Photo of Stephan Bonnar by Esther Lin for MMAFighting.com
Stephan Bonnar will soon walk into the Octagon at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the fight of his life against Anderson Silva. An unlikely dream fight that, for him, is even more important that his "American Classic" against Forrest Griffin back in 2005. We caught up with Bonnar just days before his potential (second) date with mixed martial arts (MMA) destiny.
Fortune favors the bold.
And in mixed martial arts (MMA), fighters don't come much bolder that Stephan Bonnar, a gutsy, grizzled and game veteran who has never backed down from an in-cage challenge. It's a reputation that has followed him throughout his 14-fight tenure with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and it's the same reputation that will follow him "into hell" this weekend against Anderson Silva in the UFC 153 main event.
"The American Psycho" is admittedly not as prepared as he should be, accepting the three-round, 205-pound non-title main event bout against the UFC middleweight champion with just four weeks to ready himself for a rumble in Rio. In fact, he was enjoying retirement, fishing in the Gulf of Mexico when he received the call of a lifetime.
Nonetheless, accepting a fight with the dangerous Silva, from his position, was a no-brainer. Despite a three-fight win streak, beating up guys named Krzysztof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac and Kyle Kingsbury wasn't cutting the mustard. He wanted bigger names, bigger challenges and bigger opportunities to move him along faster.
Go big or go home.
So when his requests for fights against former champions Forrest Griffin and Quinton Jackson were rebuffed, Bonnar decided at 35 years young to go home, hanging up the four ounce gloves and tying a ribbon around what many would describe as a successful professional MMA career.
Even if his losses outnumbered his wins, which they don't, Bonnar always had the career-defining ace up his sleeve, the three-round war with Griffin back in 2005 that propelled the promotion into the mainstream. It's the stuff of legend, so familiar and famous that there is no need to go through it all at a place like MMAmania.com.
It's a huge fucking deal. And it always will be.
In an odd twist of fate, Bonnar is once again standing on the edge of MMA immortality. That's no exaggeration: Silva is the greatest fighter this sport has ever known and Bonnar is the greatest under dog in a main event this sport has ever seen. If he can somehow score the upset, he'll ride off into the sunset with two of the biggest bookends a fighter could possibly ever imagine.
It's the kind of fantasy material of which Hollywood movies are made. But, this is no fantasy, it's Stephan Bonnar's reality. And when we recently spoke with him about the gravity of this situation, the opportunity to close his career loop in Rocky-esque fashion, it's one that is certainly not lost on the original The Ultimate Fighter.
In fact, he boldly admits that he's "shitting is pants."
Check out MMAmania.com's exclusive interview with Stephan Bonnar below before his unlikely showdown with Anderson Silva this weekend (Oct. 13, 2012) at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Stephan Bonnar fighting Anderson Silva in the UFC 153 main event, eh? How the hell did that happen?
Stephan Bonnar: I was actually down in Tampa, Fla., I had been sitting on my ass for about four months and I had really let myself go. I got a call to come help Dave Bautista train for his upcoming MMA debut because he knows I'm a good partner, won't hurt him and will really do what I can to help him. I'm a bigger guy ... whatever. I figured it was a good idea -- I'd get away, make a little money, get off my ass and get in a little bit of shape. Thank God I did because shortly after I left I got a call from my manager -- keep in mind I'm "retired" -- and he wants me to fight Glover Teixeira on one month's notice. And I just told him, 'Dude, you know how I roll, you know me better than that -- I need a big name.' Then the next call I get from him is wanting to know whether or not I want to fight Anderson. I mean, it doesn't get any bigger than that and to this day I'm not really sure how that one got pulled off. I couldn't even get myself a fight with Forrest Griffin or Quinton Jackson, you know? Anyway, I went back to training the next day, pushed hard because at this point I wasn't 100 percent sure the fight was going to happen, but then lo and behold, later that night my manger, Wayne Herriman -- a.k.a. Harry Houdini -- pulled it off.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Ever consider turning down the offer at any point?
