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UFC 136:

Chael Sonnen abnormally mute before meeting with Brian Stann

Sonnen respects Stann, but must get through him for another fight with Anderson Silva

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Las Vegas Sun

Middleweight fighter Chael Sonnen listens to a reporter’s question during an interview at the Mandalay Bay Events Center Wednesday, February 3, 2010.

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011 | 7:22 p.m.

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HOUSTON — If the UFC ever wants to tone down the pre-fight banter from a certain fighter, all the promotion needs to do is pair him against surging middleweight Brian Stann.

Look no further than what the UFC 136 matchup with Stann has done to Chael Sonnen for proof. Sonnen is traditionally the UFC’s most notorious trash talker, but he hasn’t even approached saying anything negative about Stann before their featured bout Saturday at the Toyota Center.

“Nobody gets respect in this sport like Brian Stann does before a fight,” UFC President Dana White said. “Nobody wants to fight the guy. Nobody talks any smack. There’s no back and forth, even with Chael Sonnen. It’s crazy the power this guy has.”

No one in the UFC wants to disrespect Stann because of his standing as an American war hero. Sonnen could look it at as a relief. He’s spent less energy on the spirited promotional tours he’s become known for and more on the actual fight.

Gone are Sonnen’s press conference one-liners that double as an insult to an opponent. He’s only got compliments for Stann.

“Nobody wants to fight Brian Stann,” Sonnen said. “I’m not the only guy and that’s not a big secret, but our paths are going to cross sooner or later. He’s beating people up, so that’s just the way it goes.”

For the 34-year old Sonnen, it’s not the greatest timing to face the division’s fastest rising star. Sonnen is coming off the longest layoff of his professional career. A slew of issues forced a 16-month hiatus after he came minutes away from winning the middleweight championship belt against Anderson Silva at UFC 117.

He had to serve a suspension from the California State Athletic Commission after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels and also faced a money laundering conviction in his home state of Oregon.

Sonnen said he was a believer in fighters coming back rusty after an extended layoff, but had accepted that he would have to deal with it.

“I’ve never been the victim,” Sonnen said. “I’m not going to complain. I’ll take whatever comes with the best of my ability.”

Stann thought the time away from the octagon would play less of an effect than Sonnen anticipated. Stann cited Sonnen’s extensive wrestling credentials — he competed at a Division-I level in the sport at the University of Oregon — and long history in mixed martial arts — his first professional bout was in 1997 — as reasons why it wouldn’t matter.

“He’s been dominating guys since I’ve been in high school,” Stann said.

Traces of the vintage Sonnen still remain, though. Any mention of rival Silva will get him as riled up as ever.

Although White won’t make any promises, it’s likely that the winner of Sonnen vs. Stann will be the next to face Silva. That’s the bout that Sonnen is still ultimately after and he’s not going to mince any words about his feelings on Silva.

“I’m not scared of that guy, I’m not going to apologize to that guy,” Sonnen said. “A lot of that said was said in good fun. But the bottom line is I’m sticking my finger in his chest, I’m picking a fight and I’m not going to quit.”

If there were odds on Silva’s next challenger, Sonnen would be the favorite. It’s still a marketable bout, and on paper, Sonnen’s style matches up favorably against the man standing in his way this weekend.

Stann’s only weakness is his wrestling, which is Sonnen’s strongest area. The prevailing thought is Sonnen will be able to take down Stann and pound him out for the duration of their 15-minute fight.

“If I tried to just train wrestling for the last 10 weeks, I wouldn’t have a chance against him,” Stann said. “But luckily I trained hard for the last two years and I don’t have to out-wrestle him out there Saturday night.”

“People keep telling me about how much of a long-shot I am. I think people forget, and I even went back and looked back on my bout agreement, I can punch in this fight.”

Yes, Stann is predicting he’ll knock out Sonnen at UFC 136. But even that can’t get a rise out of the suddenly stoic Sonnen.

One exchange between Stann and Sonnen particularly surprised White. Stann relayed that Sonnen was the ring announcer at his first professional fight five years ago and was “very respectful” from the moment they met.

The anecdote made Sonnen grin and speak highly of Stann.

“We met afterward and I remember where we were standing and everything,” Sonnen said. “He was a very nice guy.”

Enjoy those Sonnen quotes and sound bites while they’re around. They’ll go away for any other opponent except Stann.

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

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