Stephan Bonnar, who helped bring the UFC into the mainstream with his fight against Forrest Griffin in the Season 1 finale of reality show The Ultimate Fighter, has died at the age of 45, the promotion revealed Saturday gave.
Bonnar died of suspected heart complications while at work, according to the UFC.
Bonnar and Griffin were both inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013. Their dejected, protracted April 9, 2005 battle is considered one of the most important battles in Ascension history. The reality series The Ultimate Fighter, and this fight in particular, were crucial in landing and keeping the UFC on the wire.
The Griffin vs. Bonnar drama, with both men digging deep into a bloody brawl, has long been an example of what the sport of MMA can be, allowing it to carve out its own identity, distinct from others martial arts like boxing. 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 also gave Bonnar a contract.
“Stephan 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 him, were related to him and he always gave them his best. He will be missed.”
Bonnar, a Hammond, Indiana native but longtime Las Vegas resident, had not fought in MMA since a fight with Tito Ortiz under the Bellator banner in 2014, which made headlines for what was then the most-watched Bellator event in its history was . Bonnar last competed in the UFC in 2012, a loss to the all-time great Anderson Silva. Prior to this fight, Bonnar had a three-fight win streak.
Following his loss to Griffin in The Ultimate Fighter finale, Bonnar also went on a three-fight win streak before losing to Rashad Evans, who would go on to become the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Griffin and Bonnar went head-to-head in a re-run of their classic match in 2006, with Griffin again winning via unanimous decision. Griffin would also win the UFC light heavyweight belt.
During his career, Bonnar faced seven future or former UFC champions: Griffin, Ortiz, Silva, Evans, Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida and Mark Coleman. Bonnar named his first son Griffin after his greatest rival, who later became a good friend.
Bonnar, who finished his career with a 15-9 record, has also provided color commentary for WEC promotion over the years and has worked several times as an MMA analyst for ESPN and Fox Sports.
Following his MMA career, Bonnar began wrestling professionally and made multiple appearances with Impact Wrestling throughout 2019.