If you don't believe in the idea of acquiring victory in defeat, ask Stephan Bonnar. He'd tell you there was little to celebrate four months ago in Sydney but, despite a third straight loss, 'The American Psycho', though typically bloody and battered, was somehow able to conjure a smile.
Stopped in the third round due to a cut caused by a headbutt, Bonnar was defeated by southpaw Krzysztof Soszynski and rendered a bloody mess. Bonnar, of course, wanted to continue and finish what the pair had started, but the combination of doctor and referee cut his plans short that night.
As the proud American threw up his hands in disgust, turned to the big screens and pointed to his eye, the Sydney crowd responded as one, leaping to their feet and praising both competitors for their efforts and, perhaps more importantly, their willingness to continue when it would have been so easy to slip away with a care-free shrug.
“I felt like I was in the 'Twilight Zone' during the first fight,” recalls Bonnar, who was competitive with Soszynski throughout. “The head-butt happened right in front of the referee (John Sharp), and I pointed it out to the referee when I felt the head land and open up my cut. He saw it all play out in front of him. I shouted out 'head-butt, head-butt', just so that the referee knew exactly what had happened. There was surely no way he could have misinterpreted what had happened, as both his eyes and ears knew the score.
Bonnar's biggest beef that night wasn't with opponent Soszynski or the referee for stopping the bout, but was directed at the official decision which went against him at the conclusion. Despite it being clear to everybody in attendance and at home, Soszysnki's accidental headbutt was ignored and Bonnar was handed a stoppage loss.
“I couldn't believe they awarded Krzysztof the victory,” add Bonnar, 14-7 in his mixed martial arts career. “Not only that, I couldn't even believe I was stopped on the cut. I've been cut way worse than that before and never had a problem fighting on. The doctor's decision to wave that fight off just blew my mind. They showed the replays over and over and everybody could see the cut was caused by a head-butt, yet they still made the wrong call and announced an incorrect decision. It all felt like a bad dream.”
Having faced men like Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, Mark Coleman and, the new kid on the block, Jon Jones, Bonnar is only too aware of his own pain threshold and ability to withstand punishment. Although the predicament looked gruesome to outsiders in Sydney that night, Bonnar was adamant he could continue and finish the fight. Whether he'd of got the stoppage himself, or walked away with a decision on the cards, we'll never know.
However, Bonnar was able to comfort himself in the knowledge that, unlike other recent losses, his defeat to Soszynski had been a competitive slugfest and unquestionably one of the highlights of the UFC's first venture down under. The fans voted with their feet at the end of the bout and Bonnar couldn't have been happier.
“The fans definitely wanted to see more at the end of the fight and, if it had been up to me, they would have done,” says Bonnar. “Australia is a fighting country, and I like to think the fans respected Krzysztof and I for going out there and putting on a show. It was great to be involved in a fight like that and to do it in front of such passionate and loud fans. They clearly appreciated a good stand-up war, and a little bit of blood thrown into the equation always helps. Unfortunately, we weren't able to finish it.”
Blood-free and with four months to heal and reassess, Bonnar and Soszynski now get the chance to do it all over again when they meet on Saturday, July 3rd at UFC 116. The doctor, referee and judges will hopefully remain spectators this go-round, as Bonnar and Soszynski look to settle the score on their own terms. The rugged light-heavyweights expect a far more satisfactory ending to bout number two, but anticipate a similar brawl beforehand.
“I've watched the first fight a bunch of times, and I definitely see the rematch being something similar,” assures Bonnar. “I did pretty well the first couple of minutes, and felt I got off to a solid enough start. I think my hands and defence could have been a little better as the fight went on, though. I got a little sloppy in places, and allowed Krzysztof to get off with some shots. I need to move my head a bit more in the rematch and not be static so much and in range of punches. I'm aiming to not get hit quite so much by his power-punches this time around.
“Preparing to face an opponent I've already fought is definitely a positive, as I'm already familiar with Krzysztof's style and know what he's all about. I've already spent nearly three rounds in his company, so I have a good idea of what he can and can't do by this stage. I'm not going in there blind.”
The complexities of Soszynski's southpaw stance, combined with 'The Polish Experiment's rough edges, presented Bonnar with a few headaches in February, as the 33-year-old struggled to get to grips with his left-handed foe. Although boasting a wealth of fighting experience going into the match, Bonnar admits Soszynski's different dimension caught him by surprise.
“We've brought in a pretty good southpaw to work with this time around, which was something I lacked before the first fight,” admits Bonnar. “We were previously using orthodox right-handed fighters and turning them into southpaws, and that wasn't exactly ideal. This time we've made sure we got hold of a natural southpaw and figured out how to deal with the style.”
With preparation improved ahead of their July clash, Bonnar is ready to provide a continuation of their showdown in Sydney. The two light-heavyweights have been ready for this bout since February and the moment a referee and doctor combined to remove Bonnar from the original bout with Soszynski. A swift gentleman's agreement sealed the deal on a second affair, as both Bonnar and Soszynski immediately expressed a desire to do it all over again.
“This rematch just seemed like the right thing to do,” explains Bonnar. “Krzysztof's a fair and honest guy and he saw what happened in the fight. He knew that they got the decision wrong at the end of it all. There was only one thing we could do after that fight and that was to set up a rematch and do it all over again.
“Even though the contracts weren't signed for a couple of months afterwards, Krzysztof and I agreed on the rematch as soon as the first fight was waved over. We both wanted to do it again. I wanted to finish the fight, and I'm sure Krzysztof felt unsatisfied with the way the fight ended and the manner in which he received the win.”
Having lured Soszynski into a repeat performance, Bonnar now plots his downfall, armed with knowledge gained from time spent in his rival's company in Australia. Through the blood, sweat and tears of premature defeat, Bonnar feels he saw enough of Soszynski to warrant utter confidence ahead of bout number two. He expects a similar narrative to unfold at UFC 116, but is also open and prepared for many more twists in the plot.
“There's been talk of Krzysztof fighting the same way and going for a 'Fight of the Night', but that tells me he might be looking to try and take me down and win it another way,” admits Bonnar. “Perhaps he's bluffing, I don't know. It wouldn't surprise me if he tries making it a little easier on himself and attempts to take me down. Maybe he thinks he can get on top of me and steal rounds here and there with takedowns. I'm kind of thinking that's what his tactics are in the back of my mind, but we won't really know until we stare opposite one another in the Octagon.”
Whether it's a case of double-bluff or not, Stephan Bonnar has no ulterior motive or ambition to overhaul his style or game plan. What you see it was you get with 'The American Psycho' and, given the reception both received in their first fight, Bonnar isn't in any rush to change things on Saturday.
“I'm ready to have a brawl,” insists Bonnar. “I don't know what Krzysztof's planning, but I'm planning on brawling and throwing punches from the first bell. Maybe we'll both get a little more technical and clever in there but, ultimately, we'll still be in there throwing hard leather.
“No matter how technical he tries to make it, there's a good chance we'll both revert to type at some point. If I come out there all-guns-a-blazing, Krzysztof will have to deal with it. He's got to try and keep up. If I make this fight a brawl, it's going to be a brawl. Don't worry about that.”