Stephan Bonnar was one of two men who ushered in the rapid era of growth for mixed martial arts. A finalist on season one of The Ultimate Fighter, Bonnar stepped inside the cage with Forrest Griffin to determine who would walk away with the six-figure contract.
Everyone knows what happened.
The two collided in an epic battle, filled with blood, guts and a ton of heart. Fans from across the United States were tuning in as they got word from their friends to check out the unbelievable fight going down on Spike TV. As the fight came to a close, the judges awarded Griffin the official win but Bonnar would walk away a victor as well. He was also awarded a contract and welcomed into the UFC.
Since then, Bonnar has made a name for himself as a fighter's fighter. A guy who leaves it all in the cage every single fight. He has been in his share of wars with some of the best fighters of all time. Not many men can claim to have fought Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans and Jon Jones, but Bonnar has.
His never say die attitude and immeasurable toughness was forged at a young age. Bonnar has spent a lifetime never giving up.
"Alright if you must know, I was the youngest of three boys," Bonnar told the MMA Fight Corner presented by FiveKnuckles.com. "They were always better at everything else than me. Better at cards, music and conventional sports. On top of that, they could kick my ass. Not only was I the youngest, but I wasn't better than them at anything. I was also getting my ass kicked all the time. I thought, 'who cares if they're better at art, music and baseball than me, if I could kick the s**t out of them.' So that's why I was kinda drawn to wrestling and martial arts, with that goal in mind. I was gonna beat their ass and then my dad would be proud of me."
That toughness and tenacity helped Bonnar hold up when he took on current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Of course, Jones didn't have near the recognition back then that he has today. At the time he was a little known prospect making his second appearance in the premier mixed martial arts organization.
Jones capitalized on his opportunity using his Greco-Roman background and unique array of flashy strikes to defeat Bonnar and take home the unanimous decision.
Bonnar walked away defeated but was able to take home one round on two of the three judges scorecards, something only a seldom few have managed to accomplish. He relived one of the highlights from the bout, a spinning back elbow from Jones that planted him on the mat.
"They say the punch, or strike, that you don't see is the one that hurts you, that's true," Bonnar said. "I remember, I was getting up off the floor and he grabbed a single leg. So I'm worried about defending the single leg and all of a sudden my feet are up in the air and the first thing that hits the canvas is my head. I remember thinking, 'Holy s**t did someone from the audience like chuck a bottle at me? He couldn't have hit me, he had both hands locked in a single leg.'
"Then I remembered he does unorthodox things and I figured he probably dropped it and bailed on the single and launched a spinning elbow that...