Conventional wisdom suggests that Stephan Bonnar, who last fought in November 2011 and spent the past few months contemplating retirement, has nothing to lose against middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 153.
There’s no title on the line, the bout will be contested at light heavyweight and Silva’s physical skills so far exceed what Bonnar has to offer that oddsmakers have the Brazilian opening as a 13-1 favorite.
Bonnar will enter the Oct. 13 bout in Rio de Janeiro on a three-fight win streak. Those victories, however, have come against middle-of-the-pack competitors Kryzstof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac and Kyle Kingsbury.
Silva on the other hand has won 16 straight and doesn’t know the taste of losing inside the Octagon. Fighters on his destruction list include Chael Sonnen, Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Nate Marquardt and Vitor Belfort.
By all measures this main-event fight is being viewed as nothing more than an exhibition. For Bonnar, however, it’s anything but.
This is as real a fight as any Bonnar has ever participated in, and regardless of conventional wisdom he is going in to it determined to give everything his 35-year-old body can muster.
Bonnar is a prideful man. He has given much of his body to the professional fight game for nearly 11 years.
He definitely has something to lose. If this is his final fight, Bonnar doesn’t want to be embarrassed. But more important, he has a lot gain with an impressive performance or better yet -- the unthinkable -- a victory.
“I’m going to do my best,” Bonnar told ESPN.com. “It’s so hard to top the Forrest fight after all those years. It’s a great storybook in and of itself, but what’s my storybook ending?
“I beat Anderson Silva and it’s like the perfect ending. What’s going to top that? Nothing! But after I beat Anderson Silva, if I want to fight again I’ll be given a fight that I can make a lot of money off of. Do I end my career on a storybook ending or keep fighting and get rich? That’s a great problem to have.”
Bonnar and Griffin fought in the Season 1 finale of "The Ultimate Fighter." That bout, which was held in April 2005, has been credited with catapulting UFC into the mainstream.
Griffin won that fight, and their August 2009 rematch, by unanimous decision. Despite suffering the two losses, Bonnar campaigned hard the past year trying to land a third fight with Griffin. His repeated attempts to convince UFC president Dana White to name him and Griffin as "TUF" coaches were unsuccessful.
But an upset of Silva, which would rank among the biggest upsets -- along with boxing’s Mike Tyson-James "Buster" Douglas and Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay -- in combat sports history, would open numerous opportunities to Bonnar.
“I’m going in there [against Silva] to win or die trying,” Bonnar said. “That’s the plan.
“If I beat Anderson I won’t have too much of a problem getting that coaching gig with a fighter like Forrest. I just heard that in the history of UFC I’m the biggest underdog they’ve ever had. And I’m fighting in his backyard. Talk about no pressure, it doesn’t get any better.”
There is some pressure, however. Not the kind that comes from fan expectations, there is little of that. The only issue as far as an overwhelming majority of fans are concerned is how many rounds will Bonnar last against Silva?
This fight represents Bonnar’s final chance to cash in on a mixed martial arts career that began in November 2001. It’s now or never. That’s pressure. Bonnar won’t get another chance to hit the jackpot if he doesn’t, at the very least, deliver a respectable performance.
He has years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears riding on this fight against arguably the best mixed martial artist ever -- and it is proving to be a bit nerve-racking.
“Fear is a great motivator and so is money,” Bonnar said. “I’ve got this T-shirt business and all that. It’s doing all right, but I’d really love to blow that up and make it successful.
“And winning this fight would be the easiest way to do that.”