Stefan Bonnar, who helped launch the UFC into the mainstream with his fight against Forrest Griffin in the season 1 finale of the reality show “The Ultimate Fighter,” has died at the age of 45, the promotion announced Saturday.
Bonnar died of presumed heart complications while on the job, according to the UFC.
Both Bonnar and Griffin were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013. Their knockout, draw fight on April 9, 2005 is considered one of the most significant fights in the promotion’s history. The “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series and that fight in particular were crucial to landing and keeping the UFC on cable.
Griffin vs. Griffin won the fight via unanimous decision to earn a six-figure UFC contract. But the fight was so good that UFC President Dana White gave Bonnar a contract as well.
“Stefan Bonnar was one of the most important fighters to ever compete in the Octagon,” White told UFC.com on Saturday. “His fight with Forrest Griffin changed the sport forever, and he will never be forgotten. The fans loved and bonded with him and he always gave them his best. We will miss him.”
Bonnar, a native of Hammond, Indiana, but a longtime resident of Las Vegas, hasn’t fought in MMA since a match with Tito Ortiz under the Bellator banner in 2014, which headlined what was at the time the most watched Bellator event in its history. Bonnar last competed in the UFC in 2012, losing to the great Anderson Silva. Prior to that match, Bonnar was on a three-time winning streak.
After losing to Griffin in the finals of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Bonnar also went on a three-way winning streak before falling to Rashad Evans, who would go on to become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Griffin and Bonnar competed in a rematch of their classic fight back in 2006, with Griffin again winning via unanimous decision. Griffin would also go on to win the UFC Light Heavyweight belt.
In his career, Bonnar has faced seven former or former UFC champions: Griffin, Ortiz, Silva, Evans, Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida, and Mark Coleman. Bonar named his first son Griffin after his most important rival, who had become a good friend.
Bonnar, who finished his career with a record of 15-9, has also done color commentary over the years for WEC promotions and served several times as an MMA analyst for ESPN and Fox Sports.
After his MMA career, Bonnar took up professional wrestling and made several appearances with Impact Wrestling in 2019.
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