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Bonnar looks to make Chicago ‘Rocky’ story come to life at UFC 153

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Stephan Bonnar

by Elias Cepeda

UFC light heavyweight Stephan Bonnar was happily retired a few weeks ago, but on Saturday he will take on the world’s best fighter on short notice in Brazil. The Northern Indiana-born fighter began his career in nearby Hammond in 2001, and was content to hang up his gloves earlier this year after helping the sport of MMA and the UFC grow while finishing with a three-fight win streak.

He still had a functioning brain, a burgeoning broadcasting career and an expecting wife. Bonnar says that he didn’t need to fight any longer.

Then the call came. Bonnar was in Florida helping former WWE star Dave Bautista prepare for his MMA debut when his agent asked him if he would come out of retirement fight Anderson Silva, the UFC’s middleweight champion and the world’s best, pound for pound.

The retired brawler was amused.

“I laughed and said, ‘sure, if you can get Anderson Silva I’ll do it,’ like that was ever going to happen,” he says.

The scenario was no joke, however. The UFC was heading back down to Brazil for a mega pay per view card but the originally scheduled main and co-main events were cancelled because of injuries to fighters. Silva, a star in Brazil where he endorses Burger King and Nike and has been a Rolling Stone cover boy, volunteered to fight at light heavyweight to save the event.

The UFC needed someone crazy enough to fight the world’s most feared fighter on short notice. “The American Psycho,” accepted without hesitation. “I’d been tired of fighting the best fighters in the world before they were recognized as that,” Bonnar says.

Over the years, Bonnar had fought future UFC champions Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Jon Jones. “I told myself that I only wanted huge names from here on out, and since I wasn’t getting them I retired. I was fine with that decision. I am not rich off of fighting by any means but I have always been pretty good about doing things outside of fighting to make a living,” he explains.

Fighting Silva in his home country in a pay per view event is as “huge” as it can get in MMA, though, and Bonnar knows this. “I was comfortable with the way I went out but this would be an even better way to go out. I’ve never fought for the title and now I get to fight the baddest man on the planet on his turf. I couldn’t write a better story than that,” he says.

Taking opportunities as they come is nothing new to Bonnar. He began fighting MMA just to whip himself into shape after local promoter Eric Moon walked into the Carlson Gracie Sr. Jiu Jitsu academy where he trained back in 2001 looking for someone to fight in a one night MMA tournament in Hammond, IN.

“After graduating from college (Purdue) I moved to Chicago and was having fun going out all the time, seeing girls, but I had also started doing boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I wanted to get better at those things,” the sports medicine degree holder remembers of his twenties.

“When Eric Moon walked into the gym looking for fighters for an event in Hammond, where I was born, I had to do it. What better motivation is there to get your act together and train hard than to not want to get embarrassed in front of your family and friends in your hometown?”

Bonnar hardly embarrassed himself as he went on to beat two men in a single night, both by submission, at the tournament. After that the offers continued to roll in and his coach, the legendary Carlson Gracie Sr. pushed his protégé to continue fighting.

Gracie guided Bonnar to the UFC and through his first few fights in the organization before passing away in early 2006. The loss hit Bonnar hard and he soon moved to Las Vegas, where he’s lived and trained since.

As the American finds himself in his mentor’s home nation of Brazil this week for the biggest fight of his life on Saturday, however, he feels the old warrior’s spirit with him. “I know he’d believe in me if he was here,” Bonnar says.

“And you know what, he will be here with me. [Rio] is his home town. He’d want me to go in there and get in Anderson’s face, push the pace and fight that style that he always did as a fighter and that he taught us. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

About Matt Lo Cascio

Matt Lo Cascio is a former TV producer who turned to new media in 2005, and he is the co-founder and editor of Chicago's MMA. He is also the play-by-play announcer for the XFO. His work has been published by ESPN.com, DraftKings, The Comeback, FanSided and more.

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