Rebuilt Stephan Bonner plots his return
by Chris Yucus (email@example.com)
What a difference a year makes.
Around this time in 2007, Stephan Bonnar was on a roll. He was building momentum on back-to-back wins, including a solid performance at UFC 77 in which he earned a second-round technical knockout against former training partner Eric Schafer.
Unfortunately for Bonnar (11-4), the fight would be his last to date, as a nasty knee injury required reconstructive surgery and forced him to miss over six months of training. Behind claims that his knee is now “90 to 95 percent,” the 31-year-old has returned to training for his fight against unbeaten Jon Jones at UFC 94 on Jan. 31 in Las Vegas.
While Bonnar was on the shelf, Jones was just starting his mixed martial arts career. Fighting at a break-neck pace, the 21-year-old has amassed a 6-0 record since April. Five of those victories have come by stoppage, and the lone decision win was tallied in his promotional debut at UFC 87 in August. There, he earned the nod over former International Fight League standout and Renzo Gracie prodigy Andre Gusmao in a battle of undefeated light heavyweight prospects.
Bonnar remains best remembered for his epic clash with Forrest Griffin at the inaugural “The Ultimate Fighter” Finale -- a fight considered by many to be the impetus behind the UFC’s meteoric rise to power. He sees Jones as a legitimate threat.
Bonnar's first bout with Forrest
Griffin remains one of the
sport's most important fights.
“He’s really long and athletic and still learning,” Bonnar said. “Along with wrestling, his best attributes are his strength and his length, as well as his awkwardness. He’ll throw stuff that a lot of people are scared to throw, like spin moves, unorthodox things; he has that X factor.”
Having relocated from Chicago to Las Vegas before the Schafer tilt, Bonnar hopes the time he has spent training at Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts and Sergio Penha’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy proves to be a deciding factor in his showdown with Jones.
“My jiu-jitsu has gotten tighter since working with Sergio, and, since my knee’s gotten better, I’ve been training a lot of wrestling at Couture’s,” said Bonnar, a disciple of the late Carlson Gracie. “I’d like to work on it even more. I feel like I’ve gained a lot in the past two months, and I’ve still got three more months till the fight.”
In moving to Las Vegas, Bonnar was reunited with his former rival, Griffin, at Xtreme Couture.
“With Forrest, it’s always going to be good training,” Bonnar said. “He trains technical when doing wrestling, and [in] sparring, he goes hard and pushes you. Just like in our fight, we bring the best out of each other, so he’s a hell of a training partner.”
Bonnar -- who has been finished only once, by the undefeated Lyoto Machida, in 15 career bouts -- does not take anything for granted and admits his knee injury cast doubts on his future in the sport.
“After the surgery, I could barely stand up for a week and a half,” he said. “I thought, ‘What if I couldn’t come back and fight?’ I was pretty depressed. Now when I’m training, I have a different way of looking at it. I’m thankful I get to train and do martial arts, whereas before I would kind of get worn out on that stuff.”
While Bonnar was on the sidelines, the landscape of the UFC’s light heavyweight division changed dramatically. Griffin upset Quinton “Rampage” Jackson to capture the 205-pound crown at UFC 86 in July. In addition, another TUF fighter who owns a victory over Bonnar, season two winner Rashad Evans, emerged as the No. 1 contender with a stunning knockout victory against Chuck Liddell at UFC 88 in September.
Griffin and Evans will square off for the light heavyweight championship in the main event at UFC 92 on Dec. 27.
“It’s kind of come full circle,” Bonnar said. “Guys on the TV show used to get a hard time, but not anymore. I think everyone’s starting to respect them.”
When asked where he fits in the shifting sands of the stacked light heavyweight division, Bonnar was quick to voice his displeasure with the idea of rating fighters.
“I think rankings systems are pretty stupid, because styles make fight,” he said. “Sometimes, you match up well with guys ranked higher than you, and sometimes, you don’t match up well with someone ranked lower than you.”
Regardless of where he ranks, Bonnar looks forward to competing again. He hopes to emerge from his bout with Jones injury-free and quickly rack up some rounds in the cage.
“Hopefully, I can get out of this one unscathed,” Bonnar said. “And I’d love to fight in February, as soon as I can.”