TUF 12 Finale: Stephan Bonnar on Carlson Gracie, Leaving Xtreme Couture and More

Former Ultimate Fighter star talks Carlson Gracie, leaving Xtreme Couture and how important beating Krzysztof Soszynski was.

Stephan Bonnar is a landmark of the modern-day Ultimate Fighting Championships.

His bout with Forrest Griffin at the first Ultimate Fighter Finale catapulted him to near-instant stardom and cemented his standing as one of the most important fighters on the company roster. He’s experienced his share of ups and downs and isn’t considered a top contender, but he’s somebody the company can count on to put on an exciting fight and connect with the fans.

Bonnar’s exciting style has landed him back in another main event, and it’s a return to his old Ultimate Finale stomping grounds. Bonnar faces Igor Pokrajac at the TUF 12 Finale on December 4.

I sat down with Stephan to discuss his two fights with Krzysztof Soszynski, training jiu-jitsu under Carlson Gracie, his decision to leave Xtreme Couture and more.

Heavy.com: You and Forrest were obviously in a landmark fight for the UFC, one that really helped turn the tide and one that stands as one of the most important in modern day MMA. Do you feel like there’s any pressure on your shoulders to live up to that fight whenever you step in the cage?

Bonnar: Not really, you know? It takes two to fight like that, so it was also Forrest who helped me make the fight what it was. That’s just how I fight, you know? As long as I get an opponent who brings it in a similar manner, we can have good fights like that. The last fight, Krzysztof brought it, so that was a hell of a fight. We’ll see how it goes this time around with Igor.

Heavy.com: Tell me about the importance of starting your jiu-jitsu training with Carlson Gracie.

Bonnar: I mean, he’s like the original jiu-jitsu pedigree. He’s Carlos Gracie’s son. It doesn’t get any higher up than that on the jiu-jitsu chain, really. So he brought me up in this sport. Unfortunately, he passed away, but now I’m with Sergio Pehna now and I got my black belt from him. And he’s right up there on that chain with the Gracies. I feel like I’ve been lucky enough to have some really good jiu-jitsu teachers. That’s a real strength for me in my fights if I need it.

Heavy.com: Are you still at One Kick Nick’s gym?

Bonnar: Sure am.

Heavy.com: What led you to leave Xtreme Couture and go to Nick’s?

Bonnar: I’m just the kind of guy that needs that coach. Couture’s is a great place to get work in and spar, but as far as having a coach take you and get you ready for a fight, I didn’t really have that there. Every guy is getting ready for their fight and everybody cares about themselves. And now at this gym I’ve got a good coach who is really helping me get ready and working on specific things with me. And also, we have other guys there who are my training partners and who are helping me get ready, who are pushing me. It’s great, because when someone else has a fight coming up, I’m in there helping them get ready. It’s a good feeling with good guidance and a good coach. I like it. I feel like I’m at the top of my game.

Heavy.com: You mentioned after UFC 101 that you were contemplating a drop to middleweight. Is that still an option?

Bonnar: No. I actually dieted and tried to keep the weight off. I ate like a mouse and got to 210 and felt weak. All I could think of was, “fuck, another 25 pounds? Are you kidding me?” I mean, I have a pretty big frame. So I figured why not just eat like a horse and lift like a mule and weigh 230 and then just cut to 205? So that’s what I’ve been doing.

Heavy.com: You’re fighting Igor Pokrajac on the TUF Finale. Do you enjoy being on these TUF cards?

Bonnar: It really doesn’t matter. To be in a main event on Spike is way better than being on the undercard of a really big UFC. Last time, I was lucky enough to be on the main card of a pretty big UFC, one of the biggest ones of the year. So that was good because it really helped get a lot of eyes on me, and I think putting on that great fight helped me get this main event spot on the Ultimate Finale. You know, the last time I was on the Ultimate Finale, I had a pretty good fight. So hopefully there’s just something in the air and I’m able to put on a good one this time.

Heavy.com: Technically, you’re even in your series with Krzysztof. But the way the first fight ended absolutely wasn’t definitive, so do you feel like your days with Krzysztof are through, or is it something you feel like you’ll have to revisit in the future?

Bonnar: I don’t know. We had a good fight and all that. Maybe in the future we’ll fight again, yeah. It’s a possibility. But will I ever accept the first fight as being an actual loss? Never. Never. I clearly got headbutted. I had a blown call by the referee. I had a weak ringside doctor, a rookie first timer who had never seen blood before who wouldn’t let me finish the fight. So I got screwed on two ends there, but in July I found justice. I got that justice. And it was awesome because I needed that. I was going crazy. It really tore me up, what happened in Australia. Especially getting screwed like that and getting the loser’s purse, because you make a lot more money when you win, you know?

Heavy.com: Sure.

Bonnar: So I got the bad call and I got the small paycheck. I didn’t have to hear the questions about hanging it up or getting cut because I had three losses in a row. Oh man, it killed me.

Heavy.com: I’m kind of surprised you didn’t get the win bonus simply because of how the fight ended.

Bonnar: Yeah. That’s the rules, though. I just knew what I had to do. I had to come back and beat him and put on a good performance. And I did all of that. I got the win and I got the fight of the night bonus. It really felt so good. I can’t even explain it.