Long Road Back: MMAmania.com interview exclusive with Stephan Bonnar

UFC 94 will be a long time coming for Stephan Bonnar. Due to a severe knee injury suffered while training for a fight against Matt Hamill at Fight Night 13, he’s been sidelined since early 2008.

Following reconstructive surgery to replace a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee with a ligament from a cadaver, Bonnar faced an uphill battle. It was an injury that could have sidelined him for much longer, perhaps permanently.

But 31-year-old, two-time Chicago Heavyweight Golden Gloves winner wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel. During the months of rehabilitation, he’s had to change up his training to accommodate for his new knee. He’s now ready to get back into the Octagon.

He’ll get his first test in Jon Jones (7-0). The 21-year-old has been on an absolute tear since turning professional in April 2008 — right about the same time that Bonnar was going on IR. "Bones" Jones now has six stoppages, including two KOs.

Bonnar and Jones face off this Saturday at UFC 94: "St. Pierre vs. Penn II" at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. It airs on pay per view (PPV) starting at 10:00 p.m. It’s a big night for MMA.

Despite his absence from the cage, "The American Psycho" has been absent from the scene. He co-hosted "The TUFfest 25 Moments" with Forrest Griffin, has appeared in several installments of ESPN’s "MMA Live" and even has a new movie coming out. Check out Ultimate Champion here ultimatechampionmovie.com.

We caught up with Bonnar to ask him about his upcoming opponent and his new movie role, and to see how he plans to watch the GSP vs. Penn fight. After all, the guys a fan too.

Here we go:

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): How’s the knee?

Stephan Bonnar: Great. It feels good.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You trained for a long time in Chicago under Carlson Gracie until his passing in 2006. You’ve also worked with Mark DellaGrotte and Sityodtong, and now you’re with Xtreme Couture. Now that you’ve relocated to Vegas and have access to a lot of different trainers and sparring partners, how would you compare this experience to your days back in Chicago?

Stephan Bonnar: You know, it’s just a lot easier. I still go to a couple different gyms, but it seems like everything’s at my fingertips. Every gym is like within two miles of the other one. I got great sparring partners at Couture, I got a great jiu-jitsu teacher up at Sergio Penha’s, which is a few miles from there.

In Chicago, I’d get some good sparring, at some boxing gyms or with Arlovski, but it was a lot more difficult. I was traveling a lot more, going all over. But (in Vegas) you got a lot more places, a lot of different guys. It feels like everything out here is really close and convenient, not too far out of the way.

In Chicago, I was going up to Miguel Torres’ school a couple of times a week for MMA work. I tried to make it to Duke Roufus’ like twice a week for Muay Thai — that was in Milwaukee, that was killing me. And then also with the boxing too, I had Arlovski, I had some guys that jabbed, but even then, it’d be something I’d have to set up. I’d have to make calls and ask, are you going to go to the gym today? You gonna do sparring?

Down here, I just go to Couture’s and show up there, and there’s a bunch of guys to work with.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Do you still frequent Mark DellaGrotte’s gym, Sityodtong, up in Boston?

Stephan Bonnar: Yeah, when I can. I was doing that ESPN gig for about a month and a half, where they had me out in Connecticut every week. It was just, I’d fly all the way up to Connecticut, then come back to do the show in the morning, then come back the next day. So then I said, hey listen, you know I love training with Mark and then I ended up staying out there and training with Mark and doing the show, so I actually got there a couple months ago. That was nice.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Speaking of the "MMA Live" segments, how exactly did that come about? Were you approached about it when Kenny needed somebody to fill in for him?

Stephan Bonnar: Well they had Kenny doing it and Frank Mir, and they were kinda looking for a third guy in the rotation. My agent, Dean Albrecht, represents Frank Mir, so he recommended me. They weren’t sold on me totally. They talked to Kenny and asked him what he thought, and Kenny gave me a good recommendation. And then they said, okay, we’ll give him a try. They gave me a little trial shot, ended up liking me, and decided to have me back.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): We’re definitely seeing more and more of you as a crossover star. In addition to "MMA Live," you hosted "The TUFfest 25 Moments," you’ve done commentator work for some smaller promotions, and now you have a movie coming out where you’re the top star. Can you talk a bit about Ultimate Champion and how you were first approached about the gig?

