Stephan Bonnar was mostly enjoying his retirement.
It's not as if he was playing 18 holes in the morning and then meeting the bridge club at HomeTown Buffet – making sure to get there before dinner pricing starts at 3:30 p.m. And it's not as if his retirement was a full-on, "I quit. I'm done. Finito. Never again." But Bonnar said it was mostly a retirement, nonetheless.
Then Anderson Silva came along and spoiled it all.
"It's just amazing how overnight I go from my phone never ringing to the coolest guy around," Bonnar told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) on Monday.
And so Bonnar (14-7 MMA, 8-6 UFC) put his retirement on hold for a while and decided a fight against Silva (32-4 MMA, 15-0 UFC), arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history, maybe would be enough reason to get back in the octagon. Bonnar and Silva now meet in the light-heavyweight non-title main event of UFC 153 next month in Rio de Janeiro, with middleweight champ Silva moving up to 205 pounds for the pay-per-view headliner.
Of course, Bonnar wasn't really close at all to that golf-and-bridge-club scenario. In fact, when he got word that the UFC wanted his services for the Rio card, he was in Florida helping former WWE star Dave Bautista to train for his upcoming MMA debut.
The UFC wanted him to fight Glover Teixeira, whose original UFC 153, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, had scratched due to an injury. But Bonnar had been talking about his "rule" for months – and if guys can't pass his entrance exam, they're probably not getting in the cage with him. After 10 years in the biz and 14 UFC fights, the rule is Bonnar's price of admission, and he doesn't feel like he needs to apologize for it.
"My manager hit me up and asked how I feel about fighting Glover Teixeira," Bonnar said. "And I said, 'You know my rule. If I'm going to do this again, he's got to have more Twitter followers than me.' I know it sounds cheesy, but it's true. That's how I feel. That's a measure of someone's popularity, and I just want a bigger name. The last three opponents, I've had more Twitter followers than them, and I've beat them, and I feel like I deserve a bigger name now. I really don't have an interest in fighting an up-and-comer type, guys who are climbing their way up and people don't really know how good they are. I've done that a lot in my career."
In fact, Bonnar's past three opponents – Krzysztof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac and Kyle Kingsbury – don't have as many Twitter followers combined as Bonnar does. It's an interesting barometer for deciding whether or not to fight someone, but Teixeira didn't make the cut.
"I got another text from (my manager) asking how I'd feel about fighting Anderson, and I laughed," Bonnar said. "Like, 'Yeah. Good luck trying to pull that one off.' Of course I'd fight Anderson – 2.5 million Twitter followers? Geez. Like this will ever happen.' … By Thursday night, it was everywhere, and I couldn't believe it. I played a little phone tag Friday and got ahold of (UFC President Dana White), and lo and behold, it was true.
"I think it really set in (Sunday) that I'm fighting Anderson Silva. I'm still a little bewildered."
In fact, reached via text by MMAjunkie.com this past Thursday, Bonnar had yet to officially talk to the UFC and White about the fight. He only presumed it to be happening because the Internet was blowing up about the matchup, which USA TODAY and MMAjunkie.com first reported in the wake of the cancellation of the UFC 153 title fight between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar.
Bonnar has had some big opponents in his career. Early on, before he was known much outside of his local MMA scene in northwest Indiana, before he hit the mainstream on "The Ultimate Fighter," he traveled to Brazil to fight future UFC champ Lyoto Machida. And, of course, on that historic first season of the reality show, he fought future champ Forrest Griffin at the live finale – a fight that is universally regarded as the one that put the UFC on the map and changed the course of the sport forever. It could even be argued that without that Griffin fight, there may not be a UFC to make Silva the greatest fighter on the planet – and forget about him having 2.5 million Twitter followers.
Bonnar would go on to fight future champs Rashad Evans, and Griffin again, and Jon Jones – all decision losses. But there has been nothing of this kind of magnitude in his career, and he knows it.
"There isn't (anything bigger)," he said. "He's the best guy on everyone's pound-for-pound list, he's got 15 straight UFC victories, been a champion for six years or so. It's great, though, because I feel like I have nothing to lose. Fighting Anderson in his backyard, I'm a record-setting underdog. I couldn't ask for anything more."
