I'll admit when I first heard this fight was announced I was less than thrilled. I believe my exact words were, "Seriously? Stephan Bonnar? What the hell's the point of that?!"
It would be like unlocking the rocket launcher in Resident Evil and then shooting an ant with it. Where's the fun in that? While it is mildly amusing there's simply no challenge to it. People like to see huge massive weapons destroy other huge massive weapons. But even more than that they love to see the little ant ripping the heart out of the man with the rocket launcher.
Now, in this case, Anderson Silva is the man with the rocket launcher and Stephan Bonnar is the unfortunate ant. But, ants can lift fifty times their own weight. And that is exactly the kind of superpower Bonnar might need to beat Silva. But I feel he has another kind of superpower which I'll get to in a minute.
First let's look at how this match-up appears on paper:
Silva - Strikes Successfully Landed 68%
Bonnar - Strikes Successfully Landed 40%
Silva - Strikes Avoided 62%
Bonnar - Strikes Avoided 53%
Silva - Successful Take-downs 75%
Bonnar - Successful Take-downs 45%
Silva - Take-downs Avoided 80%
Bonnar - Take-downs Avoided 58%
At first I thought it was just bad in my head but it's just as bad on paper. When you look at the numbers Silva is anywhere from above average to far above average in all areas. Whereas, Bonnar is anywhere from below average to slightly above average. Looking at these numbers I'm also finding it hard to imagine Bonnar landing many punches. With only landing 40% of his strikes and Silva being able to avoid 62% of strikes the odds are certainly not in Bonnar's favor. Not to mention Anderson Silva hasn't lost a fight in nearly 8 years. But all these amazing stats that Silva puts up, and all the records he's broken in the UFC seem to be the perfect concoction for Bonnar's superpower: The role of the underdog.
Now, I think most people probably assume Silva will destroy Bonnar in record time and may not care too much about this particular match-up. But, because Anderson is so spectacular to watch, they will simply tune in to see the rocket launcher shooting the ant because they know it will at least be mildly amusing.
But, besides the physical skills of each fighter, we have to take into consideration their current mindsets. I don't know too many Brazilians that would enjoy losing in front of their home crowd in Brazil so that is strictly Silva's burden to bear. Although he may not show it, I do believe on some level he feels the pressure to perform at his best and be victorious in his own backyard. As much pride as Brazilians have, I don't think for a second he's not feeling any pressure. I'm sure he's probably used to dealing with it by now at this level and that he's quite relaxed against someone like Bonnar. But there may even be a possibility that he's overlooking Bonnar. After all, it would be understandable given the stats above and the fact that he appears to have been hand chosen by Silva.
Bonnar on the other hand, seems to be relishing in the role of the underdog. According to Sports Psychologist Dr. Jack Bowman there's actually an automatic advantage both physiologically and psychologically when you engage the underdog position. He also states that in the underdog position there is a perceived lack of pressure making it easier to focus on the process. Also worth noting is that Dr. Bowman mentions studies that show underdogs actually produce a different hormone giving them positive energy as opposed to adrenaline which causes anxiety. In recent interviews Bonnar has mentioned several times the lack of pressure on him going into this fight. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain. If he loses then he was supposed to lose. He can be free to be totally focused on the process, and be in the proper mental state for the biggest fight of his life. No one is expecting him to win. So to be free of people's expectations of him has to be a completely liberating experience which I imagine could only benefit you in any sort of performance.
You may also draw comparisons to Forrest Griffin and assume that because Bonnar is a much similar fighter that the fight will go the same way. Griffin of course didn't land any strikes and was knocked out with a jab early in the first round. The difference I see is that Griffin fell too much into the underdog role. I feel like he got to the point where he was almost talking himself out of being able to compete with Anderson Silva. There has to be a subtlety to the underdog role and I think Bonnar has that more so than Griffin did. The idea that Forrest fell too much into the role of the underog is further strengthened with his recent admission that he took medication the night before the fight to help deal with anxiety. This would contradict what Dr. Bowman said about what happens when the role of the underdog is activated that it produces positive energy hormones rather than the anxiety adrenaline ones.
Also worth mentioning is that Stephan Bonnar has never been finished. Anderson Silva has 25 finishes. Bonnar's best attribute, his durability, will be his greatest ally in this fight. His durability combined with his psychological mindset of the underdog are why I feel like Bonnar can turn this into a great war like the one that made him famous against Griffin. He's been trying to outdo that fight since it happened and now is his perfect opportunity. There's a very good chance this may be the last time we see Stephan Bonnar fight inside the octagon. And why should we care that it's against Anderson Silva? Because, the stars aligned once before for him to make history on his way into the UFC and it may very well happen again on his way out.