Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar are connected in ways that most of us will never understand. For three rounds they stood together in the cage, most of that fifteen minutes in the pocket of violence, doing each other immeasurable harm in the name of a six figure contract. At the moment the judges read a fateful decision at the very first Ultimate Fighter finale (a unanimous decision win for Griffin) the two were as equal as two fighters could possibly be.
And then, in true storybook fashion, Griffin skyrocketed to the top of the sport. Fame, money, a UFC championship, he experienced the ultimate highs of sports competition. For Bonnar, things weren't that easy. In place of a championship belt, pencil in a failed drug test. In place of fame there was shame - a loss to a past his prime one-trick Mark Coleman. Griffin was the success story; Bonnar just a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of celebrity and complacency. A huge gap separated the two men who were once so close.
That gap is closing quickly.
At a time Griffin is seemingly on the last legs of a career that exceeded all expectations, Bonnar is on the best streak of his up-and-down Octagon tenure. Griffin has lost three of his last five fights. Bonnar, with a dominant decision win over Kyle Kingsbury this weekend, has now won three in row. Both men are being considered for a future fight with former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. In short, Griffin and Bonnar have met in the middle.
"(Rampage Jackson is) my dream fight," Bonnar told HeavyMMA. "He's good, he's a big puncher, he's tough. But he does have holes in his game...Forrest (Griffin) got a close win over him, (Keith) Jardine fought a good fight with him. I feel like I could fight him good."
The timing is perfect for Rampage and Bonnar to meet in Japan on February 26, 2012. Dana White is intrigued at the possibility. For Bonnar, it would be a chance to get his career on track, follow the path Griffin cleared, if five years after the fact. For Rampage, it's likely viewed as a tuneup fight. That could be a major mistake.
Jackson took Griffin lightly as well - the result was a loss that changed both men's lives forever. Stephan Bonnar will be fighting for his reputation, to reach the goals he's always known were in his reach. A desperate man is a dangerous man. It's possible "Rampage" Jackson will learn that lesson the hard way in Japan.