This weekend, the Ultimate Fighting Championships 62 will feature an encounter that, if history is anything to go by, will surely be one of the best ever. The Ultimate Fighter series finale, back on April 9, showcased two amazing MMA prospects, Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin. They fought a fight many are calling the greatest MMA match-up in recent history.
In this close fight, eventually awarded to Griffin, both fighters relentlessly pursued one another for the full three, 5-minute rounds until, battered and bruised, the decision was given. Both fighters were awarded MMA pro contracts. On August 26 they will again meet in what promises to be an equally bruising encounter, in which one man promises to turn things around.
Stephan Bonnar, the fighter who was narrowly defeated in "Bonnar/Forrest One," is determined to overcome the highly aggressive Forrest this time around, and says he will - "Throw everything he has from beginning to end." As a consummate martial arts student, Bonnar has spent many years of his life preparing for this fight, a potentially defining moment in his career as he makes his way up the MMA rankings.
A past golden gloves champion, Tae Kwon Do practitioner and wrestler, Bonnar has a well-rounded arsenal of fighting skills, and his determination and aggression, both of which are used to his advantage when the bell rings, will surely make things hard for Forrest.
The tall heavyweight, with devastating punching power (due, in part, to his boxing background), has adopted a different training strategy and will be looking for revenge. Expect Bonnar to be on target come Saturday. When I recently spoke to this emerging MMA superstar, he spoke about his fighting history and what he has in store for Forrest.
[ Q ] Did your controversial loss to Forrest Griffin come as a surprise to you? What are your thoughts on the outcome of this fight?
I thought I had him in deeper water than he had me in, I think I had him more hurt and more damaged. At the end of the day it was a close fight. With a close fight it could go either way so it is not something I am bitter about.
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[ Q ] How are you feeling going into the rematch?
Awesome. I feel pretty good. It should be a good fight. Physically I feel great.
[ Q ] Have you done anything differently to prepare for this fight?
I have just gotten a little better since the last time. I trained my ass off for this one.
[ Q ] What is your basic training strategy going into any fight?
[ Q ] How would you describe yourself as a fighter? What is your fighting style?
I like to brawl and to play. We (Stephan and Forrest) are similar in that respect. So pretty much I know what I have to do. I know I worked on all these things last time, but I also stood there and traded with him a lot. The plan is to get off my combos, and let go - move a little bit more, use more footwork.
I won't be an easy target. Also, not play the clinch game so much. I know the last time I had him in trouble I let him tie me up in the clinch. I will be pushing him off this time.
[ Q ] So the outcome will be different this time around? Do you expect this thing to go the distance?
You know, every shot I throw I will be trying to take him out. Stopping him in the first or second round would be great.
[ Q ] How do you personally get into such great shape to fight in the highly competitive arena that is MMA?
I had a week off after my last fight, which left me with six weeks to prepare. Usually when I have more time I like to do some strength work in the gym. When you have only six weeks it is technique, sparring and conditioning. Just do my conditioning workouts, my runs and a lot of sparring.
[ Q ] In terms of sparring, how many rounds would you work up to, to prepare for a big fight like this one?
It depends. Working the grapple with the ground and pound, you will have new guys coming in every two minutes, so you do maybe about eight rounds of that - about 16 minutes straight. After that there will be a one-minute break and then two five minute rounds of sparring. Also, I was working in a boxing gym with some good pro boxers - I would box three or four rounds with the one boxer and another would come in and there would be another four rounds.
These were all 3-minute rounds. A lot of times they would have me kill the mitts first and then spar for four or five, 5-minute rounds. Then crazy things like a 6-minute round, where every minute a fresh guy comes in. Just different things like that.
[ Q ] What is the aim of doing three six-minute rounds?
It is the best thing for conditioning by having the fresh guys coming in, without a rest. You have to deal with everyone at 100% of their power and strength. It does get rough. It is better grappling - you get beat up, but it's not like you get kicked in the head.
[ Q ] During this final week before the Forrest fight, have you trained or has it been a tapering off week?
This week we have been tapering off. I did all my sparring last week. This week I have just been doing my incline sprints, runs and heavy bag workouts.
[ Q ] What would you normally do the last week before a fight?
Everything's done by the last week. On Sunday we just did the heavy bag workout, which is good for conditioning, same with Monday. I came out here Tuesday; today (Wednesday) I did my hill climb runs, which are very hard. Now I just go through the positions on the ground and it is pretty light from here on out.
[ Q ] What is it about MMA fighting you like most?
I have always liked combat sports, and fighting in particular. Just growing up I wrestled and did competitive Tae Kwon Do and discovered Jiu-Jitsu, and did tournaments, then got into golden gloves boxing. Then MMA. MMA is just amazing because you just have the most freedom, the most options. You get to put everything together.
