Most observers -- including the MMA oddsmakers -- believe the end result of tonight’s UFC 153 main event is a foregone conclusion.
Do not count Anthony Castrejon among those people.
A 21-year-old muay Thai specialist and training partner of Stephan Bonnar’s at “One Kick” Nick Blomgren’s gym in Las Vegas, Castrejon believes Bonnar is primed to score an upset when he steps into the cage for tonight’s UFC 153 main event at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro.
“I see a big upset. I see Stephan exterminating ‘The Spider,’” Castrejon told Sherdog.com this week. “With a guy like Silva, Stephan is going to have to be aggressive and very smart, and I think Stephan is smart enough to implement all of his game plans and take him out.”
Castrejon, a Las Vegas native who fights tonight for the 118-pound WBC muay Thai title at Lion Fight 7 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, has been training with Bonnar ever since the UFC light heavyweight joined One Kick’s Gym several years ago. Since the original “Ultimate Fighter” finalist became his training partner, Castrejon, a nine-year veteran of Blomgren’s gym, says he has seen Bonnar take significant strides as a strategist that should aid him in tonight’s battle.
“Stephan has gotten a lot better and lot smarter. He and Nick work a lot on Stephan moving his head, putting combinations together and finishing with kicks,” said Castrejon. “They work on everything, and Stephan is like a sponge. He soaks everything right up, and he never stops learning.”
Most recently, Bonnar’s subject matter has centered on Silva, the UFC’s reigning middleweight champion who has never before lost in the Octagon. “The Spider” made two trips to the UFC light heavyweight division in years prior, wrecking both Forrest Griffin and James Irvin with fierce counter strikes. To prepare for the Brazilian’s speed and agility in the standup game, Castrejon says Bonnar has been sparring with up-and-coming welterweight Chidi Njokuani.
“We have our own ‘Spider’ at the gym. [Njokuani] is long and lanky, and he can move and punch and kick [all at the same time]. He’s probably the best Anderson Silva that we’ve got,” said Castrejon. “Nobody can top him, and Stephan does amazing. Chidi is probably one of the best standup fighters at 170 [pounds] that you can get. Stephan is moving his head, he’s slipping shots, and he’s countering back. Even with Chidi’s speed, he’s still [doing well].”
Castrejon also says Bonnar’s even-keeled demeanor and dedication to training should pay dividends when he steps into the cage in just a few hours. While some might take exception to being made a 7-1 underdog, Bonnar relishes the opportunity to prove wrong those who bet against him.
“He’s honestly one of the most professional men I’ve ever met in the gym,” said Castrejon. “Stephan is always the same. You never really see the nerves. You just see the dedication to the training. He’s in the gym like three times a day. From jiu-jitsu in the morning to conditioning to standup [practice] at night, he’s always consistent. No matter how tired or sore or hungry he is, he’s always in the gym.
“Stephan loves [being the underdog]. He wouldn’t have it any other way, honestly. He loves being counted out, and you can never count him out.”