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Jokes aside, Stephan Bonnar calls UFC 153 a ‘defining moment of my whole life’

Local veteran comes out of retirement to face the world’s best fighter Saturday in Brazil

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Stephan Bonnar reacts after the end of a UFC 139 Mixed Martial Arts light heavyweight bout against Kyle Kingsbury in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Bonnar won by unanimous decision.

UFC 153 commercial

A UFC 153 commercial making the television rounds depicts Forrest Griffin coaching old pal Stephan Bonnar on how to fight Anderson Silva.

Griffin basically lists every option available to use in the fight and tells Bonnar not to do that. Bonnar takes notes on the other side of a table before peering into the camera with a sarcastic look of fear near the end.

It’s a perfect representation of how Bonnar (14-7 MMA, 8-6 UFC) is approaching his pay-per-view main-event fight with Silva (32-4 MMA, 15-0 UFC) on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro.

The 35-year-old local light heavyweight isn’t rejecting his perceived status as the lamb being fed to the lion. He’s embracing it.

“Did you know if you put $100 on me, you could win a half-a-million?” Bonnar joked a few days before he took off to Brazil last week.

A $100 wager on Bonnar would actually yield a payday of $1,300 at most in sports books, but that’s a UFC main-event record. It’s also beside the point.

Because no matter how many Bonnar quips fill sound bites and promotional quotes, there’s more to the story. Bonnar is not going into the Silva showdown with the happy-go-lucky attitude he’s helping the UFC sell. Underneath the banter is boldness.

Bonnar looks at the bout as the most important of his 11-year career in mixed martial arts.

“It’s a defining moment of my whole life — all the martial arts I’ve done, all the training and MMA fights and wrestling and boxing,” Bonnar said. “This is the culmination of it all.”

Speaking of bold statements, that means something coming from one of the fighters involved in the most significant bout in UFC history. The championship match of the first “Ultimate Fighter” between Griffin and Bonnar is widely regarded as the sport’s signature moment and the 15 minutes that saved the UFC from bankruptcy in 2005.

Bonnar calls the moment “the BC/AD line of MMA.” He and his wife, Andrea, are expecting their first child in two weeks. They’re naming their son “Griffin Bonnar.”

“The Ultimate Fighter” experience all happened because Bonnar took a risk, which he’s doing again by facing the best fighter in the history of the UFC.

“That’s the story of my life,” Bonnar said. “I don’t have the best luck. I’m kind of like the bad-luck kid. Every once in a while, a great opportunity comes along and I take advantage of it. I think I did that with season one. This is the biggest opportunity to ever come my way. It tops season one, I’d say.”

Bonnar had semi-retired from the UFC before he got the Silva fight on late notice a month ago. After failing to persuade UFC President Dana White to let him and Griffin coach on “The Ultimate Fighter,” Bonnar felt devastated and finished.

He held back tears while announcing on a Fuel TV fight broadcast that he wouldn’t fight again because he couldn’t land any of the big-name opponents he desired. Bonnar was skeptical at best when his manager, Wayne Herriman, texted him and asked if he should try to get the matchup with Silva to save the injury-ravaged UFC 153 card.

White wouldn’t let him on the “TUF” set, so why would he allow him in the octagon with the promotion’s top combatant? Herriman got back to Bonnar a couple of hours later with the positive news.

“His nickname is Copperfield because I don’t know how the hell he pulled that off,” Bonnar cracked.

Bonnar signed the contract and got back to training, where he felt like a stranger after months spent away from the gym. He thinks he’s in good enough shape.

It’s not like Silva had any advantage in that department. He wasn’t originally scheduled to fight Saturday either, but offered to jump in when Jose Aldo suffered an injury.

Click to enlarge photo

Anderson Silva enters for his bout against Chael Sonnen at UFC 148 Saturday, July 7, 2012 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Of course, he couldn’t make the middleweight limit of 185 pounds in that time frame. He would have to fight at light heavyweight, which made a match with Bonnar possible.

Unlike his past couple of opponents, Silva has nothing negative to say about Bonnar.

“In my opinion, Stephan Bonnar is a great athlete and a part of the history of the UFC,” Silva said. “He has a ton of value in the UFC. He’s a very dangerous guy.”

Bonnar believes he can test Silva because he’s “durable, tough and gritty.” Despite seven losses, Bonnar has never gotten knocked out.

Two opponents, including Silva training partner Lyoto Machida, have won by stoppage over Bonnar but both were due to cuts.

Bonnar understands none of that will convince anyone — including UFC officials, based on the marketing — he has a chance against Silva. The thing is, he doesn’t mind.

“I think the UFC is trying to be honest about selling this fight,” Bonnar said. “They don’t want to ignore the fact that I’m such a historic underdog for a main event. So why try to brush it under the carpet and make it sound like I’m not such an underdog?”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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