Stephan Bonnar, the UFC light heavyweight whose memorable battle with Forrest Griffin not only landed him in the Hall of Fame but may have also saved the UFC from bankruptcy, died Thursday at 45, the UFC announced.
Bonnar and Griffin engaged in one of the greatest fights in the promotion’s history on April 9, 2005, in the light heavyweight finale of Season 1 of The Ultimate Fighter at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas. The UFC was tens of millions of dollars in debt at the time and then-owner Lorenzo Fertitta had instructed president Dana White to seek a buyer.
But after the epic Griffin-Bonnar battle on Spike TV, White, Fertitta and Spike executives worked out a new television deal in the arena’s parking lot and the company’s trajectory immediately went upward.
According to UFC.com, Bonnar died of complications from a presumed heart issue while at work. White told UFC.com that Bonnar is among the most significant fighters in UFC history
Stephan Bonnar was one of the most important fighters to ever compete in the Octagon. 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 was not only an aggressive striker who held a black belt in jiu-jitsu, but he was a witty public speaker who was gold with a microphone in his face.
He lost a split decision to Griffin in the TUF 1 finale, but the UFC gave him a contract as well. He went on to fight 15 times in the promotion, compiling a 7-8 record in the UFC. Of his eight UFC losses, seven of them were to fighters already in the Hall of Fame, such as Griffin, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, or those who will be, such as Anderson Silva. His only UFC loss to a non-Hall of Famer was to Krzysztof Soszynski. He defeated Soszynski in a rematch.
Bonnar only lost once in his pre-UFC days, dropping a bout at Jungle Fight 1 to Lyoto Machida. Soszynski is the only non-UFC champion who ever defeated Bonnar.
In his final fight, he was beaten by Tito Ortiz at Bellator 131 on Nov. 15, 2014. He finished with a career record of 15-9 with nine finishes. He dabbled in professional wrestling at the end of his career and after retiring.
He’ll forever be known for the fight with Griffin, though. He said he was shocked at the way his fame increased after the bout.
Everything changed. I didn’t think I’d have a UFC career. It was just a little hobby I was doing, so it changed everything. Almost overnight, I became like a celebrity. Everywhere I went, someone would recognize me, even in obscure places. I was traveling with TapouT and we were in a small town. I was jogging and someone in a pickup was going ‘Hey Bonnar.’ And everywhere you go, someone knows who you are. It was wild.
Bonnar is survived by his wife, Andrea, and a son, Griffin.