–Kenny Rice

Two always engaging conversationalists among UFC fighters talked with me in less than twenty-four hours on two totally separate but equally fascinating topics– the perfect way to end a career, and how difficult it is to maintain a diet while on the road.

It can be strongly argued, there has never been a more famous runner-up in MMA than Stephan Bonnar. Long applauded for his decision loss to Forrest Griffin in the inaugural The Ultimate Fighter in 2005, he instantly captured fans with his toughness including winning over none other than Dana White that fateful night. As he showed in his UFC debut, the man won’t quit. It’s taken cuts to stop his fights, not being knocked out or submitted. He deserves the respect and appreciation and that has led to this milestone mark.

Now 35 years old with a 15-7 record, including decision losses to a who’s who of the sport, Jon Jones, Rashad Evans and Griffin a second time, Bonnar might be ready to call it quits after his UFC 153 showdown against the living legend Anderson Silva who is moving back up to light heavyweight for the non title three rounder.

Bonnar’s last fight was in November and he’s on a three fight win streak. But he’s also about to become a first time father with a baby boy due in just weeks, very close to fight night. Prior to being on Inside MMA this week, he said “I’m changing for the better, I need this.” A reference to the upcoming fight and to his soon to be forever changing life role as a dad.

“I thought it was a joke (when asked on short notice to take the Silva bout) but then I realized this is the biggest fight ever in my life. I had to do it. It just seemed the perfect way right now. I was going to retire… at least seriously considering it and, when this opportunity came there was no hesitation. I have no pressure, nothing to lose fighting him in his own backyard (Brazil).”

During the on air interview he reiterated the prize dangled in front of him, the chance to maybe close out a solid career against perhaps the best of all time. That this moment and the build up for it had made him “cool again.” It can be debated the witty Bonnar has never lost that.

But what if the 13-1 underdog at the moment does stun the world with an upset? Would it be the perfect bookend to a UFC career? Starting with TUF 1 which was considered the fight of that year and one that helped catapult the sport’s popularity and then close it with a monumental win. Symmetry at its best. The kind of closure all of us would like in our lives and the kind we all enjoy seeing in athletes we respect.

“How could I top that?” he laughs. “I could make a ton of money in a rematch, that would help with buying baby clothes wouldn’t it? But I might be ready then to just take it all in, savor that moment the rest of my life.”

He has plenty to savor already and even if the dream finish doesn’t happen, if those oddsmakers have this fight rated perfectly, should Bonnar decide this really is the time to say goodbye to the sport as a fighter, he will have started and ended it with a bang not soon to be forgotten. Symmetry.

While sitting out a flight delay as a storm passed through Atlanta, I noticed another weary traveler in the Delta Sky Club also anxiously awaiting to get on board the next leg to his destination. He stood out from the rest of us though casually dressed in tee shirt and jeans. There is that air about UFC middleweight Brian Stann, something special even noticed by the other stranded fliers glancing his way who might not know of the real hero in front of them, the Silver Medal of Honor U.S. Marine Captain, but you had the feel they knew he was a standout at whatever he did for a living.

Stann was on his way to Toronto, two hours later than he was supposed to be, for his important showdown with Michael Bisping this weekend. It’s a fight that should send the winner rapidly up the ranks toward a title shot at Silva. Here he was, the handsome, obviously athletic Stann slowly munching on a few almonds in front of him and a large bottle of water next to him.

The pro athlete, especially the fighter cutting weight, faces a problem none of us regular travelers can fully understand or perhaps appreciate. In a room filled with snacks, most questionable in healthy choices, the disciplined Stann was waiting it out, knowing his structured meal just like his flight was delayed and knowing less than a handful of almonds was all the sustenance he could allow himself right now.

The difference was for such a regimented diet and training program leading up to the big fight, this interruption was tantamount to feeling like days not hours to get into Canada and settle in his room for a not so sounding delicious dinner of boiled–not broiled but boiled–chicken in almond butter.

“It was tougher when I fought in Sweden because of trying to find food, you can’t take it in there. I at least know I can find chicken when I get there. I will be okay, just eating a little later today than I had hoped to,” Stann with the military mindset of adaptability wasn’t too concerned. “I’ve had a great camp lots of cardio work, as fit as I’ve ever been. But it will be nice to finally sit down and have that meal this evening.”

The training has gone so well that while prominent on his agenda, the cut of weight was not stressful. “This is actually a much easier cut for me than the first time I fought at middleweight. By weight cuts this is fairly routine because of all the preparation I’ve put into it.”

That first middleweight fight was in 2010 against Mike Massenzio. Since then both he and Bisping have come close to having a defining fight to secure their place in the jumbled order of those wanting a crack at Silva.

“It’s a huge opportunity and we both know that,” he says. Then as we looked at the electronic board flashing gate locations and updating the status of flights, Toronto was finally getting ready to board. Dinner time was late but nearer and for a fighter on the road that was a welcomed sign more than the rest of us will ever know.

Can Bonnar bookend his career with a win or is Silva too much?  Tell us what you think on facebook or twitter, or tell the man himself on Kenny’s twitter or facebook page

Watch Kenny Rice along with Bas Rutten LIVE every Monday night on Inside MMA, and check out Kenny’s new book “Not Hit Yet” an insider look at the MMA world in 2012, available at Amazon now

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