Stephan Bonnar: No fucking way.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Really? Turning down big fights seems to be all the rage these days among other UFC fighters.
Stephan Bonnar: Everyone has got their own reasons. Some guys really are set on competing for a title and think a loss would set them back, or other guys aren't even training and really aren't ready to fight. It's one thing if you're training, have a fight scheduled and you're in shape and all that -- and then you get called on to fight a little sooner -- that's different than just getting a call out of the blue. You can't blame these guys. I mean, what happens in the third round, they get gassed out and boom, the fight is over? It's tough. I understand both sides of the argument. I'm not going to knock guys for turning down fights.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Is that because you're speaking from the perspective of experience or is it just a new way of thinking now that this sport can evolve into an actual great-paying career for the guys who play it smart ... and safe?
Stephan Bonnar: Look, I had no interest in fighting Glover. Tough guy, no one really knows who he is and it's on super short notice. What would I gain from that at this stage of my career besides a paycheck? That's just me -- every individual and situation is different. However, fighting Anderson Silva ... are you kidding me? I know it's a long shot, but to get a fight like that changes my life! It's such a huge opportunity. It really is. Dream come true, man. I'm hungry for stuff like this right now. And I know that if I passed on this opportunity, years from now, I'd look back and just want to kill myself.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Are you scared, nervous, excited ... all of the above?
Stephan Bonnar: I'm shitting in my pants. But, I'll tell you what, fear is the best motivator.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Is this a new feeling?
Stephan Bonnar: It's different, for sure. But, I'm actually more nervous for other fights than I am with this one with Anderson. Usually, there is more pressure like, 'I have to win. I have to keep this win streak alive. Then I can call out the big names, I can set myself up for a big fight.' There's a lot of pressure in the UFC to win so you can keep moving forward to bigger things. But, this is different. I cut out all that stuff. There is no pressure because it doesn't get any bigger than Anderson Silva and I've got nothing to lose. I'm a huge underdog, I'm fighting in his backyard. It's great ... all I've got to do is give him hell.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Do you, seriously, have a realistic chance of pulling off the biggest upset ever in a UFC main event and winning against literally ALL odds in Rio?
Stephan Bonnar: Yeah, I wouldn't get in there if I didn't think I could win this fight. Winning this fight changes my life, man. I'm going to give it everything I've got.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): What do you feel is your best chance to make that happen?
Stephan Bonnar: Just fucking taking it to him and kicking his ass. Eating his shots, moving forward and breaking him.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): So we won't see Stephan Bonnar point fighting this weekend?
Stephan Bonnar: What the fuck is point fighting?
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): You know, dancing around, picking your shots, hit-but-don't get hit at all costs, piling up the points with the judges and escaping Rio with a close decision. Point fighting!
Stephan Bonnar: If I see a hole and I can exploit it without having to go to the well, I'll gladly do that. In all my fights I'd prefer to do that. The critics who say, 'Oh! Bonnar finally chose to fight smart this time around ...!' No, jackass, I just found something that worked and stuck with it. In the fights where I had to go to the well, blood and guts-type battles, that's because other things weren't working for me. That's because I couldn't find and exploit those holes -- I was forced into it. Honestly, if I could win a smart fight without taking damage against Anderson, I certainly would. But, what are the chances of that happening? Probably not too good. I'm going to have to go through pain, go through hell, eat shots and get bloody to get it done. And that's fine with me, I'm cool with that.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Notice any holes in his game or does all that pre-fight analysis go out the window the moment fists start flying?
Stephan Bonnar: We've watched tape, and there are a few things we picked up on, but nothing I obviously want to talk about right now. Little openings. But, I'll tell you one thing: I think I will do better standing up with him than anyone else he's fought in the UFC. Look at Chael Sonnen, a wrestler, who was able to find holes in Anderson's stand up. So they're there. And if Chael can find them, I can find them.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Do you have anything to say to the fight fans who think this is a silly fight and one that you don't deserve to be in?
