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UFC 94:

Bonnar glad to be back in Octagon

Light heavyweight embraces historic fight against Griffin, ready to start new chapter in his career at UFC 94

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Andy Samuelson

Stephan Bonnar, center, listens to instructions from trainer Master Toddy at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy at a recent practice while aspiring figther, Justin Gunter, looks on. Bonnar returns to the Octagon for the first time in 15 months this Saturday at UFC 94 and will fight Jon Jones.

UFC 94

Main event: Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn, UFC welterweight title

When: Jan. 31

Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena

Tickets: Sold out

Pay-per-view: $54.95

Sun Event Calendar

Without knowing who he was, it would have been real easy to confuse Stephan Bonnar with the rest of the young males watching UFC 93 on Jan. 17 at Green Valley Ranch’s Ovation Lounge.

Despite his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame, Bonnar blended in with the designer T-shirt-wearing crowd, half of whom seemed equally as rocked up as the Ultimate Fighting Championship pro.

However, once one fan in the back of the room recognized the Indiana native, it was all over.

Another handful of fans came over to talk to Bonnar about “the fight.”

That would be his legendary one against former UFC light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin at the end of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

UFC president Dana White called it “the most important fight in UFC history.” A bout (Bonnar lost by unanimous decision, 29-28) that helped the organization secure its big television contract with Spike TV.

Mixed martial arts fans remember it for the three-round, 15-minute nonstop slugfest that is shown repeatedly on a video montage before each UFC show.

And finally, Bonnar embraces the 2005 event: “for what it is.”

“People are going to remember that fight,” Bonnar said. “Right after that fight when I would have another fight people would come up and say, ‘I just saw your fight.’ ‘Oh you saw (Keith) Jardine?’”

“No, no, no, they would always be talking about the Forrest fight. For five fights it was like that. Back then it was a little frustrating, but now I’ve accepted it.”

But Bonnar isn’t content to be remembered from that past glory.

Especially considering he hasn’t fought in the Octagon in 15 months because of injuries, which included reconstructive surgery on a knee.

“I’ve been anxious to get back in there. I’m glad it’s finally here,” said Bonnar (14-4), who will take on undefeated Jon Jones this Saturday at UFC 94 at the MGM Grand.

“I’m getting kicked in it, grappling with it. It’s fine. It’s holding up.”

Bonnar said he’s been impressed with the 7-0 New York native’s performance, especially after his unanimous decision against Andre Gusmao at UFC 87.

“He knows this is a big shot, I know he’s gonna come ready and look to bring it. I’ll be ready for it,” said Bonnar, who relocated to Las Vegas about a year and a half ago.

“I got a good game plan, I know his strengths and my strengths and how we match up and what I got to do to win," he said. "I’m gonna follow it and do my best but hopefully I can catch him with a knockout or submission early.”

Part of Bonnar’s plan has been to sharpen up his Muay Thai skills. He’s been training at Master Toddy’s Muay Thai Academy in Las Vegas for the last five months.

The gym’s namesake and longtime Muay Thai trainer said he appreciates the humbleness and eager attitude Bonnar displays despite his impressive body of work in MMA.

“He makes me want to teach him more because he’s so humble. And he wants to learn,” Master Toddy said.

“If you teach him, he keeps coming back for more. Unlike a lot of people when they learn they think they know it all, but then they stop learning. He wants to learn that encourages me to teach him more.”

Bonnar said Muay Thai training compliments his grappling at brawling techniques that he practices at the Xtreme Couture gym.

“I go to war at Couture’s. You go in, mix it up, get you takedowns, work on your ground and pound, your conditioning and your toughness,” Bonnar said. “But doing that all the time, you’re not going to really learn anything more.

“At Muay Thai, there’s a lot of education. You look at your stance, watch your positioning, and check your head movement. It definitely makes you smarter.”

But in the end, Bonnar knows many will remember his MMA career because of Griffin. He embraces that fond memory he has of the fight and even if he tried couldn’t get Griffin out of his life considering that he trains with him often, including for this upcoming fight, at Couture’s gym.

“You saw in the fights that he brought out the best in me,” Bonnar said with a big smile. “He brings that same thing out of me in the training room.

“We’ve given each other a lot of great rounds.”

Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.

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