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Breaking down TUF 12 Finale: Stephan Bonnar vs. Igor Pokrajac

To Bonnar, legendary fight against Forrest Griffin feels like yesterday

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Steve Marcus

Light heavyweight fighter Stephan Bonnar talks with reporters during a media workout at the Palms Thursday, December 2, 2010. Bonnar faces Igor Pokrajac in the TUF 12 Finals at the Palms Saturday.

UFC TUF 12 workouts

Light heavyweight fighter Stephan Bonnar, left, chats with middleweight Demian Maia as they warm up for  a media workout at the Palms Thursday, December 2, 2010. Bonnar faces Igor Pokrajac in the TUF 12 Finals at the Palms Saturday. Launch slideshow »

In the five years that have passed since he fought in arguably the most famous fight in UFC history at “The Ultimate Fighter 1” finale, Stephan Bonnar has won six fights, lost five, undergone serious knee surgery and appeared close to being cut from the UFC due to a three-fight losing streak.

And yet, Bonnar says, that notorious battle against Forrest Griffin that is credited for placing mixed martial arts on the map seems as if it were yesterday.

“It seems like it happened yesterday, it really does,” Bonnar said. “In my memory, getting in the van and going to the fight, it doesn’t seem like it was five years ago.”

Bonnar (12-7) says his career will come “full circle” Saturday when he meets Igor Pokrajac (22-7) in the main event of “The Ultimate Fighter 12” finale inside The Pearl at The Palms.

It will be the first time Bonnar will revisit TUF, having fought every other UFC contest of his career on either a pay-per-view show or an Ultimate Fight Night event.

Returning to the scene where it all started is somewhat fitting for the 33-year-old Bonnar, who says he’s in the same mindset now as he was when he was an unknown fighter just looking to earn a contract.

“I feel like I’m back to my old self,” Bonnar said. “I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had bad injuries. But now I’ve finally found a home with a good team and a good camp.

“It’s just that feeling like, ‘back to the finale.’ There’s that same feeling in the air.”

After bouncing around for much of his career, Bonnar has found a home training in Las Vegas under striking coach “One Kick” Nick Blumgren and jiu-jitsu instructor Sergio Pena.

According to Bonnar, the stability in his training has helped him take his skills to the next level, and he refers to Blumgren and Pena as his “father figures and close friends.”

Mentally, Bonnar appears to be in a good place, coming off a satisfying win over Kryzysztof Soszynski in July that snapped a three-fight losing streak.

After admitting he’s not the most confident fighter in the world to begin with, Bonnar says it was difficult having to answer questions from media regarding the losing streak and whether or not his status as a UFC fighter was in jeopardy.

“It’s a lot easier to do these interviews coming off a win, trust me,” Bonnar said. “After I got my ass kicked by Jon Jones (at UFC 94), those interviews were so negative.

“The questions were like, ‘Do you realize your feet flew in the air and the first thing to land was your head after you got hit by that elbow?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, I realize that.’ It’s nice coming off a win. It puts you in a good attitude.”

Bonnar would love nothing more than to build on that good attitude with a win over Pokrajac on Saturday.

The veteran fighter is realistic about where he sits in the light heavyweight division, having lost three of his last four fights. But he has shown throughout his career he’s just as interested in putting on a good fight as he is in dreaming of a title.

It’s an attitude that helped produce arguably the most famous fight in mixed martial arts history. Maybe it will do the same Saturday.

“Fighting me is a good chance to get in a war that people will remember, so that’s a good motivator for (Pokrajac),” Bonnar said. “I know he wants to put on a show and bring it, and that’s fine.

“I fight a fast pace bell-to-bell. If he brings it good. If he doesn’t, then I am anyway.”

Last Time Out:

Bonnar: Second-round TKO win over Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 116.

Pokrajac: First-round submission win over James Irvin at UFC Live 2.

The Lines: Bonnar, minus-210; Pokrajac, plus-170

Final Words:

Bonnar: On his career: “Life is full of ups and downs. I think back to being a kid and something great would happen then something terrible would happen. When I lost to Forrest, in my mind, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. We were kind of convinced that only the winners would go on to fight in the UFC. I got the contract and it was kind of scary. Like, ‘OK, now you’re going to have to fight for a living.’”

Pokrajac: On being in the main event: “I expected to be on the main card in my next fight, but I didn’t expect to be the main event. It feels great and I’m honored.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at LVSunFighting

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