Stephan Bonnar struggling against Mark Coleman.
I find myself overcome with a mixture of feelings when I consider the career of Anderson Silva. Equal parts awe and respect, a hint of fear perhaps, and a general sense of captivation.
A magnificent athlete with a polarizing presence in the sport due to his sublime skills and seeming invincibility, Silva has carved a path through the modern MMA era, leaving in his wake an indefatigable legacy of greatness, both in performance, and in statistical unassailability.
He holds numerous records in the UFC. Most consecutive victories (15). Most consecutive title defences (10). Highest striking accuracy (67 percent).
His accomplishments, when put to paper, paint a clear picture of a man whose skill set, physical abilities and mental approach have left him sitting atop of the proverbial heap, not only in his division, but in the sport as a whole.
He is both an artist and an animal, trapped in the same body. He is graceful, efficient, methodical, and to any man standing across the Octagon from him, a big, big problem.
Stephan Bonnar is a different creature entirely. Far more animal than artist, he is a visceral character in the cage. He swings leather with the abandon of a man who anticipates a return with interest.
He never stops coming forward, even to his own detriment.
And he bleeds. Profusely.
He is a fan favourite, an affable, if not a little kooky media presence, and he has been a mainstay for the UFC since the first season of TUF.
The reality exists, though, in spite of the man’s indomitable warrior spirit: Stephan Bonnar is not going to defeat Anderson Silva.
When these two combatants meet at UFC 153 in Brazil, we will bear witness to a number of things.
First and most obviously, is the perceivably epic matchup fail. Anderson is in every way, shape and form, superior to Bonnar. Silva has a record of 32-4, having defeated the best in the business consistently during his tenure in the UFC.
He has accounted for Rich Franklin and Chael Sonnen twice each, Forrest Griffin, Yushin Okami, Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson among others. Apart from his first bout with Sonnen, which as we know, he still ended up winning in miraculous fashion, he has dominated.
Bonnar, on the other hand, is 14-7, with most of his marquee victories coming over mid-tier competition. He has defeated Kyle Kingsbury and Krysztof Soszynski, James Irvin (who also lost to Silva at 205) and Keith Jardine. A more impressive way to look at his resume is to cite all the men to whom he has lost.
It goes some length to vindicate a .500 record when you have only ever lost to past or future UFC champions, with one glaring exception. Bonnar has come up short against Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin twice, Rashad Evans, Jon Jones, Mark Coleman and the aforementioned Soszynski.
Seeing these two fight each other is anomalous. It should not be happening if one sees access to big-name main-card fights as the right of a successful and deserving fighter.
On paper, Bonnar is so far from this opportunity, it beggars belief; however, it appears his employers are rewarding him not only for his decision to step up and fight the pound-for-pound great, on short notice, with a statistically irrelevant chance at victory, but also for his years of service.
Silva, too, must be credited for taking a fight that has very little potential to enhance his standing, on such short notice. Filling the void left by Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, these two gentlemen have added an immeasurable element of intrigue and excitement to what is (for an international viewer/fan like myself) an adequate, but not spectacular card.
While admirable, this does not affect Bonnar’s chances at success.
All of the heart, determination, fan support and self-belief in the world can seem uncharacteristically impotent against Silva.
Fighters who have had Bonnar’s measure have fallen to Silva in spectacular fashion. Forrest Griffin was made to look like a rank amateur by the prowess of Silva’s evasive movement, and Bonnar has a far more plodding, predictable style than Griffin, leading one to think he will struggle to effectively move and implement his game-plan, without falling prey to the lethally accurate striking of The Spider.
Also working against Bonnar is his propensity to bleed, and Anderson’s ability to utilise his Muay Thai to cause massive superficial damage to his opponents.
Add to this the fact that Bonnar has not fought in 11 months and was practically retired before his call-up to the big show, and a pretty ominous picture begins to emerge as to his chances.
Silva has fought only once in the same period, but he has been more consistently active against better competition in the last few years.
Bonnar’s recent inactivity and the ensuing ring-rust many are anticipating, coupled with the fact he may well be experiencing the same kind of nerves that caused Forrest Griffin to take Xanax the night before his fight with Silva, again, casts a bleak shadow over any potential chance upset that he may be able to pull out of the bag.
This is not to say he can’t win however, just more than likely (by a factor of, say a million bajillions) that he won't. Bonnar is a skilled grappler, holds black belts in Taekwondo, BJJ and Karate (Silva has black belts in BJJ, Taekwondo, Judo and a yellow role in Capoeira), and his forward-moving style seems quite innate.
This could hold an advantage given he is, by nature, intent and muscle memory, inclined to press the action. By doing so, similar to Chael Sonnen in his first bout with Silva, he may be able to preclude The Spider from settling into his game plan, and score some offensive damage early with his solid boxing and 80-inch reach.
Alas, Silva’s precedent for success at 205 already quashes much of the hope one may have for Bonnar. He has absolutely smashed his last two opponents in that particular weight bracket, and in terrible news for Bonnar, Silva was quoted as saying he felt faster and more agile at 205, and that is in every sense, a problem for anyone confined to a cage with the man.
A passionate Brazilian crowd baying for the blood of Bonnar (which I’m sure he will oblige them with) may prove to be overwhelming for the American also, but given he had been so actively campaigning for a massive fight to bookend his career, he might yet be prepared for such a thing mentally.
Simply put, Bonnar stands as much chance against Silva as anyone. And if history has imparted upon us anything, that chance is slim to theoretical. Willpower may yet fall prey to the aura of ninja-like-lethality that Silva carries with him, and I see this fight finishing with Bonnar going out on his shield, swinging hard, with that glint of bloodlust in his eyes, but to no avail.
Bear this in mind, however. No man on this planet is unbeatable, and once upon a time, a Japanese fighter named Daiju Takase, a fighter with a record of 5-7-1 at the time (who had also been beaten by a relatively inexperienced Nate Marquardt three years earlier) slapped a triangle choke on Silva (who was 11-2 at that point) and put him away.
Silva has no doubt become a different fighter since his days in Pride, as evidenced by his dominance and record since, but when the Octagon door closes, and these gentleman warriors face off against each other, anything can happen, and I, for one, hope Stephan Bonnar makes a good showing and does his career proud.
Unfortunately, victory is a mere possibility for Stephan, as the probability just doesn’t exist.