Stephan Bonnar: Yeah that was another one that … I think that was actually Randy’s agent that said these guys are looking for a fighter, I think he’d be all right, give him a call. So I ended up giving the producer a call, and actually the producer and the director — although they’re both from LA, so they both have places here in Vegas, they come here frequently — so I was able to meet with them here in Vegas and talk to them.

(Laughs) I really don’t know how I got it, they just decided to go with me, I guess. Got a little string of luck. And fortunately they did. It was fun, I’ve always wanted to do something like that. To get a chance to be doing it, it was a blast. I’m so used to training, fighting and the grind, and going through the grueling workouts everyday, so to get a chance to have fun and fake fight, yeah it was pretty cool. It was a really good time.

But it wasn’t fighting in the Octagon. The training gets old after a while, but nothing compares to actual fight night.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Can we expect to see more movies with you in the future?

Stephan Bonnar: (Laughs) We’ll see. I’m game. It was a lot of fun, yeah, I’d do it again.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well you’re next scheduled to face Jon Jones at UFC 94 this Saturday. He’s a decorated collegiate wrestler with knockout power. What problems do you see Jones bringing to the table?

Stephan Bonnar: His length, unorthodox striking and athleticism are probably his biggest strengths. Of course his wrestling — his throws and stuff. He’s got a real long reach. He doesn’t throw just basic kicks and punches, he likes throwing in spinning elbows and the unexpected moves. Yeah, it’s a good fight for me, though.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): In his debut against Gusmao, he looked to be throwing some improv skills in there — spinning backfists and spinning elbows. In fact, if it hadn’t been effective, it might have been reckless, as Urijah Faber learned against Mike Brown. Do you anticipate Jones trying some of that stuff on you?

Stephan Bonnar: Yeah, definitely. If he’s been able to get away with doing that so far — and, like you said, do it and not learn a lesson from it — then yeah, I definitely expect that if he feels comfortable he’ll start throwing moves like that. But as you just saw with Arlovski, he looked to be in control of Fedor, and then he tried the jumping knee and it got him in trouble. So yeah, there’s a downside to not landing it.

In the Gusmao fight, (Jones) threw a couple of those moves and got away with them. He’s long enough too that it’s harder for some guys to counter.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): What did you think of the Arlovski vs. Fedor fight up until that point? Were you surprised?

Stephan Bonnar: Not really. I thought technically Arlovski had the better boxing skills — the all-around striking skills — he’s great at that. He looked to be, up until that point, I definitely had Arlovski ahead. He looked to be in control. We saw Fedor’s knees buckle a little from (Arlovski’s) right hand. (Arlovski) had his chin down, seemed to be doing everything right, and yeah, he got a little carried away and tried a high-risk maneuver.

The thing about Fedor is a guy who’s that dangerous, if you make one little mistake like that, and if he capitalizes on it, the fight’s over, and that’s exactly what happened.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): We have a huge fight coming up between GSP and Penn. Who do you like in that fight?

Stephan Bonnar: That’s a really, really tough one to call. At first I was thinking BJ, and then I kinda went back to GSP. That’s a tough one to call. The last fight I thought coulda gone either way. BJ did the more damage, but Georges out-wrestled him and got more takedowns. There’re fights like that that are too close to call. If I had to absolutely pick someone, I’d say maybe BJ, but if Georges won, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Being on a card with such a huge fight like that, what do you do? You’ve already fought, you’re backstage, you’ve got this fight going on, I’m sure they have TVs back there, do you just sit down and watch it, or do you come back out and see it live?

Stephan Bonnar: For that one, yeah, I’ll probably sneak back out and see it live. (Laughs) I’m a fan too. I live for fights like that.

Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Well, Stephan, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. I know you don’t have a whole lot of time so close to the fight. Lastly, do you want to thank any sponsors or do you have any parting words for your fans about what they can expect to see at UFC 94?

Stephan Bonnar: I’d plug TapouT, but they’re all over the place. Even the little girl’s stores at the mall have TapouT shirts. That really blows my mind. I guess plug the movie, Ultimate Champion.

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