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UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar dead at 45

The former TUF 1 finalist was a fan favorite for years for his performances inside the Octagon, but had suffered with severe health complications in recent years.

Stephan Bonnar attends a UFC 111 viewing party in 2010.
Stephan Bonnar attends a UFC 111 viewing party in 2010.
Photo by Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images

When Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar faced off in the finale of the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, history was made. The UFC had been in difficult financial straights for years following the purchase of the promotion by Las Vegas casino magnates, Lorenzo & Frank Fertitta. A bid for the suddenly booming market of reality TV was something of a desperate play. A hope to market MMA to a new audience outside the scope of pre-existing combat sports fans.

A wild war between two charismatic sluggers willing to throw all caution to the wind was more than the UFC ever could have hoped for. Fans got hooked, ratings were strong, the Ultimate fighter became a cornerstone of the UFC’s business model with 30 seasons currently in the books.

“There has never been a more important fight in the history of the UFC,” UFC president Dana White said when Griffin & Bonnar were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame together back in 2013. “There has never been a more important fight... in the history of mixed martial arts.”

Griffin went on to become a UFC champion. Bonnar never reached that height, regularly trading wins and losses over his seven-year UFC run, but all throughout he stayed a fan-favorite for his willingness to compete with seeming reckless abandon for his own safety. Following a single bout in Bellator the ‘American Psycho’ retired from MMA competition for good in 2014 with a 15-9 record.

After his exit from the world of mixed martial arts, Bonnar worked on the independent wrestling circuit, with an appearance with Impact Wrestling in 2019. His wrestling career was notably hampered by injury in the fall of 2021, when Bonnar apparently suffered a broken back at a wrestling show.

Difficulties followed again in 2022, when Bonnar and his wife lost their Las Vegas home due to fire. A fundraiser raised over $10,000 for the couple, including a $4,000 donation from former UFC champion Tyron Woodley.

In a statement released on their website, the UFC announced that Bonnar had passed away on December 22nd. MMA Fighting has since confirmed the news. While an exact cause of death has yet to be given, initial reports state that he likely died from “presumed heart complications while at work.”

“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.”