Stephan Bonnar, a pivotal figure in the first season of Ultimate Fighter, has died at the age of 45.
The UFC announced Bonnar’s passing with a news release on Saturday:
The UFC family is saddened by the passing of UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar. We send our sincerest condolences to his family and friends.
— UFC (@ufc) December 24, 2022
The UFC family is saddened by the tragic passing of UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar Thursday from presumed heart complications while at work.
Bonnar was part of the inaugural season of the Ultimate Fighter, which premiered on Spike TV in January 2015 and climaxed with Bonnar’s fight against eventual winner Forrest Griffin on a live finale special in April of that year.
The future UFC star learned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Carlson Gracie and made his pro-MMA debut in November 2001 during the sport’s dark ages. After piling together, a 4-0 record, he fought future UFC champion Lyoto Machida and suffered his first loss on the Jungle Fight card in September 2003. Bonnar won his next three fights before entering the TUF house.
Bonnar made it to the finals of the light heavyweight tournament against Griffin saw the two have an all-time classic for its era. While Griffin won by unanimous decision and was awarded the UFC contract, the fight was so great, that Dana White and Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta called an audible and gave Bonnar a contract right on the spot and it was the feel-good moment of the show. In the story of the UFC’s rise during this era, White has called Griffin vs. Bonnar the most important fight in the promotion’s history.
From Dana White:
Stephan Bonnar was one of the most important fighters to ever compete in the Octagon,” said UFC President Dana White. “His fight with Forrest Griffin changed the sport forever, and he will never be forgotten. The fans loved him, related to him and he always gave them his best. He will be missed.
While TUF was already a success and the in-house feud involving Chris Leben, Bobby Southworth, and Josh Koscheck cemented the show’s status as a hit, the fight between Griffin and Bonnar is the most-remembered part of the season and came on a night when the UFC needed a home run.
Their fight from the TUF 1 Finale was added to the UFC Hall of Fame’s “Fight Wing” in July 2013.
The two had a rematch in August 2006 at UFC 62 where Griffin had greatly improved since the first fight and won by decision in a fight that isn’t remembered nearly as much as the first.
Bonnar fought for the UFC from 2005 until 2012 including a three-round decision loss in one of Jon Jones’ early fights with the promotion.
In October 2012, he challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight title which Silva was a big favorite in. Silva won by TKO in the first round with Bonnar testing positive for Drostanolone after the fight.
Two years later, Bonnar had his final fight, losing to Tito Ortiz at Bellator 131 by a split decision.
He had his struggles after fighting including a DUI arrest in October 2018.
Bonnar also got involved in professional wrestling working on several independent shows in 2017 including shows for House of Glory in New York and IWS in Montreal. Later, Bonnar wrestled Moose at IMPACT Wrestling’s Victory Road event in 2019