Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Despite a pregnant wife back home and an abbreviated training camp due to the late-notice nature of his fight, Stephan Bonnar flew to Brazil with every intention of a razor-focused game plan against Anderson Silva. As he saw it, the best course of action was to fire off his strikes first, close the distance, smother him and look for the takedown before the notorious counter-striker could fire back. To take away his space.
As the fight progressed, Silva did something unexpected. He stood with his back to the cage, content to let Bonnar dictate what was happening.
To many watching, Silva comfort in eschewing conventional defense seemed to be an indication that he was about to ramp things up. Bonnar, though? He didn't see it that way.
"I liked when he was doing that," Bonnar said in a Wednesday interview on The MMA Hour.
Because Silva does his best work in open space, Bonnar felt that Silva's positioning would actually benefit him. But that all changed in an instant, when Silva tied up Bonnar's arm and landed a trip.
As the moment progressed, Bonnar's mind raced. There was a part of him that would have been perfectly content staying on the ground and utilizing his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. And the other part of him told him to get up. The latter thought won out, and Silva pushed Bonnar against the fence, where he followed up with a crushing knee to the solar plexus.
"I’ve never been kneed like that," he said. "I couldn’t breathe at all. I couldn’t move. i was just crippled, waiting for my body to be able to get some air. It felt like an eternity and the ref stepped it. When I saw the fight, I was like, 'Whoa, that was pretty quick.' It felt like I was trying to breathe longer than that."
In his 11-year career, it marked the first time that Bonnar was stopped on anything other than cuts. And even though he was on the receiving end of it, Bonnar tipped his cap to the pound-for-pound king.
"The way he placed that knee and timed it, the little trip and push, the whole setup and transition, yeah, there’s a part of me that is in awe of him," he said.
Bonnar said the knee was so accurate that if it landed even an inch higher or lower than it did, he probably would have been able to survive. Instead, Silva hit his spot like a marksman.
It's only been a few days since the disappointment, and Bonnar said he's still getting over it, but he has plenty of things to occupy him. His wife is due to give birth any day now, and he's focusing on a charity named "Garrett's Fight" that provides opportunities for athletes in the special needs community.
As far as his own professional career, he's unsure of whether or not he'll fight again. He got the high-profile fight he's always wanted, and now, in losing, he says he's "not in a position where I can really ask for too much right now."
But he holds no regrets. Regardless of the outcome, he'll forever consider it a "great experience."
"I’m definitely happy," he said. "I'm so thankful they gave me that fight. I'm apologetic that I didn’t do better but whatever. I've got to get over that. But I’m happy. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Losing sucks and it's hard to swallow. I went in there with Anderson and followed my game plan and did what I had to do. That’s MMA. One little mistake, one little opening is all it takes. With a guy like Anderson Silva, that’s all he needs. He landed a perfect knee at a perfect time, and got the victory. Hats off to Anderson. I can honestly say I never had a fight where I look back and said I choked or didn't come to fight or I wasn't prepared. Even through terrible injuries and fighting sick, I still sucked it up and did my best. I have nothing to be ashamed of."
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