Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010 | 11:47 p.m.
Stephan Bonnar feels guilty.
The UFC light heavyweight returned to the scene of his epic 2005 battle against Forrest Griffin Saturday at “The Ultimate Fighter 12" finale and did what no one expected him to do.
He fought a smart fight, and barely took any damage in the process. He wasn’t even in the discussion for Fight of the Night honors. Afterward, he didn’t even go to the hospital.
“I feel guilty for not going toe-to-toe,” Bonnar said, following his unanimous decision win. “After the second round, I knew I was ahead and thought, ‘Why risk being all ugly?’
“I felt a little guilty, but I wanted to play it safe.”
If there’s any fighter in the UFC deserving to play it safe for once, it’s Bonnar.
The nine-year veteran has made a career of getting into three-round wars that usually leave him beat to a pulp but always leave the crowd on its feet.
But Bonnar (13-7) had a different plan for his co-main event fight against Igor Pokrajac, one he executed perfectly.
Instead of placing his back against the cage and swinging for the fences, Bonnar continually utilized the clinch and put Pokrajac on his back for most of the fight.
Nobody seemed more surprised by Bonnar’s sudden tight game plan than Pokrajac, who was unable to get any offense going and looked visibly frustrated by the third round.
“It was just the right time to do it,” Bonnar said. “Everyone expected me to be the same old, toe-to-toe Bonnar, including Igor. I heard in his interviews he was looking forward to it.
“It was a perfect time to pull a fast one. A little tomfoolery.”
The most damage Pokrajac was able to inflict on Bonnar was with illegal blows.
In the second round, with Bonnar in side control, Pokrajac threw a few illegal knees to the back of Bonnar’s head.
Referee Steve Mazzagatti didn’t appear to say anything at the time of the foul but later deducted a point from Pokrajac following the round — apparently after Bonnar complained about it.
Following the fight, Bonnar said he wasn’t upset with Pokrajac for the blows but admitted he wasn’t too happy with Mazzagatti’s handling of the situation.
“I felt myself bleeding and I said, ‘Come on, Steve, those were illegal,’” Bonnar said. “I made sure to tell him I was alright. I didn’t want him to stop and stand us up. It kind of sucks when you have to ref your own fight.”
He later added he had no hard feelings toward Mazzagatti.
The sneaky win was a satisfying end to 2010 for Bonnar, after the year began with one of the most disappointing experiences of his career.
In February, at UFC 110 in Sydney, Australia, Bonnar suffered a controversial TKO loss to Krzysztof Soszynski when the fight ended on what appeared to be an accidental headbutt in the third round.
At the time, it made three losses in a row for Bonnar. Even more frustrating than that, however, was the fact he wasn’t allowed to finish a fight he felt he was about to win.
“I really felt good going into that third round. I didn’t care I got fouled, I just wanted to finish that fight,” Bonnar said. “I was devastated. I cried like a baby for days.”
Bonnar avenged that loss in storybook fashion at UFC 116 in July, submitting Sosynski in the second round and winning the Fight of the Night bonus.
To follow that up with a win that clearly showed his development as a fighter, Bonnar said, was perfect.
“I felt different for this fight. I felt good,” Bonnar said. “Everyone expected me to do one thing, and I went out and showed that I could fight and take people down and that I’m not so one-dimensional.”
Moving forward, Bonnar wouldn’t reveal whether he plans to continue playing it safe or if he’ll go back to the scrappy brawler fans have come to know him as.
But at the very least, he said, his opponent will have to prepare for both.
“More than anything, it let’s opponents know they have to be on their toes,” Bonnar said. “They can’t expect a one-dimensional slugfest. It opens up options.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].