Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
This seems to be no way to sell a fight. Or at least, no way to sell a challenger. Recently, with UFC cameras watching, Stephan Bonnar sat down with his longtime friend and rival Forrest Griffin, and the two joked about the situation Bonnar finds himself in, having to fight the world's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter Anderson Silva. It is a setting that Griffin knows well, having fought him back in 2009. As most remember, Silva decimated Griffin, embarrassed him, then knocked him out.
The UFC made an ad of the Bonnar-Griffin meeting titled "Gameplan." In it, Bonnar asks Griffin for advice, and Griffin instead rattles off all of the things he shouldn't do. Don't stand with him. Don't try to punch him. Kicking is a bad idea. The ground game's out. And talking trash? You don't want to see the "Spider" when he's angry.
"Good luck, though, I'm sure you'll do fine," Griffin eventually says.
There's underdogs, and then there's uber-dogs, and the ad makes clear that Bonnar is comfortable with his status as the latter. It's a role he knows well.
Bonnar has quite candidly said that he has never been the most confident person walking the earth, and that goes to the core of who he is.
If you ask, Bonnar will tell you that he was never the most talented person. He wasn't a great athlete, he wasn't brilliant, he wasn't the biggest or strongest kid in the room. He had two older brothers that were better than him at everything, and that came as a huge source of frustration. But it also shaped his trademark quality.
As he grew older, he realized that he had one trait that could help him narrow the gap: his toughness. He could work and work, and make forward progress, and get stronger, and while everyone else stood still, he would catch up. He was the tortoise chasing the hare.
That's how it was then, that's how he hopes it will be when he faces Silva at UFC 153.
"You could watch any of my fights in the UFC and I always fight my ass off," he said Thursday. "So, Saturday will be no different."
His first statement is demonstrably true. From the first memory most have of him as the loser of the most important fight in UFC history against Griffin back in 2005, Bonnar has always been more blood and guts than speed and power or technique and timing. He's always been willing to step into the fire in order to make sure his opponent gets burned.
That he is a near-record underdog (Silva can still be found as a 14-to-1 favorite at one gambling site) seems almost dismissive of his entire past. He's fought three fighters who have gone on to become champions. Griffin edged him out twice, Rashad Evans defeated him only by majority decision, and Jon Jones beat him on points though Bonnar can boast of stealing a round from him.
Yet, Bonnar has no problem with the role he's been ascribed as the hit & hope challenger. He's mostly embraced it as one of the reasons he believes he'll win.
As he'll tell you, he's a little bit superstitious, and he feels the scene is set for something special. For one, the fight takes place on the 13th, a number he feels has some undercurrent of luck. He's also just days away from welcoming his first child into the world, meaning he's already surrounded by positive energy. And of course, there's just the sheer implausibility of it all, that a few weeks ago, he was content believing his career was likely over, and now he has the chance to author one of the most memorable moments in MMA history, a bookend to his Griffin-Bonnar glory, and one in which he wins.
"I feel like I’m in a Rocky movie," he said. "I’m this huge underdog in his backyard. It’s a huge opportunity. I’m not the guy who always has the best luck but once in a while, big opportunities come along, and I try to take advantage of them."
Since the fight has been announced, Silva has voiced a deep respect for Bonnar, but it's only natural to wonder if he is as focused on Bonnar as Bonnar is on him. He's fielded questions about Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, and representing Brazil, and many other things that have nothing to do with the job he's undertaking on Saturday. For one man, it's just another night in the spotlight. For the other, it's everything he's ever wanted. And that's no joke.
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