Stephan Bonnar: I'm loving it, I'm eating it up, man. All the Tweets about how 'I don't stand a chance' or that 'I'm going to get killed' is all just giving me more motivation to win this fight. I love when people don't give me a chance, it's when I'm at my best. It takes all the pressure off. And it will make it all that much sweeter when I shock the world.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Carlson Gracie was a strong figure earlier in your career and he probably still would be today if he didn't pass away several years ago. How cool would it be to take what he taught you into the belly of the beast, where he is from, and have your hand raised in Rio?
Stephan Bonnar: Yeah, it's amazing to think about. He'll be watching over me that night for sure, giving me strength. I can still hear him yelling at me sometimes in my head, 'KEEP FIGHTING!' He'll be with me, giving me energy. He'll probably be the only Brazilian fan in my corner that night.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): How would you react to winning this fight?
Stephan Bonnar: I don't really know ... yet. It's different because it's not like this is for a belt. I never cared about the belt. I mean, if I beat Anderson Silva, you really think I'd give a damn about a belt? This, for me, is bigger than a belt. I can't even imagine how I'd handle that moment. I do know that I will have to get on a plane and get my ass home as soon as possible, though, before my baby pops out of my wife.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): That's right ... I forgot about that. Congratulations! Are you still thinking of naming him Griffin, after Forrest Griffin?
Stephan Bonnar: Thanks. I'm considering it, you know. I like the name, it's a good Irish name. I'm Irish, I'm a family guy. But, it's also a big moment in MMA history, you know? It's like a timeline -- the B.C.-A.D. timeline -- of MMA. Was it pre-Griffin-Bonnar 1 or post Griffin-Bonnar 1? It's history.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Speaking of Forrest, have you ever thought about whether or not your career would have somehow been different had you won that night, regardless of the fact that you both earned "six-figure" contracts for the epic performance?
Stephan Bonnar: It doesn't matter. He got the nod in the end, but whatever, that's like the best loss ever. No one really remembers the actual result, but everyone remembers the fight -- that's all everyone talks about. That's just such an important moment in history for MMA -- we helped put it on the map, gyms started sprouting up everywhere, little kids started to train, the list goes on. It's just so great to be a part of that.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Seven years later, do you ever get sick of answering questions about that night? Will you ever?
Stephan Bonnar: I'm sick of answering questions in general. I've never done this many interviews in my life, you guys are killing me, you know? I just want to fucking fight, but these media requests are like non-stop. If I lose to Anderson I'm blaming you guys -- quit bothering me already!
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): You've had an up-and-down career since TUF. Any regrets or anything that irked you as you were looking back from a retirement perspective?
Stephan Bonnar: No, man. Every fight I've had I've fucking fought my ass off. Watch every fight I've had, even my losses, I fight to the bitter end. That's my motto. If I'm still pouring it on at the final bell, did you really kick my ass? That's all I've asked for and all I've ever wanted. I just come prepared and give it everything I've got ... always.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Going all-out like you tend to do typically has its drawbacks, most notably leaving yourself open for a big shot or ultimately getting finished. Yet, somehow, someway, you've managed to lose only via decisions. And I can't even really say I've seen you serious danger. How is that possible?
Stephan Bonnar: It's just me, it's who I am and what I have to rely on. If I was super fast and hit really hard, was slick and had all those natural athletic gifts, I probably wouldn't have as big a heart. It's worked for me. I mean, now I'm 35, at the end of my career, I've got use what I got. And heart is what I got.
Stephan Bonnar: Me, ME! I'm the better story, like "Rocky" comes to life in the modern day for the MMA world. An unbelievable story, but it's true.
Thomas Myers (MMAmania.com): Well, almost true, right, because you still have to write the final chapter, no?
Stephan Bonnar: It will be written in Rio.
Stephan wanted to thank Roots of Fight, which has created an "American Classic" t-shirt line to celebrate his historic fight with Griffin, as well as created a mini-documentary video that you can watch right here (in addition to entering our contest to win the entire "American Classic" clothing line). He also wanted fight fans to be on the lookout for a, "Stephan Bonnar Shook Up The World" edition, which will be released shortly after he defeats greatest MMA fighter to ever live.