Photo: Bellator MMA

NEW YORK–It didn’t take long for Chael Sonnen to get into his usual groove at the press conference for Bellator NYC on Thursday afternoon. “The American Gangster” once again had everyone’s attention with his usual schtick: firing off insults, cracking jokes and drawing laughs from the media in attendance.

Sure, his opponent, Wanderlei Silva, was a target for his verbal barbs, but so was the event’s host arena, Madison Square Garden, which Sonnen mocked for being shaped like a circle. In fact, after the presser, Sonnen took shots at two of the city’s other staples, calling the pizza “garbage” and the bagels “overrated.”

All attacks on New York delicacies aside, Sonnen (28-15) saved his best material for Silva (38-12), who shoved him during their stare down at the conclusion of the press conference.

“As soon as I got out of the cab at the hotel, I thought I saw him,” Sonnen said. “I saw some guy in a crosswalk with a bald head that looked dishevelled and lost. And I said, ‘I’m pretty sure that’s Wanderlei.'”

When Sonnen signed on with Bellator in September of last year, he said, “The ruler has returned.” And even though he lost by submission to Tito Ortiz at Bellator 170, his debut with the promotion, the 20-year veteran of the sport is as confident and brash as ever.

“Yeah man, you are right about that, the king is back,” he told MMA Plus after the press conference concluded. “The East Coast has a fourth family and you are looking at the Don.

“But it goes like this: the guys that I looked up to the most, the Randy Coutures, the Dan Hendersons, the Matt Lindland’s, they all had the ability to extend their career,” Sonnen, now 40-years-old, continued. “They went into their late 40s. Randy 47, Henderson 45 and Lindland 42. I think that speaks volumes to their level of discipline, their level of fitness and there is a lot of luck involved there too. I have the right coaches, who prepare me the right way. When I show up I’m not in charge. My coaches tell me what to do. They don’t ask me my opinion and I trust him and I do it. And as long as I can keep up, I want to keep going.”

The submission loss to Ortiz left a bad taste in Sonnen’s mouth back in January–which was his first fight in over three years–and it still lingers in him now, even though he’s days away from facing Silva.

“Losing to Tito was so embarrassing,” Sonnen admitted. “[He’s the] Worst fighter in the sport and I lose to him. It’s like if you beat a guy that’s champion you can call yourself a champion. If you lose to a bum, you are a bum. And that doesn’t sit well. I made changes that night. I said, ‘I”m never going to feel this way again.’ And I sat down with my coaches and we made changes. I stacked the bricks and put checks in every single column. And if that converts to results we will see what happens, but I am completely ready to fight.

Back in February, Sonnen wanted to get back in the cage so badly he offered to fill in for Matt Mitrione, who withdrew from a fight with Fedor Emelianenko due to kidney stones. The reason for that he said, “I was just dying to get back in there. It didn’t have anything to do with the opponent, I just really wanted one more shot.”

His next shot will be on Saturday night, June 24 in “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” And for this fight, Sonnen says he’s motivated like never before.

“I’ve never been so motivated,” he explained. “I haven’t been a motivated athlete in 10 years. And I’ve been a very disciplined athlete. In the last 10 years, I’ve fought for five world championships, sold out six different arenas. But I wasn’t motivated. I had to operate on discipline. Showing up to practice I was there on time every single day, but it was tough. It was tough to get in the car and get there. Motivation isn’t something you can control. You’ve either got it or you don’t.”

The reason he is so motivated to face Silva at Bellator NYC, is due in large part to suffering that humiliating loss to Ortiz.

“I don’t ever want to feel that way again,” said Sonnen. “I will never under perform again. My biggest regret of the Tito fight is that I just didn’t bring my skills with me. I just didn’t go out there and perform. You will have those kind of matches in your life. I grew up as a wrestler and those kinds of things happen. In a wrestling tournament, you get another shot 45 minutes later. In a situation like MMA, you only get three of these matches a year. It’s tough. You can’t go out there and underperform. I vowed to myself and I will vow to you, I will not do that again.”

The rivalry between Sonnen and Silva dates back to 2014 when the pair were coaches on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3. Silva went after Sonnen during the filming of the show and threw a punch at him, but was taken down to the ground. One of Silva’s coaches, Andre Amado then punched Sonnen in the back of the head while he was on top of Silva. The two were originally supposed to fight at UFC 175, but after Silva pulled out with a hand injury from the brawl on the show, followed by Sonnen’s suspension for a failed drug test soon after, the bout never materialized.

Finally on Saturday, “The American Gangster” and “The Axe Murderer” will settle their differences once and for all.

“One thing about Wanderlei, he’s a cage fighter. I’m a cage fighter. I had my first fight in 1997. I don’t know where the term mixed martial arts and all this stuff came from. I’m not a martial artist. I don’t wear bath robes and I damn sure don’t bow to people. So when they lock that door we are going to be two half-naked men with very limited rules and we are going to fight.”