by Matt Hill – MMAWeekly.com
Essentially all UFC fans these days – whether the vets or the new blood – know the name Stephan Bonnar from his iconic Ultimate Fighter Season 1 light heavyweight finale fight with Forrest Griffin. Griffin and Bonnar slugged it out for fifteen bloody, gut-wrenching minutes before Forrest got the judges’ nod after the clang of the fight’s final bell sounded.

Bonnar’s excellent performance in the cage that night, though, prompted UFC President Dana White to extend not one, but two contracts to the first season’s final two 205-pound competitors. That night, Bonnar and Griffin set the bar for T.U.F. reality show finales on its highest rung with their intense, competitive battle and made UFC history with the dually awarded 6-figure contracts.

After his historic bout with Griffin, Bonnar continued to impress as he racked up three straight wins over his former housemate Sam Hoger, the shredded and extremely athletic James Irvin and Greg Jackson’s own standout, Keith Jardine.

Following these three great wins, Bonnar seemed to be setting himself up for either a rematch with Forrest Griffin or a title shot against then-champ Chuck Liddell when he hit a bit of a roadblock by the name of Rashad Evans. At the time, Rashad was the recently crowned heavyweight winner of the second season of T.U.F. while Stephan was one of the inaugural season’s standout personalities. This match was a highly anticipated battle that would no doubt propel the winner into the next echelon of UFC competition and notoriety.

When these two T.U.F. superpowers did clash in June of last year, however, it was Evans who controlled the majority of the fight and not surprisingly it was he who left the arena victorious via unanimous decision.

Bonnar’s next fight would be his much-anticipated rematch with Forrest Griffin. By the time these two men met for a repeat scrap, both men had hit one stumbling block on the UFC pathway and each was raring to get back to his winning ways.

Although both men gave it everything and put on a great show for the fans, it appeared that it was Griffin who had made the most progress since the two men initially met and it was Griffin who came away with the unanimous decision.

Following his fight with Forrest, Bonnar hit his third consecutive roadblock when he tested positive for an anabolic steroid and was shortly thereafter banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for a period of nine months.

Although his layoff was a bit lengthy and entirely involuntary, the break from action actually benefited Bonnar. Stephan said, “To be honest with you I kind of needed it. It felt like with Keith in April then Rashad in June and then Forrest in August…I pretty much had the same nagging injuries those three training camps in a row, so for the last one I knew that I needed a little time. I shattered my hand pretty good in that Forrest fight, so right after that fight I had surgery on that…and then my elbow’s been nagging me so I gave that a while to heal and then I got that fixed in April.”

Well, if Octagon performance is any indication of a healthy Stephan Bonnar then the rest and rehab did a body good because a meager 2:14 into round 1 Stephan picked up the victory over fellow T.U.F. alumnus Mike Nickels via submission due to rear naked choke. Bonnar’s time in the Octagon against Nickels may have been minimal, but that is just fine with him.

Stephan said, “I really needed a win bad and it was nice getting that early stoppage so I can fight again soon.”

With his lengthy layoff now behind him and his injury-free performance at UFC 73, can fans expect to see him fight again before years end? “Oh, you kidding me, yeah…I’m going to get two in,” Bonnar said.

Stephan hopes to get at least one of those two potential fights out of the way in one of the UFC’s three September cards. Stephan said, “I know they’ve got three shows in September so I hope to get on one of those. I haven’t gotten the call yet, but I told Joe [Silva] that I’m healthy and that I just bought a place so I need some money so give me a fight, I want to fight…so hopefully he will.”

Hopefully is right. Bonnar is a great fighter who brings not only a solid MMA skill set but also a great mind into each fight with him. He is a fighter whose skills are surpassed perhaps only by his toughness, and who doesn’t want to occasionally watch a good brawl? Some fighters come into fights not to lose, but with so much to regain after 9 ineligible months, Stephan will likely be fighting not only to win, but to dominate.

With his size and talent, Bonnar can definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the 205-pound division in the years to come.