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UFC’s Bonnar, buddies excited about start-up art company

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Sam Morris

Stephan Bonnar catches Mark Coleman with a left during their fight at UFC 100. Coleman won by decision.

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A shot of Joe Morris' first painting of Stephan Bonnar's fight with Forrest Griffin helped launch a mixed martial arts business based on mixed media art.

Representing half of the duo credited with the “greatest fight in UFC history,” Stephan Bonnar had long wished for a memento that recaptured the historic moment.

Bonnar’s childhood buddy back in Chicago, Tom Scully, had thought the same thing — thinking there had to be at least a poster or photo of Bonnar’s famous slugfest against Forrest Griffin in the finale of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Nope, nada, zilch.

“Nothing existed. Tom was like ‘Why not?’ That’s a good dang question,” Bonnar said recounting the conversation the two had in Scully’s Chi-town apartment.

“So we decided to make one. Tom said a friend of mine is was an artist, and he was gonna see if he can make one.”

Joe Morris isn’t just any artist either.

Much like a mixed martial artist, Morris — who works for the famous Leo Burnett ad agency — dabbles in mixed media art, creating his pieces from photography, painting, drawing and other artistic elements.

“I showed Tom and of course he loved it, and wanted to keep it for himself,” said Morris, a Minnesota native, who got his start in art after a freehand drawing he produced in second grade garnered a tracing accusation from his teacher.

“But then this light bulb goes off and Tom is like we got to show this to UFC President Dana White. This could be the start of something really special.”

Of course White, who views Bonnar and Griffin like his own children because of their impact on the UFC’s exponential growth as the result of their bloody brawl, expressed his love for the artwork through a series of excited expletives.

After that meeting with the UFC head, Scully, Morris and Bonnar knew they were onto something.

“Nobody had given the fans that visceral feeling of being at the fights. The actual moment of time between Bonnar and Griffin was never truly captured, allowing fans to engage it and and keep it forever,” said Morris of the painting dubbed “An American Classic.”

“The elements that come together to create this sport is such a worldly thing, that these paintings are very enriching and inspiring for me.”

The trio — which created the company N Gauge Inc., which sells original paintings, lithographs and posters — will be doing their part today to help enrich the lives of others when they put Morris’ UFC 100 original painting (valued at $15,000) up for auction to help benefit The Caring Place, a cancer wellness center, during ESPN 1100’s 24-hour radio-a-thon.

“Let’s donate the UFC 100 original painting to this fundraiser and see if we can’t raise some money for this thing,” said Bonnar, whose grandfather died of cancer.

“Regardless if anyone close in my family was affected by it, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Luckily, we have the opportunity with this event to do just that.”

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