Stephan Bonnar wanted a big fight before he retired from MMA and the UFC. He had said it on numerous occasions that he wanted someone like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson before he retired officially. No longer sick of fighting guys with lesser names, Bonnar managed to play his hand and get one of the biggest names out there: Anderson “The Spider” Silva. The task is daunting and he’s now taking on a fighter who has managed to wrecked fighters in two divisions since he came into the UFC as a Pride washout turned hot prospect. After stopping the man many consider to have the best chin in the sport (Chris Leben) like it was child’s play he hasn’t shown much vulnerability in the cage. Saturday will mark the third time Silva has traversed up to light heavyweight for a fight from his more natural middleweight.
The first time he made James Irvin, at the time viewed by many as a Top 10 light heavyweight, look like an amateur who was making his professional debut.
The second time he made Forrest Griffin, still a Top 5 light heavyweight at the time, look slow and bad as he defined the phrase “soul-snatching victory” for all to see.
At middleweight Silva is the unrivaled, undisputed king of the division. He probably could’ve duplicated the same at light heavyweight based on what he did to two top tier guys at the time and now marks his latest foray up a weight class. To say Stephan Bonnar has his work cut out for him is an understatement. If he lasts three rounds with Silva without being stopped, merely outclassed, it will be a slight moral victory for him. Bonnar is a very good fighter, one who wouldn’t be out of placing holding a Strikeforce title, but he isn’t stepping into the Hexagon to take on someone for that vacated belt. He’s stepping into the Octagon with the premier fighter of his generation. His prospects at winning are slim, the outlook to it perhaps grim, but he still has a chance. And there are five distinct reasons why Bonnar could potentially notch the biggest upset in MMA history.
Durability – Stephan Bonnar has never been stopped in an MMA fight. The only time he hasn’t gone the distance in a loss was due to a cut caused by a head-butt. The one thing Bonnar can do is take a beating to deliver one. Anderson Silva’s hands may break before Bonnar does and that works in his favor. Expect Silva to have to throw everything he has at Bonnar and then some. Jon Jones got exhausted from 15 minutes of basically throwing everything he could at the guy; I’ve always been surprised that Bonnar’s nickname isn’t “The Terminator.” The guy just keeps coming and coming, nothing on Earth can seemingly stop him.
Motivation – This is the fight of Bonnar’s life. This is the one he asked for and nearly retired to get. He also has nothing to lose, as well. A man with nothing to lose can take anything you throw at him and still keep coming. Bonnar is genuinely excited for this fight, even on three weeks’ notice, and never discount a man who’s been waiting his whole life for that one big moment. Anderson Silva is going to get a Stephan Bonnar that is coming in with absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. He’s also discussed the “one big fight before retirement” aspect and he’s not going out unless Silva makes him. Bonnar could have a heart attack right before the fight starts and he’d crawl his way into the cage to fight him.
Craziness – Silva is going to have to finish him emphatically and make the referee stop it before Bonnar will quit. It ties into his motivation but Bonnar is taking on the best fighter in the world on less than a month’s notice. It takes a certain kind of guy to respond to Zuffa something like “You know, I don’t have a lot of time to prepare and I haven’t fought or trained hard in a while. And it’s in his home country? Let’s do it!”
Silva is going to have to put him to sleep in a choke, or break a limb, before Bonnar is going to tap. Bonnar’s a bit of a nut to begin with, of course, but Silva is going to have to make the referee step in for this fight to be stopped. This is Bonnar’s big moment and he could be crazy enough to go “I can hit him with my other arm” if Silva has a deep armbar and things start tearing in his elbow. Bonnar knows this is his big moment and it will take a lot more than normal to put him down.
Size – It may be a marketing point, mainly because Bonnar is one of the bigger light heavyweights in the division against an opponent who walks around at roughly 200 pounds, but size can be a factor here. If Bonnar can get Silva on his back he can keep him there and tire him out with size alone. Silva has a first rate BJJ game, especially off his back, but Chael Sonnen isn’t that much smaller than Bonnar. He was able to grind out nearly six rounds over the course of two fights with Silva on his back because of his size and top control. Bonnar doesn’t have Sonnen’s wrestling ability but if he can get the takedown he can grind the middleweight champion underneath him. He also has three rounds, which works in his favor. There is no championship rounds for Silva to push Bonnar into; if Silva is underneath Bonnar for two rounds he could be gassed going into the third.
The Fluke Factor – I kind of laughed when Matt Serra kept talking about beating GSP, etc. So did nearly everyone else. And what happened? He shocked the world and gave the champion one of two losses on his record. Upsets can happen and Silva is human, after all. Bonnar has good boxing and enough power to keep people honest. What happens if he connects just once perfectly and Silva gets staggered onto Queer Street? It’s unlikely but no one thought that Serra could put GSP down, either.