Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The finale of The Original Ultimate Fighter is widely regarded as one of the best fights in UFC history and rightfully gets credited with helping bring Mixed Martial Arts to the mainstream.
While Forrest Griffin has since gone on to win the Light Heavyweight title, become one of the most popular fighters in the UFC and pen the recently released Got Fight?, his opponent that night hasn't had the same success.
At a time when the UFC is routinely trimming their rosters and in a division brimming with talent, could a loss at UFC 100 mean the end of the line for "The American Psycho" Stephan Bonnar?
Maybe the better question would be, "If Stephan Bonnar hadn't been in the finale of the original Ultimate Fighter, would he already be gone from the UFC?" Let's look at the evidence before rendering a verdict.
Bonnar has had eight fights since his epic slugfest to wrap up Season 1 with Forrest Griffin, going 5-3. Taking a closer look, three of those wins are to competitors that I would deem lesser talents; fights that Bonnar clearly should have won. Not to take anything away from Eric Schafer, Mike Nickels or Sam Hoger, but they aren't the upper echelon of light heavyweight competition in the UFC.
Truthfully, neither is James Irvin, another of those wins in Bonnar's record. In fact, "The Sandman" has dropped down to middleweight now, leaving a win over Keith Jardine as the lone prominent win on Bonnar's record.
That win came more than two years ago. Since that time, Bonnar is 2-3, with the aforementioned wins over Nickels and Schafer, to go along with defeats at the hands of Rashad Evans, another beating from Forrest and Jon Jones.
Are those quality fighters he's lost to? Absolutely, as both Griffin and Evans have had gold around their waists and many believe Jones will at one point or another down the line. But a lot of good fighters have gone by the wayside after a better stretch than Stephan Bonnar is on, so why is he still around?
For example, Jason "The Athlete" MacDonald got the pink slip after going 5-5 since making his UFC debut in October 2006. Those five losses? Rich Franklin, Yushin Okami, Demian Maia, Wilson Gouveia and Nate Quarry. Dropping fights to these guys has to be on par with the losses Bonnar has taken, and wins over Chris Leben, Ed Herman and Jason Lambert have to at least be on par with Sam Hoger, Mike Nickels and Eric Schafer, don't they?
Which brings us to UFC 100 and Bonnar's fight with Mark Coleman, the first man to be crowned UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Truth be told, I don't think Bonnar is in any kind of jeopardy on July 11th. Coleman was clearly gassed in his UFC 93 fight with Shogun Rua, leading Joe Rogan to deliver the highly-comical and perfectly true description of Coleman looking like "a confused old man." So long as Bonnar can make it through Round One, he should be fine.
But still, what does a win over a fighter clearly beyond his expiration date really prove? And where does he go after this win? Clearly, Bonnar is not in the mix for a title shot and the division is easily the deepest and most talented around. In fact, he's not even in place as a gatekeeper, though he did beat the man who currently holds that distinction, Keith Jardine.
That means Bonnar falls into the same divisional purgatory that Joe Stevenson currently inhabits at lightweight; too good to be fighting the new talent, not quite good enough to compete with the best in the division. Basically, he's a light heavyweight version of Jason MacDonald, minus the walking papers.
When it's all said and done, I think the truth about Stephan Bonnar is this:
He's a smart guy who is a great interview. Whenever he steps through the cage door, you get an entertaining fight, win or lose and because he was the other half of the fight that propelled the UFC into the mainstream, it's going to take a lot for Stephan Bonnar to lose his place on the UFC roster.
Fair? Probably not, but unless you're name is Tito Ortiz, Dana White looks after the people who help bring his business into the big time and Stephan Bonnar is one of those guys.