Stephan Bonnar, TUF 1 finalist and UFC Hall of Famer, dead at 45


The Ultimate Fighter 1 finalist Stephan Bonnar is dead at 45.

The UFC announced Bonnar’s death on Saturday, and a separate law enforcement source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to MMA Fighting Bonnar died on Dec. 22. The person declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

The official cause of Bonnar’s death is pending, but in the UFC’s announcement stated it was due to “presumed heart complications.”

“Stephan Bonnar was one of the most important fighters to ever compete in the Octagon,” stated UFC President Dana White in a release announcing Bonnar’s death. “His fight with Forrest Griffin changed the sport forever, and he will never be forgotten. The fans loved him, related to him and he always gave them his best. He will be missed.”

In recent years Bonnar has faced many personal difficulties, including the loss of his Las Vegas residence in April. Bonnar’s wife, Andrea Brown, posted on Facebook that the couple “lost everything” in the blaze.

A subsequent fundraiser raised over $10,000 for the retired fighter, who was able to move into a new residence thanks in part to a generous donation from former UFC welterweight champ Tyron Woodley.

In September 2021, Bonnar caused a stir when he posted several videos to Instagram of a heated confrontation at hospital. He later explained to MMA Fighting he was seeking treatment for a severe injury he suffered while pro wrestling and claimed doctors denied him care due to his stance on COVID-19. In a subsequent interview, he said doctors at a different facility discovered a potentially life-threatening staph infection that required intravenous antibiotics and a lengthy recovery period.

Bonnar burst on the scene as a cast member of the groundbreaking reality show profiling the lives of upcoming MMA fighters. Forrest Griffin was his opponent on the finals of the series. Spike, the UFC’s broadcaster saw a huge spike in viewers during the slugfest that followed. Bonnar was defeated in a unanimous decision. However, Dana White, UFC President, awarded him a contract. White later acknowledged that the fight saved the promotion from extinction at a crucial time.

Bonnar and Griffin were inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July 2013 for their fight. The two would face off in the octagon one-year after their pivotal bout, with Bonnar again losing a decision.

Bonnar was a jiu jitsu expert with a flair for fighting. He had a nine year UFC career that included fights against many former champs and future champions like Jon Jones, Rashad Evans and Jon Jones.

After his exit from the UFC, he returned from retirement in 2014 for a single fight with Tito Ortiz under the Bellator banner. He lost via split decision and subsequently transitioned to professional wrestling, where he worked with several regional promotions.

Bonnar spoke out about the harm he suffered from his career as a MMA fighter, saying that his decision to quit was influenced in part by his discovery of an enlarged Cavum Septi pellucidi. This has been connected to the possibility of CTE being diagnosed.

After suffering the severe back injury that left him hospitalized, he told MMA Fighting he was done with professional competition.