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MMA community reacts to Stephan Bonnar’s untimely death at 45

“American Psycho” passed away on Christmas Eve, and the combat sports community shared their collective grief at the loss of a fighter intrinsically tied to the sport of MMA’s success.

Esther Lin - MMA Fighting

It was with heavy hearts that we reported the news yesterday that legendary The Ultimate Fighter finalist, Stephan Bonnar, had passed away at the early age of 45 years old. While no cause of death has been shared yet, sources close to Bonnar confirmed the news and then Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) officially announced his passing around noon ET on Christmas eve.

“The UFC family is saddened by the passing of UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar,” the promotion’s official account read. “We send our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.”

Bonnar’s professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career lasted 13 years and 24 fights, and he was a familiar figure in and around the sport. The news of his passing hit many people hard, and other fighters and MMA personalities shared their sorrow at his death on social media.

Bonnar was an extremely important piece in the success story that UFC has become. After being bought by Zuffa in 2001, the combat sports league struggled to become financially viable, posting more than $30 million in losses over the years. UFC President, Dana White, was telling his bosses (Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta) they should sell the organization, but they decided to hold on and try a reality show called The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV first.

The first season of The Ultimate Fighter was a modest hit for Spike, but it was the Finale featuring the first UFC fights on broadcast television that lit the fire that propelled the sport forward into a multi-billion dollar juggernaut it has become today. Bonnar and Forrest Griffin engaged in a knock-down, drag-out brawl for the Light Heavyweight tournament finals. Nothing like it had ever been seen on basic cable, and as each round ended the viewership numbers kept skyrocketing.

While Griffin was awarded the decision win with 29-28x3 scores, UFC spontaneously decided to award both fighters with UFC contracts. The fight kicked off a period of interest and growth in UFC that saved the sport of MMA in North America from near-death.

Who knows what would have happened without Bonnar vs. Griffin?

For this reason alone, Bonnar is one of the most important figures in MMA history. Meanwhile, Alex Behunin covers a few more reasons in his article on Bonnar’s passing. Rest in peace, Stephan.

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