In a news cycle dominated on a fight where the biggest star in mixed martial arts and the biggest star in boxing were set to fight created on the interest of the fans and the media. A fight where you felt like you were watching WWE programming. A fight that had more sub-plots than an episode of Game of Thrones, a man who shaped the destiny of MMA, Stephan Bonnar was looking for his turn in the ring… the wrestling ring that is.
The former UFC and now current Bellator fighter has been training with the Future Stars Of Wrestling organization and former WCW competitor Disco Inferno, based out of Bonnar’s adopted hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. Yet on Friday night in Queens, Bonnar stepped into the wrestling ring for the first time as an active competitor.
Bonnar was originally slated to face fellow former UFC fighter and current independent wrestling superstar Matt Riddle at House Of Glory (HOG) Wrestling’s biggest event of the year, but Riddle had to pull out of the contest due to an injury suffered the evening prior. Bonnar in an exclusive conversation with Fight Sports the night of the event said that a fighter pulling out in an MMA fight the week of and a wrestling opponent pulling out is almost the same thing since you must change your entire game plan to ensure you put on the best performance possible, whether in MMA to win, or to give wrestling fans something to remember.
Instead of facing Riddle, Bonnar would take on one of the rising talents of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Sho Tanaka of the Tempura Boyz tag team. The team is currently on an American excursion (a tradition for future stars being groomed by NJPW), and being mentored by former MMA fighter and well known female wrestler Sumie Sakai.
Bonnar, who made his claim to fame as a finalist in the first season of the Ultimate Fighter when he and Forrest Griffin had one of the most talked about fights in the company’s history, is looking for new opportunities.
Ever since the dawn of the 20th century, pro wrestling has been a home for athletes from other sports looking to make a new career or some good money. While it has been primarily football players like Ernie Ladd, Wahoo McDaniel, and even Lawrence Taylor who have crossed into the world of pro wrestling, combat sports athletes are no strangers to the business of pageantry.
The “American Psycho” joins an ever-growing amount of mixed martial artists to cross over including Riddle, who has been on a tear through the independent scene over the past two years after leaving the UFC and MMA all together to become a pro wrestler. Appearing for the EVOLVE promotion, Riddle’s style and personality have laid out a road map to success and a potential WWE contract by the end of 2017. He also joins Tom Lawlor, Phil Baroni (whom he is in a tag team with), who have recently made the jump.
These fighters join the likes of Tito Ortiz, King Mo, and Rampage Jackson who all were members of the TNA Wrestling (now Global Force Wrestling) promotion in various points over the last decade when both the fledgling wrestling company and Bellator were on Spike TV.
The MMA and Wrestling connection has been going since both Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn were a part of the UFC in its inception and appearing on the then WWF’s programming in the late 1990’s. Yet, it seems that Bonnar may prefer the independent route for now, as he mentioned to us that as an MMA Fighter he preferred working for Bellator due to the “freedom” it gave him. When asked Bonnar said…
“Well Bellator is cool, because they let me do what I want… Dana White wouldn’t have let a guy in a mask come to my fight announcement. He would have shut that completely down.”
Yet, when asked further about the Bellator brand in comparison to the UFC, Bonnar was a little more dour.
“Bellator is where MMA Fighters go to die, that’s the only way I can describe it.”
And with one of the biggest hyped fights in the history of combat sports just days away, we cannot look past Stephan Bonnar’s legacy in MMA. He and Forrest Griffin going to war twelve years ago on Spike helped shape the pathway for Conor McGregor to make over $100 million dollars this Saturday night against Floyd Mayweather. And while Bonnar may not be at ringside on August 26th, he is a reason we’re all ready to watch the biggest star in MMA take on the biggest star in boxing.