Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Season 1 also-ran Stephan Bonnar takes on Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva in a light heavyweight scrap this Saturday night (Oct. 13, 2012) at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Despite being on a three fight winning streak, Bonnar entered a state of semi-retirement a few months back, revealing that he was tired of being used as a stepping stone for younger prospects and after being denied an opportunity to coach TUF, it appeared "The American Psycho" was headed for a career in commentating instead of fighting.
Luckily for us, this all changed when Jose Aldo was forced to pull out of UFC 153 due to lingering injuries from a motorcycle accident. Pound-for-pound kingpin Anderson Silva stepped up to save the card in his backyard, and Bonnar jumped at the chance to fight "The Spider" and give him his first loss inside the Octagon.
Does the grizzled veteran have a chance to pull off the biggest upset in UFC history?
Let's find out.
(Big shout out and thanks to .GIF master Zombie Prophet for supplying the .GIFs below.)
Stephan earned his Tae Kwon Doe black belt when he was sixteen. This is mostly seen in his kicking game, as he loves to mix in fancy spinning kicks and even an occasional wheel kick. While fun to watch, these kicks aren't particularly damaging and are more style than substance. In addition to his karate kicks, Stephan has been training Muay Thai with "One Kick" Nick Blomgren in Las Vegas and with Team Sityodtong. Stephan's Thai kicks have become an integral part of his striking, including a quite effective snapping kick to the body.
Most of Bonnar's offensive output comes from his boxing. When he isn't brawling, he throws a fairly effective jab often followed by a straight right hand. His boxing has really improved over his last couple fights, as he has demonstrated improved accuracy and added a sneaky counter-uppercut into his repertoire.
Most of the time, Stephan prefers to tuck his chin and brawl with a flurry of looping hooks and wide uppercuts. Thanks to his cast iron chin, Bonnar can come forward throwing heavy punches and usually get the better of exchanges. Stephan's fearlessness and aggression make his average technique much more formidable and standing with him unpleasant. He shines most when he can make a fight about mental toughness and conditioning, rather than technical finesse.
"The American Psycho" is most successful dirty boxing from the clinch. Using his size to hold his opponent against the cage, Bonnar saps their cardio while ripping punches to the body and face. Over time, his opponent's defense crumbles and he opens up with violent knees.
Stephan is not very fast nor is his head movement well developed, so he often takes a lot of damage. Against Anderson, this simply isn't an option. If he allows the Brazilian to find his chin frequently, his chances drop dramatically.
In his last two fights, Stephan has utilized his wrestling to grind out less skilled grapplers. Bonnar doesn't really have a power double leg, instead he pushes his opponent against the fence and then drags them to the mat with a single or double. His takedowns from the clinch are similar: after pushing them around, he'll drag them to the mat or even attempt a judo throw.
Defensive wrestling has long been the biggest hole in Bonnar's game. While getting out-wrestled by Jon Jones is nothing to be ashamed of, getting tossed around for two rounds by a forty-year-old Mark Coleman is an issue. While his overall wresting has improved over the last couple years, it is still his biggest liability.
Stephan began training Jiu-Jitsu with the late Carlson Gracie, earning his purple belt before Gracie's death. He has continued his training in Las Vegas and has since earned his black belt. Stephan's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) game is very much based on positional control mare than submission hunting. Stephan is very good at passing guard, and once he does his opponents have a difficult time getting back to their feet as Igor Prokrajac and Kyle Kingsbury found out.
"The American Psycho" is not incapable of submissions from the top. When Stephan decides to get aggressive from top position, he finishes. Against James Irvin, he latched onto an inverse triangle before wrenching it backwards, forcing the tap.
Bonnar's guard is also quite potent. Attacking with armbars and triangles, he often uses the threat of submissions to create space and sweep or get back to his feet.
Bonnar's best attribute, the one that made him famous, is his toughness and warrior spirit. He simply doesn't give up. To be a high level mixed martial artist and never be legitimately finished is extremely rare, and shows just how determined he is to win.
Against "Bones," Bonnar ate a brutal spinning elbow that floored him. Almost every fighter would have been finished from that, but Stephan recovered and kept pressuring his foe, eventually tiring him out and nearly winning the final round in what Jones calls his toughest fight.
Win or lose against Anderson, Stephan will be coming forward as long as his body allows him to.
Best chance for success
Against Silva, Bonnar needs to make this fight extremely ugly. That doesn't mean charging forward with looping punches (ask Chris Leben or Forrest Griffin how that works). Instead, he needs to cover up tight and move forward. Silva generally won't attack until his opponent does, so if he can get Silva even remotely close to the cage early, he needs to dive forward and capitalize.
After getting Silva against the cage, Stephan needs to rough him up with dirty boxing and frustrate him. "The Spider" could dramatically derail this plan if he latches onto a Muay Thai clinch, but Bonnar is strong enough to prevent that. After a minute of cautious strikes, "The American Psycho" needs to attempt a takedown -- any takedown. If he spends too much time in the clinch with Silva, it will only be a matter of time before Anderson finds an opening for a knee or circles out.
Assuming Stephan is able to take Silva down, he has to keep him down. Chael had success holding him from guard, but I don't see Stephan being able to do the same for three rounds. He needs to pass guard and get a dominant position to drop ground and pound from. The most important thing for Bonnar is to be aggressive with submissions.
If Bonnar has one slight advantage, it's his Jiu-Jitsu. If Silva leaves even a small opening, Stephan needs to dive on it and try to rip a limb off with all his might. The chances of him being able to catch the Brazilian with a desperation submission are much higher than him being able to successfully grind Anderson without getting caught with something nasty.
Will he be able to execute the perfect game plan and achieve a historic upset? Or will Anderson continue to decapitate everyone he faces?