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Chael Sonnen complimentary of Jon Jones before UFC 159

Sonnen: ‘Jon Jones could beat up Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali in the same day’

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Sam Morris

Anderson Silva rolls out of the way of a punch from Chael Sonnen during their bout at UFC 148 Saturday, July 7, 2012 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

UFC 148

Champion Anderson Silva smiles while Chael Sonnen is attended to after Silva scored a second round TKO during their fight at UFC 148 Saturday, July 7, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Chael Sonnen got called out, and it’s in his nature to answer.

This wasn’t by a fighter in the octagon, though. It was from someone in the Mandalay Bay stands at “The Ultimate Fighter 17" finale two weeks ago. While Sonnen signed autographs and took pictures, one fan hollered over the pack to “come over here.”

“Chael goes over there and the guy starts swinging on him, tried to punch him,” UFC President Dana White said. “It was a bad move. They didn’t take him out of there politely. He got bundled up and dragged over every stair on the way out.”

That’s typical of the reactions drawn by the UFC’s most outspoken and polarizing figure. While most aren’t daring, or foolish, enough to swing on a professional fighter, Sonnen has frustrated plenty with his over-the-top antics within the past few years.

Just don’t expect him to add many new faces to that legion this week before his UFC 159 light heavyweight championship bout against Jon Jones (17-1 MMA, 11-1 UFC). Sonnen (27-12-1 MMA, 6-5 UFC) has toned down his act and is on his best behavior.

Sonnen has nothing negative to say about Jones, whom he insists he liked within 30 seconds of meeting him on the “TUF 17" set.

“I hear people insult him a lot, and I’m going, ‘Well, wait a second, this guy is the world champion,'” Sonnen said. “This guy has achieved what everybody else is dreaming of.”

For someone who usually only discusses how badly he’s going to beat his opponents, it’s staggering to hear Sonnen include losing as a possibility before Saturday’s showdown in Newark, N.J.

He considers Jones the top pound-for-pound fighter in mixed martial arts.

“I don’t think he understands how good he is,” Sonnen said on a conference call with Jones earlier this week. “For him to pay tribute to Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali earlier was a very nice thing for him to do. The reality is Jon Jones could beat up Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali in the same day.”

Jones doesn’t know what to make of Sonnen’s praise, so he’s stayed silent on that subject — but not on everything else.

If anyone in the UFC 159 main event is talking trash, in fact, it’s Jones. The champion tweeted steroid accusations about Sonnen last week. He reportedly told White that Sonnen was the first opponent he’d ever faced that he wanted to hurt.

“I really don’t want to talk about the comment,” Jones said. “It’s something I said but my emotions aren’t overly involved.”

“I’ve studied Chael a lot. I study his interviews. I study his personality and everything. And he’s being himself. I’m comfortable with him. I’ve familiarized myself with who he is and what he needs to do and what he tries to be. And it is just another situation.”

Shades of Sonnen’s regular persona remain. Ask him the right question and he’ll supply one of his witty, premeditated responses like clockwork.

There’s no serious answer coming anytime soon, for instance, on what Sonnen says to the masses that believe he’s an undeserving challenger for Jones.

“Whether I earned it or not, I’m a Republican,” Sonnen proclaimed. “I don’t talk in those terms. I take what I want and that’s it.”

Sonnen’s light heavyweight shot at the title Saturday doubles as his return to the weight class. The longtime middleweight hasn’t competed in the 205-pound division since 2005, when he lost to Renato "Babalu" Sobral in his UFC debut.

But he makes light of the situation through poking at Anderson Silva, who beat Sonnen twice in two competitive fights, and paying Jones one more tribute.

“If you think Jon and Anderson are even close, I will run through Jon because I ran through Anderson,” Sonnen said. “Now, I don’t think they’re close: I think Jon is considerably better than Anderson. But sometimes I hear that I don’t deserve this fight or I’m not the right guy, but then I hear that Anderson could beat him. Well, you’ve got to be kidding me because I stomped Anderson twice.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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