Since his April 2005 slugfest with Forrest Griffin, a fight which helped launch the UFC to its current place in the sports landscape, Stephan Bonnar has been a consistent crowd favorite.
In January, Bonnar returned from a serious knee injury, but dropped a decision to top prospect Jon Jones. Now, he looks to get back into the win column at July's UFC 100, and will have to do so against UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman.
Bonnar recently took some time to speak to FanHouse about his "lifetime contract" with UFC, what Coleman has left in the tank at age 44, and how he plans to beat "the Hammer."
Stephan Bonnar: Kind of. You try not to let it get to you. It's such a big event. Everyone tries to pump that into you, but I don't really want to get too caught up in that. It makes you a little nervous thinking this will be the biggest stage ever. I try to think of it as another fight. That way it just helps you stay relaxed.
Are you surprised your match isn't guaranteed airtime?
Considering there's two titles fight and the coaches from the [Ultimate Fighter] season fighting, no.
Does it disappoint you though?
Of course you'd rather have it guaranteed. But I've fought all over the card. Me and Coleman both lost our last fights, so you've got to give the spots to guys who won their last fights. That's just how it all works, so you've just got to accept it.
In some ways, this UFC 100 celebration wouldn't have been possible without your fight with Forrest Griffin a few years ago. You'll always be a key piece of UFC's history. How does it make you feel when people remind you of that?
It's great to have helped martial arts become accepted, you know? The whole fight was based around, Is society going to accept us as a sport or not? I think one thing that fight did, it helped people say, "this is good. I like it as a sport." A lot of people are fickle. If it wasn't a good fight, they might've said, "I'm not going to watch this anymore." That's how they are. But it helped win over the hearts of the would-be fans. Of course Spike TV after that night was convinced they wanted to go forward with more seasons of it, so it feels good to have played a role in that.
Dana White told you after the Jon Jones loss that no matter what, you'd always fight for him. Will that give you a sense of relaxation in the cage to know that?
Not really. Winning is so important. It's not just about fighting in the UFC. We get paid significantly more if we win. I have to win. I need to win.
In the Jon Jones fight you were coming off a 16-month layoff due to injury. How did that impact your performance?
I'd had major knee surgery, so I spent a lot of time on my ass. In training, I tried to push extra hard and do more than I ever did before. I really don't think my body was ready to handle that stress. I felt really flat going in. I was kind of overworked and flat. I didn't have any power. I think I overtrained. That was a mistake. But I have to give a lot of credit to Jon Jones. He's a tremendous athlete and fought a great fight.
Was it easier for you to prepared this time around? On one hand, I'm sure the knee feels better, but on the other, you want to bounce back from a loss.
I'm feeling better and I've learned to taper back a little bit. For example, I felt a little run down a few weeks ago, so I took a couple days off. Now, in the last two weeks of training, I'm only pushing hard once a day, while the second workout is lighter, not as intense. Part of the problem was working out at different places and everyone trying to push you to the breaking point. When you do that a couple times a day, it's just too much.
Is training at different gyms the best way for you?
They're all pretty close so it's convenient. It's more about working with different coaches and training partners. I have Sergio Penha as my jiu-jitsu coach and I have all the guys who train at his school. And I get my sparring in at Xtreme Couture. I hired Chris Ben as my boxing coach and it's good to work with different guys.
Mark Coleman is 44 years old, has lost his last two fights and this is only his third fight since October 2006. What does he have left?
He's dangerous. Last fight he gave Shogun [Rua] a run and he didn't even have a training camp in that fight. I know he's in Vegas and he's been training. He hired a couple coaches and training partners that have been pushing him. All I know is, he'll be in better shape this time. That's for sure.
Is it difficult to gauge where he is right now? On one hand, he's lost four of his last six. On the other, those losses are to Fedor (twice), Cro Cop and Shogun, and of course, he's a Hall of Famer. Is it hard to gauge exactly what you're up against with him?
His fights have been with top-flight opponents. Two times with Shogun Rua, two fights with Fedor Emelianenko, and then Mirko Cro Cop. And he was supposed to fight Brock Lesnar coming back into the UFC. So I don't think he's scared of me.
He's obviously known for his wrestling and ground and pound. Compared to your usual training camps, are you spending more time than normal on takedown defense and wrestling?
Yeah. I've been working on that a lot more. And, I kind of know he's been working his standup a lot . So I wouldn't be surprised if he traded with me for a little bit. But I expect his instincts to kick in and take me down, or try to take me down.
Is the key for you to stay upright?
Yeah, for sure. Everyone knows his biggest strength is wrestling and ground and pound. He's one of the pioneers of ground and pound. Even though I have confidence in my jiu-jitsu game, being underneath Coleman against the fence is not an ideal situation, at least not early in the fight.
Some fighters make specific game plans, others kind of just go with the flow. Which kind of fighter are you?
I definitely make a game plan. That's pretty simple. I don't usually like to talk about it, but obviously I'd like to keep it standing.
Do you feel you have a decisive advantage in the striking department?
Oh yeah. For sure. His biggest strength is wrestling and being on top of someone. Even with Shogun, you could see when he got him down, it was hard for Shogun to get up. It's not a good place to be.
How do you see this fight ending when you run through it in your head?
He eats some of my punches, get frustrated, tries to take me down. I keep my distance, stuff his takedowns and put him away.
You're 32. Not that that's old, but this is such a demanding sport and you've had your share of injuries. How much longer do you plan to fight?
Well. It's hard to say, you know? If I could be fortunate enough to be like Coleman or Randy Couture, and my body held up, that'd be great. But you just don't know what will happen with that.
We see you on ESPN's MMA Live from time to time. Do you plan to stick with commentary after your career's over?
There's a lot of things I'd like to do, but yeah, commentary is definitely a lot of fun. It's something I usually do with friends, talk about upcoming fight. To be paid for it is great. I love doing it.