That last part probably isn't entirely true. Bonnar could ask for something more. He could ask to get his hand raised. And despite odds that now are as high as 15-to-1 against him at some offshore betting sites, a win for Bonnar would change everything.
Bonnar had been asking for a fight with Jackson. They had beef a while back, but it didn't go very far. And Bonnar and Griffin had been campaigning to White to be coaches on "The Ultimate Fighter," where they got their big break. They wanted to live in the house with the fighters, just like they had done when they were castmates on Season 1. At the end of the show, they could fight one last time – Griffin is 2-0 in the series – but White had been consistently shooting that idea down.
In July, Bonnar quietly mentioned to this writer that a spot on the UFC's planned September return to his home state of Indiana (a show that eventually was changed to UFC on FX 5 in Minneapolis next month) might be in the cards, and while nothing was remotely close, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira had been bandied about as a possible opponent. "Little Nog" passed Bonnar's Twitter test, so why not? But that didn't come to pass, either.
And so it was that Bonnar was done with fighting, even if he didn't want to be.
"Honestly, in my mind, I was retired," he said. "Before my last fight, I felt a lot of pressure. I was a (2-to-1) underdog against Kingsbury. But I still felt a lot of pressure because I knew I had to win – and had to win and win good because then I could campaign to get that fight with 'Rampage' Jackson. Then I could campaign to coach 'TUF' against Forrest. I wasn't going to fight again if I couldn't get something like that. I really wasn't. I tried hard. I went on a lot of TV shows and was in a lot of articles and even in my talk with Dana he was like, 'That ain't happening.' So it's like, 'Damn, looks like I'm hanging it up.'
"It really went from me being retired to the biggest fight I could ever dream of having – overnight. Life is funny sometimes."
But it's really that Griffin trilogy fight that Bonnar is eyeballing if he's allowed to step back and daydream for a bit on what it would be like to beat Silva, what it would be like to do something no one in the UFC has done before him, what it would be like to sit out for 10 months and then go to Brazil, where Silva is a household name and has godlike status, and defy odds that are bordering on ludicrous – to get his hand raised.
When he thinks about it, what a way to go out. Fight the greatest, score the biggest upset in the history of the sport, win the hearts of millions of fans in a moment bigger than "Rocky" – and then hang up the gloves for good, walking away on top of the world.
"I was thinking about it; if I win this fight, how am I ever going to top that?" Bonnar said. "It's been hard enough trying to top the (first) Forrest fight all these years. Then if I freaking beat Anderson Silva, talk about a perfect storybook ending to a career."
Not so fast, though.
"Then on the other side, if I beat Anderson Silva, then voila – I could probably get that coaching gig with Forrest, I could probably get a new contract and get paid a lot of money to fight," he said. "It's an interesting dilemma, but one that I'm pretty thankful to be close to having – or just have the opportunity to have."
Of course, a win over Silva would give Bonnar four straight at light heavyweight – with the most recent being against the man many consider the greatest ever to strap on gloves. White believes he's the greatest, which is the opinion that may matter most. So if Bonnar beats the greatest, what's left? Perhaps a rematch with light-heavyweight champ Jones, whom Bonnar took to a decision three and a half years ago, but this time, with a possible title on the line (provided Jones beats Vitor Belfort on Saturday)?
"Wow. You know what? I didn't even think of that," Bonnar said.
It's a little more proof of just how quickly this scenario has unfolded for Bonnar. Out of nowhere came a life-changing megafight at 35 years old, right as he's ready to wind his career down.
Bonnar knows the consensus is that he doesn't stand a chance – even though he never has been stopped, save for two TKOs thanks to cuts. There's a camp that sees Bonnar going all three rounds with Silva, coming forward the whole time, and leaving a bit bloodied up. But there isn't a very big camp that sees Bonnar winning.
For Bonnar, all the better.
"I don't care, though. I feel great about this," he said. "There's no pressure on me. I'm fighting the pound-for-pound best guy in his backyard. I'm a record-setting underdog. It's a good light-and-free feeling."