I am the man, and I’m the man because I say I’m the man, and if anybody else wants the spot, come say it and come take it from me.”

Jones, the youngest champion in UFC history, is willing to do just that, but first there’s the business of TUF 17, which will premiere in January of 2013, but not in its usual Friday night slot, as Chuck Saftler, Executive Vice President of FX, which airs the show, revealed Wednesday. An exact weekday slot for TUF 17 will be announced in the next 30-45 days, and according to Saftler, hopes are high that Jones and Sonnen will produce a ratings bonanza.

“With Jones and Sonnen as the coaches for this current season, we have probably the best casting that we’ve seen for this show, and we have really high expectations for what the ratings will be as a result,” he said.

As for the eventual fight between the two coaches, which may take place in New Jersey, Jones believes he’s already got this one sewn up.

“I absolutely know I can beat Chael, and I’m really confident going into this fight based on my skill set, my youth, my versatility, and that I’m a championship fighter,” he said. “I don’t think Chael’s really a guy who knows how to win championships. And with that being said, I believe in every way, shape, and form that I’ll beat Chael.”

Mr. Sonnen?

“I’ve been on both sides of an ass whippin’ and that’s something that Jon hasn’t. Jon has been very dominant, but he’s also fought a lot of guys that are timid and that are afraid to get in a fight. I’m gonna walk out there and get into a fist fight.”