Stephan Bonnar wants a signature victory at UFC 153. | Sherdog.com
Stephan Bonnar knows most people view him as the proverbial lamb being led to slaughter, and he could not care less.
A 10-to-1 underdog, Bonnar will lock horns with MMA’s apex predator when he confronts longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva in the UFC 153 main event on Saturday at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The non-title, three-round bout will be fought at the underdog’s natural weight of 205 pounds. Bonnar wondered if he would ever compete again, much less on such a high-profile stage.
“It really came by surprise, honestly,” he said during a pre-fight media call. “I campaigned for some big fights, but I couldn’t get them. In my head, I was trying to get over this whole fighting thing.”
Fate seemed to have other plans. Jose Aldo and Quinton Jackson injured themselves, leaving the Ultimate Fighting Championship without its two marquee matchups at UFC 153. Phone calls went out to Silva and Bonnar, and, suddenly, “The American Psycho” had his index finger pointed figuratively at the chest of the man many consider the greatest fighter of all-time.
“I’ve had big fights on big stages, but the one with the most impact was on such a small stage with ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’” Bonnar said. “That got more attention than the fights on the big pay-per-views later on. Fighting the best fighter in the world in his home country of Brazil -- it’s crazy. It feels like I’m in a movie.”
In terms of climbs inside the cage, this is Bonnar’s Everest. The 35-year-old Hammond, Ind., native has enjoyed a solid career, anchored by his historic battle with Forrest Griffin at “The Ultimate Fighter 1” Finale in April 2005. Bonnar enters with a nice tail wind, having won his past three fights. However, his resume is admittedly dwarfed by that of the incomparable Silva.
The unquestioned champion at 185 pounds for nearly six years, “The Spider” has won more fights during his current winning streak (16) than Bonnar has won his entire career (15). Moreover, the 37-year-old Brazilian juggernaut has finished 13 of his 15 opponents inside the Octagon, including Rich Franklin (twice), Chael Sonnen (twice), Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort and Nate Marquardt.
“He’s a really great, accurate striker,” Bonnar said. “I’m not going to out-finesse him. I’ve got to out-ugly him and be aggressive, eat a punch to land a punch. That’s about as much as I want to give away on that. I’ve been training as hard as I can, and I’m in good enough shape to fight three rounds.”
Silva has lost none of his potency in his two previous stops at 205 pounds, as he finished Griffin and James Irvin in a little more than four combined minutes. Neither man did anything of note. Griffin attempted 43 strikes against Silva. He landed four of them. Irvin attempted three strikes against Silva. None of them found the mark.
“[In] his only two fights at 205,” Bonnar said, “he looked very fast and performed flawlessly.”
With such monumental odds comes massive opportunity. An upset against Silva, who has not been legitimately defeated since 2004, would shake the sport at its foundations and breathe new life into Bonnar’s career.
“It all depends on how I do against Anderson,” he said. “If I do good, I’ll get rewarded. A win over Anderson would set me up for big opportunities, but if I get destroyed, I guess not.”
In addition to Silva, the long odds and what figures to be a rowdy, partisan crowd in Brazil, Bonnar must clear the hurdle of a lengthy period of inactivity. He has not competed since UFC 139 in November, when he cruised to a takedown-laced unanimous decision over the American Kickboxing Academy’s Kyle Kingsbury at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. Bonnar believes he will benefit from the fact that he was helping former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Dave Bautista train for his MMA debut when he received the call to face Silva.
“I hadn’t been in the gym in months, and I got the call to help Bautista train for a few weeks,” he said. “Thank God I did that because then I got the call to fight Anderson. I had an opportunity a few weeks in advance to get the rust off.”
Win or lose, Bonnar sounds like a man at peace with his place in history and the idea that he may never challenge for a major title, even though Silva will be the fifth current or former UFC champion against whom he has tested himself.
“I’ve never been hungry for the title,” Bonnar said. “I kind of like hanging around the division. Now, I’m fighting the greatest pound-for-pound guy, who’s been champion for a long time. Is it not a big deal because a belt isn’t on the line? Hell no. It’ll be the greatest moment of my life if I win.”