Stephan Bonnar, the Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Famer who popularized the sport in the final bout of the first season of reality show ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ died Thursday, the mixed martial arts promoter announced on Saturday. .
Bonnar died of “suspected heart complications at work,” the UFC said in a press release. He was 45 years old.
“Stephan Bonnar was one of the most important fighters to ever compete in the Octagon,” UFC President Dana White said in the statement. “His fight with Forrest Griffin changed the sport forever, and he will never be forgotten. The fans loved him, connected with him and he always gave them his best. He will be missed.”
Bonnar’s three-round light heavyweight final bout against Forrest Griffin in Las Vegas in 2005 saved the fledgling UFC, paving the way for the sport’s popularity today. The bout takes place in the company’s Hall of Fame Fight Wing, which recognizes “the greatest, most memorable and historically significant UFC bouts.”
Griffin won the epic match and got a UFC contract. But the promotion also gave Bonnar a contract.
“I knew it was a good fight during the fight,” Bonnar said later, according to the statement. “It hit me when everyone started tapping their feet and I felt like the whole place was shaking. And that was round two. I was like ‘oooh, this must be good .’
“Everything changed. I didn’t think I would have a career in the UFC,” he continued. “It was just a little hobby that I was doing, so that changed everything. Almost overnight, I became like a celebrity. Everywhere I went, someone recognized me, even in dark places.
Known as “The American Psycho”, Bonnar fought Hall of Famers such as Jon Jones, Rashad Evans, Anderson Silva and Tito Ortiz during his seven-year career at light heavyweight.
The Hammond, Indiana native finished with a 17-9 UFC record, beating fighters such as Krzysztof Soszynski, Igor Pokrajac and James Irvin.