When Stephan Bonnar steps into the octagon on Saturday night, it will be in front a Rio de Janeiro crowd that will have flocked to UFC 153 (10 p.m. ET, PPV) for no other reason than to lay praise at the feet of Anderson Silva. Bonnar will be merely a bit player opposite the Brazilian star. He'll be a part of the dramatic scenery, like the sturdy-looking but only two-dimensional trees painted on the backdrop that just stand there as the show unfolds in front of them on the eight-sided stage. He'll be an accessory from the wardrobe trailer, like the top hat and cane that made Fred Astaire look so stylish. If given a living, breathing part in the production, Stephan Bonnar will be handed the role of Red Klotz.
That's not quite fair to Bonnar, who's a real fighter who'll be fighting for real on Saturday night. It's not his intention to merely be an innocuous foil in Silva's show, as Klotz & Co. have done in losing to the Trotters night after night for decades. Bonnar will be trying to win. But he's coming out of retirement to take this fight, one in which he'd have faced stiff odds even if he were in the prime of his career. Winning is a possibility, sure -- anything can happen when two guys wearing four-ounce glove collide -- but that would be the unlikeliest of plot twists.
None if that has dissuaded Dana White from going all hyperbolic on us in selling this fight, a replacement main event for which Silva volunteered after José Aldo was injured in a motorcycle accident in Rio and had to pull out of his featherweight title defense against former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar. P.T. Barnum would step right up and be amazed as the UFC president characterizes Bonnar as a heroic figure right out of Rocky. Bill Veeck and Eddie Gaedel would nod their heads in synchronistic awe as they hear Dana sing the praises of Saturday night's main event as "a fun fight."
A cynical reinterpretation of "a fun fight" would be "a fight that, though a mismatch, has just enough star power to allow the UFC to sell it on pay-per-view." A less jaded view would be that any time we get to see a genius artist at work, it's not to be missed. I mean, Chuck Berry has spent years touring the country in his Cadillac, just him and his guitar, playing shows with whatever backup band the local promoters could rustle up. Any Johnny with a bass and drum kit could do a good enough job on "Johnny B. Goode" to allow Chuck to put on his show. Most nights that was good enough, and some nights it even was great. Because it was Chuck's show.
Saturday night is Anderson's show.
2: Number of his 16 consecutive victories that have come against UFC light heavyweights. Both Forrest Griffin and James Irvin were first-round knockout victims.
4: Consecutive fights in which he has finished his opponent.
67.5: Striking accuracy, best in UFC history according to FightMetric statistics. He also has a UFC-best 16 knockdowns.
0: Number of his 21 fights in which he's been either knocked out or submitted. (Two losses were doctors' stoppages because of cuts.)
338: Days it will have been since his last fight when he steps in the cage on Saturday night. Before that, he hadn't fought in 350 days.
+850: Odds of him winning, according to the sports books we checked. That means a $100 bet on Bonnar would net you $850 if he wins. Conversely, you'd have to plunk down $1,350 on Silva to win $100.
What we should expect: Remember when Silva fought Forrest Griffin? It won't be as bad as that, only because nothing could be as bad as that. So the bar has been set pretty low for Bonnar, who hinted at his strategy by saying that to compete with "The Spider" you "have to be willing to eat a punch in order to land one." The first part of that plan should be easy to implement, as Silva is quite accommodating in feeding his opponents' faces with seven-course meals of leather. But while Bonnar is digesting those punches, can he dish out anything in return? If history is any indication, most of what "The American Psycho" tries to deliver to Silva's doorstep will end up evaporating in thin air, with Anderson dancing around most everything Stephan flings his way.
Why we should care: There's no good reason to care, to be honest. The fight is not for Silva's championship belt. He's not taking on a guy who's anywhere near the Top 10 in any weight class. There's no big picture here. But if you're a Silva fan who simply wants to watch the 37-year-old perform, enjoy yourself. To me, though, that's like being such a Marlon Brando fan that you're not satisfied to own just DVDs of On the Waterfront and The Godfather but also feel compelled to pick up a copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau.
"Stephan Bonnar, he's a great athlete, part of the history of the UFC. He's a very dangerous guy, he's good on his feet, he's got good ground work and good defense. So, really, anyone has to be very well trained to be in UFC, and I think anyone can win here because anything can happen and you can get submitted or knocked out any time."--Anderson Silva, showing as much slickness in hype as he does in his fights, trying to sell us on Bonnar as a viable opponent during a media conference call last week
"A chance to fight the greatest fighter, pound for pound, in the world and in a place like Brazil is just crazy. Feels like I'm in a movie."--Bonnar during the same conference call
"I also wanted to step up and take this fight because I wanted to give back to all my Brazilian fans who have supported me in the past few fights."--Silva
"And you think if I pull off an upset against Anderson Silva it's not going to be as sweet because it's not for a belt, hell no. I mean, it's going to be the greatest moment of my life."--Bonnar
A winning strategy: Fabio Maldonado has lost his last two fights, but the Brazilian is already a winner in the UFC's eyes simply by agreeing to step in the cage with countryman Glover Teixeira. Teixeira, who has fought only once in the UFC but with 16 straight wins, has built the reputation of a caged killer, was scheduled to show Quinton Jackson the exit door, but "Rampage" was injured in training and had to pull out of what was to be his final UFC bout. Rashad Evans was offered Teixeira but turned down the fight. So Maldonado stepped up, which as a nice favor to the UFC puts him in a good position. Until the cage door shuts, of course.
Going down, down, down: Watch out below for all of the falling stock as the main card unfolds. The first three bouts on the pay-per-view feature collisions between fighters at crossroads. Sure, you could say every fighter is at a crossroad in his every fight. But these guys are in particularly volatile situations. Neither Demian Maia nor Rick Story can afford another loss if he's to remain relevant in the welterweight division. Phil Davis, still trying to erase the sting of his first career loss last January, takes on unbeaten Wagner Prado in a rematch of their short bout in August, which ended in a no contest after an inadvertent eye poke. And Jon Fitch, a onetime welterweight challenger who is not a favorite among MMA fans (and, therefore, UFC matchmakers) because of his plodding style, takes on Erick Silva, who has devastated everyone he's faced in the UFC.