According to Ariel Helwani, who is reporting a statement from Scott Coker, Stephan Bonnar has signed with Bellator.
“Stephan is a guy that has been a huge part of this sport and we are excited have him part of the roster,” Coker said. “He was one half of probably the greatest and one of the most important fights in MMA history, and it happened on Spike. When you look at our hight heavyweight division, with names like Rampage, Tito, King Mo, Emanuel Newton and others, there are a lot of fights Stephan can be involved in. Big fights against big names. After talking to Stephan, I know that’s what he wants, and we want to provide that to our fans.”
The move is interesting, considering that Bonnar is a UFC Hall of Fame inductee, that he re-amped the energy of the UFC brand with his iconic fight against Forrest Griffin on The Ultimate Fighter Finale 1, and that he worked as an analyst for UFC broadcasts on the Fox television network.
Bonnar retired on October 30, 2012, after testing positive for anabolic steroids following his UFC 153 loss to Anderson Silva. It was the second time he has been caught using preformance enhancers. The first followed his loss to Forrest Griffin after their rematch at UFC 62.
Bonnar’s history with banned substances is problematic. And despite having a four-fight win streak before his loss to Silva, perhaps the UFC wasn’t inclined to offer him another opportunity. But the circumstances at Bellator are different. For instance, the organization is probably not realistically in a position to sign, say, a Jon Jones or an Anderson Silva. So Scott Coker has an incentive to be creative. And the Bonnar signing is especially attractive because Tito Ortiz is already contracted to fight there.
Last year, Tito complained that Bonnar had no business in the UFC Hall of Fame. “Forrest deserves it,” he said. “He beat me, and he beat some other really good guys. He was a world champion. He had some great fights. I think he deserves it. As far as Stephan, I have nothing against the guy, but you’ve got to be a world champion, I think, to be in the Hall of Fame.” The snub obviously creates an opportunity for Coker. Because a sufficiently entertaining grudge match probably trumps the banned substances memories of casual fight fans. And Bonnar is on board.
“I want everyone to know I’m coming out of retirement because it’s time to free the MMA world of the virus that’s known as Tito Ortiz,” he said. “We’ve been suffering through his boring fights for too many years, and it’s about time that someone beats it out of him once and for all.”
However we feel about things like company loyalty and repeated steroid abuse, this thing with Tito is probably happening. So we might as well enjoy it. Even if the fight doesn’t live up to the hype, at least we can eat some popcorn while we wait for Dana White to respond.