UFC’s Bonnar aims to shock the world
Although Stephan Bonnar never officially said the words, he certainly felt retired from the UFC.
During a punishing decade in mixed martial arts, Bonnar fought everywhere from his native Indiana’s small arenas to a strange eco-resort way up the Amazon in Brazil. He secured a permanent legacy in arguably the most important bout in UFC history seven years ago, brawling with Forrest Griffin in the thrilling fight that pointed MMA toward global popularity.
But Bonnar never got a title shot, and he was weary of the grind as he reached his mid-30s. He decided he would fish, coach, comment, act and be a father to his first child arriving this month.
“I had been really letting myself go,” Bonnar said. “I hadn’t been to the gym in months for the first time in a while.”
So what in the world is this nearly retired light heavyweight doing in an octagon in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 153 on Saturday night, fighting pound-for-pound champion Anderson Silva in front of the middleweight titleholder’s frenzied Brazilian fans?
The 35-year-old Bonnar believes in seizing opportunities, even if this one only turns out to be the opportunity to get a historic beating. After a series of injuries, card changes and general mayhem in the UFC ranks, Bonnar (17-7) improbably ended up with a bout against Silva (30-4), only the greatest fighter in the young sport’s history.
“It’s a perfect underdog story,” Bonnar said. “It’s ‘Rocky IV.’ I’m fighting Drago in Moscow. What have I got to lose there?”
UFC 153’s main event might be a historic mismatch, but it also could be cinematic in its extremes. Bonnar, who couldn’t land any fight worth his blood and sweat earlier this year, candidly acknowledges he’s the longest of long shots at HSBC Arena against the fearsome Spider.
“How could you argue against it?” Bonnar asked. “All the records he has. The win streak. Fifteen UFC fights, and only one guy gave him a competitive match. Everyone makes me look human.”
Indeed, Bonnar doesn’t shy away from absorbing a strike, and he cuts and bleeds with alarming ease at times. But the fighter known as the American Psycho for his striking good looks and screw-loose attitude is just crazy enough to think he’s got a shot against Silva.
“If I go in there and get destroyed in a minute, that really means nothing,” Bonnar said. “I won’t elevate myself at all. If I go in there, give him a good run and lose maybe a close decision, I’m sure I could get some bigger-name fights. I go in there and beat him and have the biggest upset in MMA history, a perfect modern-day Rocky story, and it’s going to be hard not hanging it up on such a perfect ending. It could go a lot of different ways.”
Silva and Bonnar both stepped up with a month to prepare after injuries and schedule changes forced featherweight champion Jose Aldo, Vitor Belfort, Eric Koch and Rampage Jackson to drop off the Brazilian card.
The matchup isn’t without complications for Silva, who just defeated Chael Sonnen in July during the UFC’s biggest show of the year. He’s moving up from 185 pounds to 205 for just the third time in his career.
“I stepped up because I wanted to give back to my Brazilian fans,” Silva said. “Stephan Bonnar is a great challenge. This is a UFC champion fighting a guy who has one of the longest histories in the UFC.”
Bonnar hadn’t fought or trained seriously since last November, but at least he had been working out with Dave Bautista, the former WWE wrestler trying to break into MMA in his 40s.
“Just for my general health and wellness, I went and rolled a little bit, just to get in mediocre shape,” Bonnar said. “I’m really glad I did.”
That’s where he got a text message from his manager, asking if he would fight Silva. Bonnar thought he was joking.
The next day, UFC President Dana White confirmed it was real.
“I made a rule to myself that I wouldn’t fight anybody with fewer Twitter followers than me,” said Bonnar, who had just over 58,000 followers Friday. “I wasn’t joking, either. If I’m going to do this again, it’s got to be against a big name. Well, I got a big name.”
He also had to compress his usual three-month training regimen into three weeks before traveling to Brazil, packing in promotional appearances on both ends. What’s more, his wife, Andrea, is due to give birth to their first child late this month in Las Vegas, but the baby could arrive at any time — even while Bonnar is in the octagon with Silva.
Bonnar might leave the octagon on his back, or he might fly home from Brazil with the biggest upset victory in MMA history. At the very least, Bonnar figures he’ll have another crazy story to tell his son.
“I think everything is kind of working out,” Bonnar said. “It seems like all the chips fell into place just right. Seems like everything just happens perfectly where I could be in shape to fight three hard rounds. I’ll have a shot.”