Bonnar returns at UFC 94
Story by Anthony Springer Jr
In 2004, the Ultimate Fighting Championship engaged in the ultimate science experiment. 16 guys were picked to live in a house, fight each other and compete for a six figure contract. The series finale took place April 5, 2005 inside the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. The light heavyweight final showcased two fighters that beat each other to a pulp for 15 minutes, much to the delight of a capacity crowd—who showered the men with a thunderous ovation at the conclusion—and millions of fans who curiously tuned in to the growing sport that is mixed martial arts.
When the dust settled, both men were given contracts for the hard fought battle. UFC president Dana White credits the bout as a match that helped propel the organization into the stratosphere. The winner—Forrest Griffin—went on to become a superstar and win the coveted UFC light heavyweight championship.
Stephan Bonnar was the other guy—and “the American Psycho” knew that the UFC was destined for greatness.
“I had a feeling that it was going to be huge,” Bonnar said of the reality show and the organization. “Maybe it’s just me, I always thought the UFC was the coolest thing around and to have a reality show. I knew it was going to be huge. Dana White will say ‘we didn’t know,’ but I always had a feeling that it was going to be a hit.”
Though his epic first contest with Forrest Griffin was seen by millions, the impact of the bout didn’t hit Bonnar immediately
“A few months after that, it still didn’t feel different. Maybe a year after it seemed like everyone had seen it.”
Bonnar made the best of his second place finish, defeating Sam Hoger, James Irvin, and Keith Jardine in his next three fights. A brief skid ensued, as the 31-year-old dropped two consecutive contests to current light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans and another to former champion Forrest Griffin. The two fight losing streak was followed up by an undefeated 2007 that saw Bonnar best Mike Nickels at UFC 73 and Eric Schafer at UFC 77.
And then… nothing.
An elbow injury sidelined the Chicago native and all but the most hardcore of mixed martial arts fans seemed to forget about Stephan Bonnar—until TV called. During his time away from the Octagon, Bonnar hosted an Ultimate Fighter recap show with Griffin and found a home on ESPN’s MMA Live.
“I’ve always enjoyed it,” he said of being in front of the camera. “When I was a little kid, I’d go to the press box at the baseball park and announce the batters. I did projects in school that involved making videos and mine would be hilarious. Me and a neighbor used to get in trouble for sneaking his parents’ video camera and making silly movies. It’s fun, it’s easy, let’s go on ESPN and talk about the fights. I do that anyway. To be able to go in front of the camera and get paid for it? I guess I never realized that that was an option. I love martial arts and competing, but I never thought about going into [TV]. It was just something I’d do for fun or a school projects.”
While Bonnar seems to be a natural on television, he puts his camera time on hold when a fight looms. The Ultimate Fighter alum is set to return to the Octagon this Saturday at UFC 94 against an undefeated Jon Jones. Though Bonnar was eager to talk about his budding broadcast career, he became a man of few words when offering up his assessment of this future adversary.
“He’s long, he’s pretty athletic and explosive,” he said. “His striking is unorthodox, he’s not afraid to throw jumping knees and spinning elbows. Overall, I think mine is more crisp.”
If Bonnar has his way, fans of standup wars will find themselves satisfied.
“We’re probably going to stand up and trade, it should be exciting.”