Stephan's Fight Record:
|Loss||Rashad Evans||Decision (Majority)||UFC-Ultimate Fight Night 5||6/28/2006||3||5:00|
|Win||Keith Jardine||Decision (Unaminous)||UFC-Ultimate Fight Night 4||4/6/2006||3||5:00|
|Win||James Irvin||Submission (Kimura)||UFC-Ultimate Fight Night 3||1/16/2006||1||4:30|
|Win||Sam Hoger||Decision (Unaminous)||UFC-Ultimate Fight Night||8/6/2005||3||5:00|
|Loss||Forrest Griffin||Decision (Unanimous)||UFC-Ultimate Fighter Finale||4/9/2005||3||5:00|
|Win||Sean Sallee||Submission (Triangle Choke)||IC 7-The Crucible||6/5/2004||1||2:28|
|Win||William Hill||TKO||TFC 1-Total Fight Challenge 1||4/24/2004||1|
|Win||Brad Lynde||Submission (Rear Naked Choke)||IC 6-Inferno||11/22/2003||1||4:10|
|Loss||Ryoto Machida||TKO (Cut)||JF 1-Jungle Fight 1||9/13/2003||1||4:21|
|Win||Jay Massey||Submission (Guillotine Choke)||UA 1-The Genesis||1/27/2002||1||1:09|
|Win||Josh Kruger||Submission (Armbar)||IC 3-Exodus||11/10/2001||1||2:55|
|Win||Brian Ebersole||Submission (Guillotine Choke)||IC 3-Exodus||11/10/2001||1||0:51|
[ Q ] Do you feel there is a good future for you in MMA as opposed to other fighting sports?
Definitely. In boxing only the top guys get any attention. To get to the very top takes time and you have to climb that ladder. Also, I don't like boxing as much as MMA. In MMA I get sponsorships and get to go to other fight shows, and get paid money and do guest appearances and seminars. So financially there are a lot of opportunities in MMA.
[ Q ] You seem to have a big future in the sport. Was there a particular moment, a turning point that convinced you MMA was the sport for you?
Really it just kind of happened by chance. I happened to sign up for a 4-man MMA tournament back in 2001, with only a few months of training behind me. I did do Tae Kwon Do, so I had some background in combat though. It was just going to be a 1-time thing. It was in my hometown and my friends and family were going to be there, and I really didn't want to get my ass kicked in front of them.
I remember training hard and having to cut weight for that fight. I bought a sauna suit to make weight and threw that suit out when I was done. That was enough for me. I just wanted to try it and ended up winning the two fights. So I kept training and didn't think anything else of it. And then I got called to a fight here, another one there.
I kept winning and got a chance to go to Brazil and fight, then came home and fought again in Hammond - at that point I had six or seven wins. At this time I was signed up for grad school, which I was halfway through when I heard about the Ultimate Fighter reality show. I just thought, "What the hell."
I saw the little poster advertising it on a Website. They said to send an audition tape in, and I did and got chosen. That is pretty much where it started. I put the grad school on hold and did the show. Just getting there was hard too. I wasn't expecting what happened. I knew there would be tough guys there, so I just got in there and did my best to see where it would take me.
I did, and ended up in the finals. We had some time at the end of filming until the finale, so I went back home and tried to play catch-up on school - take the mid-term. Then I trained to get ready for Forrest the first time, and eventually got the contract. I had to make a choice, so I was like, "I have a contact and can do this for a living," so here I am.
[ Q ] What are your long-term fighting goals?
Really just to improve in the martial arts - after this fight I will go to Thailand in October to eat, sleep and shit Muay Thai for a few weeks. I can't wait. Then maybe go to Brazil and do the same thing with Jiu-Jitsu. Pretty much I would just like to continue training in the martial arts and improving my game.
I know I am still learning. With Muay Thai I have only been doing it for this past year. I will keep opening my mind to different ideas and learning more. I figure once I have done fighting, hopefully I will have enough knowledge to be a good teacher.
[ Q ] So for you the process is as important, if not more so, than the result?
Very much so. Usually people ask: "What's next," "What do you want to do," "Who do you want to fight?" I don't care. I will fight anyone. I just want to learn, I will go here and there. It's all about repetition and practice, getting techniques down and using them.
[ Q ] Enjoyment is important for you also.
Definitely. I have always enjoyed training for and competing in the martial arts.
Height: 6ft 3in
Birth Date: 4-4-1977
[ Q ] How important was the Ultimate fighter series in terms of developing your potential as a fighter?
It opened my eyes to a lot. Getting to work with Randy and all those other good, tough fighters and lots of sparring. It was just eight weeks and we trained on so many different things. It definitely opened my mind up to a lot and helped me to understand what I needed to work on, where I could take it and the kind of potential I had as a fighter.
[ Q ] Would you say you are an improved fighter having taken part in the series?
Definitely. After the series I would have to say I am an improved fighter. You get a little bit better. As long as you keep learning, that is the thing. There are some gyms where the guys train to beat each other up, and you don't really learn anything. I have seen that and been to gyms like that. I pretty much want to keep fighting under good instructors and good teachers, people I can learn from.
[ Q ] What kind of an impact did Randy Couture have on your learning? What was it like to work with this legend?
Oh man, I would definitely love to go back and train with him and work on my wrestling. He is a genius. He taught me all the little tricks of wrestling and how to use them. Even many stand up tricks. He is a great teacher. He will get in there with you and you take him down over and over, even it is not comfortable for him. He gets in there and sacrifices himself for you, which is great.
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[ Q ] Any final comments regarding your fight on the weekend? Any predictions?
I don't gamble at all and I have never been an: "I'm going to knock his ass out," kind of guy. I am just going to go in there and give all of myself, and do everything I possibly can to win. I'm going to leave everything in the ring and will be throwing everything from beginning to end. I know if some of my shots land it is going to be lights out.