The Ultimate Fighter 1 finalist Stephan Bonnar is dead at 45.
The UFC announced Bonnar’s death on Saturday, and a separate law enforcement source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to MMA Fighting Bonnar died on Dec. 22. The person declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
The official cause of Bonnar’s death is pending, but in the UFC’s announcement stated it was due to “presumed heart complications.”
The UFC family is saddened by the passing of UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar. We send our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.— UFC (@ufc) December 24, 2022
“Stephan Bonnar was one of the most important fighters to ever compete in the Octagon,” stated UFC President Dana White in a release announcing Bonnar’s death. “His fight with Forrest Griffin changed the sport forever, and he will never be forgotten. The fans loved him, related to him and he always gave them his best. He will be missed.”
Bonnar faced a series of personal challenges in recent years, most recently the destruction of his Las Vegas home in April. Bonnar’s wife, Andrea Brown, posted on Facebook that the couple “lost everything” in the blaze.
A subsequent fundraiser raised over $10,000 for the retired fighter, who was able to move into a new residence thanks in part to a generous donation from former UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley.
In September 2021, Bonnar caused a stir when he posted several videos to Instagram of a heated confrontation at hospital. He later explained to MMA Fighting he was seeking treatment for a severe injury he suffered while pro wrestling and claimed doctors denied him care due to his stance on COVID-19. In a subsequent interview, he said doctors at a different facility discovered a potentially life-threatening staph infection that required intravenous antibiotics and a lengthy recovery period.
Bonnar burst on the scene as a cast member of the groundbreaking reality show profiling the lives of upcoming MMA fighters. He made the show’s finals and fought Forrest Griffin. The ensuing slugfest drew a massive spike in viewership for the UFC’s broadcaster, Spike. While Bonnar lost a unanimous decision, he was awarded a UFC contract by UFC President Dana White, who later credited the bout for singlehandedly saving the promotion at a time when it was hemorrhaging money.
Bonnar and Griffin were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July 2013 for their fight. The two would face off in the octagon one-year after their pivotal bout, with Bonnar again losing a decision.
A jiu-jitsu specialist with a penchant for slugging it out, Bonnar had a nine-year UFC career in which he fought several former and future champs, among them Griffin, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, Mark Coleman and Anderson Silva.
After his exit from the UFC, he returned from retirement in 2014 for a single fight with Tito Ortiz under the Bellator banner. He lost via split decision and subsequently transitioned to professional wrestling, where he worked with several regional promotions.
Bonnar was open about the damage caused from his career in MMA, saying his decision to hang up his gloves was influenced by the discovery of an enlarged cavum septi pellucidi, which has been linked to the potential future diagnosis of CTE.
After suffering the severe back injury that left him hospitalized, he told MMA Fighting he was done with professional competition.