Virtual reality: Behind the scenes of long-awaited Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva fight

(usatoday.com first published this story.)

According to legendary mixed martial artist Chael Sonnen, the most painful punches aren’t the soft ones or the hard ones. It’s the in between punches that hurt the most.

He should know. Sonnen has been fighting for the past two decades. VRtually There joined him at his home gym, Gracie Barra Portland, where he was putting in long hours to prepare for a match that was three years in the making. His fight with Wanderlei Silva was arguably the biggest event of his career.

Follow Sonnen’s gripping journey to face rival Silva, known as “The Axe Murderer,” in the cage at Madison Square Garden in the video above.

40-year-old Sonnen first entered the MMA world as a fan in 1993. Four years later, he had his first fight. As a boy, Sonnen developed a strong sense of discipline from witnessing his dad work as a plumber through rain, snow, weekends, and evenings. It’s this relentless work ethic that has kept him competitive, when so many of his peers have retired.

“I’ve never missed a competition in my life due to illness and injury, and it’s not because I haven’t been sick and it’s not because I haven’t been hurt,” says Sonnen.

Leading up to the Silva fight, Sonnen’s training regimen included eight intense workouts a week. He spent most of his days boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, and sparring. Some people assume Sonnen is fearless for choosing such a demanding profession. He adamantly claims that’s not the case. He feels fear all the time, and knows that with each match he’s putting his dreams and goals on the line. But giving up is foreign territory for the light heavyweight champion.

A bully will pick his opponent. A bully will only go out there and fight guys he knows he can win. I would never be a part of that. I would fight them all. Some go your way and some don’t go your way. But I will strap up, put my…

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