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Retirement to Big Time: Stephan Bonnar's Role in Unlikely Main Event

It is one of the most unlikely main events in UFC pay-per-view history next month when Stephan Bonnar goes in as a 14-to-1 underdog against Anderson Silva. Bonnar looks at the ramifications in the event he's able to buck those odds on Oct. 13 in Rio de Janeiro.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Stephan Bonnar got emotional on television two months ago as he began to accept the inevitability that his long UFC tenure was coming to a close.

"I've been doing this 11 years and I've been through the ringer," he said on July 11th. "I put a nice streak together and if I haven't had my last fight, I'm going to go in there with someone with a lot of twitter followers. The story of my career is fighting all the best fighters, right before they got on top . And so I said, if I can't get that big marquee fight, it's God's way of telling me to go do something else for a while. Enlightenment is the quiet acceptance of what is.
"You have to accept that and move on. That's fine with me. It really is."

Two months later, somebody is giving Bonnar a completely different message.

Last we looked, Anderson Silva had 2.55 million twitter followers. Big marquee fight? How about a pay-per-view main event, a spot Bonnar has never been in during his seven-plus year UFC run.

After turning down a fight with Glover Teixeira at UFC 153, when he was next approached about facing Silva, he figured somebody was playing a practical joke on him.

"Yeah, I got a text from my manager asking how would I feel about fighting Glover in less than a month," Bonnar said last night on UFC Tonight. "I said, `You know my rule.' If I'm going to get back in there, I want someone more popular than me, someone to elevate me. My last three opponents, I've elevated them. I've beaten them. I passed the test. He comes back with Anderson Silva. I had to laugh. I thought it was a good joke. Of course, like that would ever happen. Five days ago I was retired. Now I've got the biggest fight I could ever dream of having."

"I got the text from my manager Thursday, and by Friday night, I still didn't believe it because I only got a text saying I was going to fight Anderson Silva and I wanted to talk to Dana (White). I thought, 'Come on, Anderson Silva? Really? Me? I needed to hear it from the horse's mouth, from the boss's office. Once I heard it from his mouth, I believed it. It took a few more days to let it sink in."

So Bonnar (15-7) is a few weeks away from the most improbable main event in UFC history. The 35-year-old journeyman faces arguably the greatest fighter in the history of the sport on Oct. 13, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Injuries decimated the card. Silva (32-4) agreed to fight on short notice, but only at 205 pounds. Between injuries and other fights scheduled, there was no viable opponent for Silva. Since Bonnar was sort of retired, he wasn't hurt, nor did he have a fight scheduled. In days, he went from being a sparring partner for the MMA debut of former pro wrestling superstar Dave Bautista, to a three-week camp that he likened to being back in college and cramming for finals.

"I just got to train my ass off every day until I leave for Brazil," he said. "I don't even know if I can be in good enough shape by then. We'll find out when I get in there. I'm a pressure fighter. I like to push the pace and that's how I fight. I don't know any other way. I'm going to fight like that when I get in there, and we'll find out when I get in there. Hey, I've got nothing to lose. I'll train hard until then. I'll put the pressure on him and hopefully the gas tank holds up."
Bonnar has had a good sense of humor about it, such as when the original 14-to-1 odds, the longest ever for a UFC main event came out, he remarked that he didn't realize people thought he was that good.

"I'm loving it," he said about the odds. "I'm the greatest underdog in UFC main event history. I'm fighting him in his backyard. He's the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world on everyone's list.

"I've got nothing to lose. There's no pressure on me. Nobody's giving me a chance. I love this. This is really like Rocky Balboa. Rocky I and Rocky IV meshed together."

As far as if this fight is a last hurrah, he wasn't committing. Certainly, with a loss, unless it's so close and excitingthat it becomes a moral win, he's not likely to get another fight anywhere near this level. In the improbable event of a win, the decision becomes a double-edge sword.

"Well, it's a great dilemma I'd love to be in," he said. "If I beat Anderson, it's the perfect storybook ending to my career. All these years, I've been trying to top the Forrest fight. I haven't been able to. I beat Anderson, it's finally going to top the Forrest fight. What a perfect way to hang it up. Then again, I beat Anderson, I'm sure I'm going to be offered some big fights against some more big names. Jeez, what do I do? Do I hang it up with the perfect ending, or do I take these dream fights I'll be offered after beating Anderson? We'll see. I'd love to be in that situation."