Mixed Martial Arts

MATT ERICKSON: Despite record, Bonnar worthy of UFC's Hall of Fame

2013-07-05T22:30:00Z 2013-07-06T23:15:07Z MATT ERICKSON: Despite record, Bonnar worthy of UFC's Hall of FameMatt Erickson Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
July 05, 2013 10:30 pm  • 

Stephan Bonnar glided rather unceremoniously into retirement this past fall.

There was no big announcement for the Munster native. He mostly went AWOL on his social media accounts for a while and steered clear of the spotlight, and he had good reason to do so.

Bonnar, a longtime light heavyweight for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, fought for what is likely to be the final time in October, suffering a first-round TKO at the hands of Anderson Silva, who is considered by many to be the greatest MMA fighter in history.

But it wasn't the loss that made "The American Psycho" suddenly quiet. It wasn't even so much the birth of his first son not long after the fight. It was his second positive steroids test over about a six-year period.

Bonnar, a Munster High School graduate who went to Purdue, had his retirement announced by his boss, UFC President Dana White – which is pretty much the only reason we know it to be official.

Today, Bonnar will be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame with an 8-7 overall record in the promotion. He never fought for a UFC title, and as long as we're being honest, he probably wasn't ever that close to fighting for one.

Add the pair of steroid infractions, and there were plenty of MMA fans recently asking why Bonnar was worthy of what the UFC has essentially said is its highest honor.

The answer, on the surface, is simple: Because Dana White said so. But dig a little deeper, and it makes all kinds of sense. First one must be convinced that the UFC Hall of Fame isn't reserved only for the greatest fighters in its nearly 20-year history, but also for those who have played an integral part in turning the company into a multi-billion dollar brand that has so far put on fight cards in 13 countries spread out over five continents.

Bonnar's place in UFC history was secured in April 2005, when he fought Forrest Griffin in the light heavyweight finals of the first season of "The Ultimate Fighter." It was a fight so hectic, so back-and-forth, and so dramatic in what its outcome would be that viewers were calling friends to tell them they had to turn this thing on – causing the ratings to spike in the middle of the fight.

Bonnar lost that fight, but was given a UFC contract, anyway. It's the one fight that White and the UFC consistently point to as the single most important in the company's history. Had that fight been a dud, maybe there wouldn't have been a second season of "The Ultimate Fighter." Maybe Spike TV wouldn't have been interested.

Heck, Bonnar nearly never made it there, anyway – White nearly kicked him off the show for climbing a fence at the fighter house in the middle of the Las Vegas desert to try to find a liquor store in the middle of the night.

But that fight did happen. And "The Ultimate Fighter" soldiered on, heading into its 18th season this fall. And the UFC went from the days of holding five events in 2004 and 10 in 2005 to its current world tour of more than 30 live shows a year.

Do Bonnar and Griffin get the credit for all of that? Certainly not. But their place in UFC history certainly can't be denied, nor can their importance to the UFC becoming the giant that it is today in the sports world.

Griffin will go in alongside Bonnar. With no suspensions and a world title win to his name, his credentials may be a little more worthy.

But with no Bonnar, there would be no Griffin, and with no Bonnar-Griffin, there might not be the UFC as it's known now. The two are a vital part of MMA history, and that they'll be enshrined together alongside only nine other previous members is appropriate.

The two made each other into legends early in their careers, and having legends in halls of fame is just fine.

Matt Erickson is an award-winning journalist. He covers mixed martial arts for The Times, USA Today and is the assistant editor of MMAjunkie.com.

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