Stephan Bonnar (15-7) makes life as a fighter look so much easier than it is.
Perhaps it’s because he’s been deep in the water more times in his career than most guys get their whole lives. Perhaps it’s because he’s trained with the likes of Carlson Gracie and Sergio Penha, and that’s about as good as it gets when it comes to Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Perhaps it’s because he has come so close so often, only to see the opportunity slip through a judge’s decision, a ref’s stoppage or a nearly career ending knee injury, that he just knows better than to let things get to him.
Whatever the answer is, Stephan Bonnar is at peace as he goes into the cage to face tough Croatian Igor Pokrajac (22-7) Saturday in yet another TUF Finale, a place where he made his bones in the first place.
“I’m real comfortable fighting on big shows,” says Bonnar. “To fight on big cards means a lot to me, and let me tell you, that win against Krzysztof Soszynski in July on one of the biggest cards in UFC history is awesome. My heart was crushed over what happened in Australia and to have a happy ending to the whole Krzysztof saga is just great.”
Bonnar contested that TKO loss due to a doctor’s stoppage after suffering a head butt-induced cut against Soszynski at UFC 110, but he lost his appeal. It put him at three losses in a row, and Bonnar had to endure those nagging questions from fans and media about retirement.
“I was in no way ready to retire, and now I’m going into this fight riding a high. I’m training at One Kick’s Gym, I’m eating like a horse and I feel great. I feel like I’m on top of my game,” he said. “It really got to me having to read all of those ‘Stephan’s done’ stories on the Internet. I’m not done.”
Could it be just a coincidence then, that just as Bonnar is poised to announce his return to his former self and make another run at the light heavyweight title that it’s going to happen on a TUF Finale, or could there be something in the air? Bonnar’s coming full circle to the place that put him on the MMA map seven years ago at the first TUF Finale, where his epic bout against Forrest Griffin still lives on in UFC lore.
It’s a whole different side of the fence for his opponent. A protégé of Mirko Cro Cop, Pokrajac is looking at this fight against Bonnar as one to make a statement in, and Bonnar is determined not to be his UFC stepping stone.
“He’s throws hard punches and he’s got a good gas tank, so I can’t stand around and get him by him. I don’t think too much of his top game on the ground but he’s got a good guard. I haven’t seen anybody do too much damage to him on the ground. But I’m ready in all areas of the fight game right now. I’m better at striking. I’m better at submissions. I might even be a better wrestler. My camp has really clicked. I’m putting in the work and we have a pretty good game plan working,” he said.
Bonnar loves being a fighter, but he says there’s life outside of fighting, and he loves being creative. His company NGauge is his outlet for that creativity. NGauge started out a high quality artwork endeavor, but he and his partner just might be on to the next big thing in MMA inspired clothing.
“Trash Talking Kids,” says Bonnar, “T shirts inspired by Josh Koscheck’s constant running of his mouth. I mean, he talked so much trash to Paul Daley the guy sucker-punched him after the fight. And then, when he could have won over the entire Canadian crowd, he continues to talk trash and insult their hockey team and GSP. I was laughing so hard and just thought, ‘what if there were trash talking T’s,’ and the idea was born. I’m going to wear the American Whacko shirt Saturday,” he says.
Bonnar says he can see his new line appealing to men, women and children, but he says it’s not about the money, but the outlet.
“It’s nice to have something else to think and talk about than just fighting, fighting, fighting all the time,” he said. “I mean, I know guys who train for their fights, then fight, then just talk and talk about fighting, and that’s fine, that’s their thing. I like to use my brain in different ways, creative ways.”
Fighting isn’t easy,” he continues. “It’s hard to go and train every single day. You’re sore. You’re battered and bruised. And you’ve got to get up every day and hit the gym. You have to put the work in. And if you have nothing else in your life, for me at least, it drives you crazy.”
Bonnar, 33, and his wife of two years, Andrea, are thinking about kids, but right now they’ve got their hands full with new puppies that their Pomeranian Pugsley gave birth to in August.
“We’re getting real good practice taking care of the puppies, and they’re definitely a handful,” says Stephan. “Pugsley had three pups and it’s been fun watching them grow from little hamster looking things into actual dogs,” he says.
And while Bonnar may be more interested in talking about anything but fighting, don’t be fooled into thinking he’s not focused on the task at hand.
“Oh no, definitely not,” he said. “I’m ready for Igor. I’m coming off some poetic justice. I’m hungrier than ever right now. It’s going to be a war, so get ready.”
Bonnar At Home In The Octagon
“I’m ready for Igor. I’m coming off some poetic justice. I’m hungrier than ever right now. It’s going to be a war, so get ready.”