One-half of the UFC's indelible TUF war that vaulted the promotion into the public spotlight sees main card action a half-decade afterwards. Stephan Bonnar, "The American Psycho", meets the stalwart Kyle Kingsbury in a light-heavyweight contest at UFC 139: Henderson vs. Rua this Saturday night from the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA.
Shacking up in the WEC commentary booth and leading off 2010 with his third consecutive loss, it seemed like Bonnar's glory days were behind him. However, much like the recent Peralta-Semerzier fiasco, an unintentional headbutt turned out to be the culprit in that third TKO loss to Krzysztof Soszynski at UFC 110. Soszynski, who could have rightfully claimed the win and looked ahead, manned up, acknowledged the inadvertent clash of heads and honorably offered Bonnar a rematch.
The outcome of their second foray at UFC 116 embodied the many curve balls that Mother MMA loves to throw our way to fuel the "anything can happen" catchphrase. Bonnar sliced Soszynski with a perfectly timed knee that put him on rubber legs and pounced for an exhilarating stoppage. Rejuvenated, the BJJ and Taekwondo black belt made it back to back wins with a unanimous decision over Croatian slugger Igor Pokrajac at the TUF 12 Finale.
Kyle Kingsbury, who emerged the reality show trials three years later on the eighth edition, is a pure athlete. A standout football player in high school, his natural abilities were exceptional enough that he was able to walk on to Arizona State University's football squad and see action. He was somewhat lost in the TUF 8 crowd after a Ryan Bader arm-triangle on the show and a decision loss to Tom Lawlor at the Finale.
"Crazy" Bob Cook and the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) went to work on Kingsbury's physical gifts and started to hammer his rudimentary skills into a more polished machine. Respectable output would follow. Kingsbury has gone on to string together four in a row over the likes of Razak Al-Hassan, Jared Hamman, Ricardo Romero and Fabio Maldonado, all by decision excluding Romero, which was a brief and violent beating.
Another victory for Kingsbury would vault him several rungs up the contender ladder while Bonnar's marketability and momentum would skyrocket with another thrilling upset.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
As a befitting complement to his imposing stature, Kingsbury has developed a punishing clinch game accented by Thai basics, overwhelming control and solid striking power.
His control from the Thai plum is frightening, often snapping his opponent's head down to reduce their mobility before greeting it with a succession of brutal knees. On the way in and out of the clinch phase, Kingsbury is relentless with short, stiff punches and snatches double-legs when the defender unwisely plants and covers to counter the barrage.
Barring the judging clamor associated with the decision, Kingsbury's intrepid showing against Team Nogueira striker Fabio Maldonado (12 of 18 wins by TKO) was largely authenticating.
Jon Jones is paramount in all 205-pound aspects and his lofty height and reach is no exception. However, Kingsbury's leviathan frame and uncanny athleticism deserves a second mention. Standing at 6'4" of sheer brawn, he applies a lot of leverage in the clinch but also has phenomenal dexterity to augment his size and strength.
While Kingsbury is a nearly unstoppable and devastating grinder at contact-range, he's a little sloppy with his tactics of closing distance. His footwork is decent but he doesn't move his head much and leaves his chin exposed by reaching his hands outward before he's seated deep in the pocket (right).
This habit, along with the trend of losing a little steam in later rounds, has drastically reduced his clinch efficiency. Rather than snatching the head and steering his foe around helplessly while clobbering with knees, the position has become more of a method of neutralization and protection as the fight goes on.
Led by unwavering resolve, Stephan Bonnar has done an admirable job of drawing upon his vast experience in traditional martial arts and fine-tuning those tools into a complete MMA arsenal.
Striking-wise, his spinning wheel kicks and axe kicks are straight out of the Taekwondo lexicon but his time training in Thailand anchors his kickboxing with more functional techniques. A student under the great Carlson Gracie, Bonnar's ground game is replete with strong guard passing and knowledge of position and a diverse approach from his back with extremely active hips. Though his takedown defense is technical and intact, wrestling is his only minor shortcoming.
He'll have to exercise his myriad striking options with a fixation on elusive footwork against Kingsbury. Though Bonnar has finished fights by TKO (3), most were exacted by volume and I don't really consider him a consistent one-shot power puncher.
I expect him to hop on his bicycle and try to keep Kingsbury at bay by needling strikes from outside, knowing the bull will want to rush into a tie-up and smash him against the fence. Bonnar is one of the few who mirrors Kingsbury's height but is not likely to match his strength head on.
I think we'll see the same game plan he utilized against Soszynski: working angles on his feet, staying in the free-movement phase to exploit his kickboxing advantage and avoid locking horns at all costs.
When or if he is wrapped up, Bonnar has a thorny set of clinch ammunition consisting of sharp knees, cleaving elbows while jockeying for hand/arm position and good hooks and uppercuts. I'm not sure if Kingsbury will shoot takedowns knowing that Bonnar is precariously adept with subs from his crafty guard.
The betting lines offer a realistic take with Kingsbury as a slight favorite. Like almost every fight on the UFC 139 card, I can see this one going in either direction. Look for Kingsbury to take the helm early when he's fresh and walk through punches to inflict serious damage in the clinch. The kicker is that Bonnar's unquenchable fighting spirit has consistently carried him through adversity to mount a stellar comeback late in the fight, where Kingsbury has a propensity for reduced production and fatigue.
I estimate a Kingsbury decision as the safest choice. I'm really impressed with the kid and his massive frame makes for an immense challenge when his Thai game is on. Bonnar's high mileage and age (34) make me nervous but, as long as he can sustain his undying valor, I'll take a chance and guess that he can pull another rabbit out of his hat.
My Prediction: Stephan Bonnar by submission
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com