Here is a preview of the weekend’s fights:
People love Rocky Balboa oh so very much.
Is it because of the rags to riches tale?
Because of the scenario of David versus Goliath?
Or perhaps it’s because on any given night, a regular guy, no matter how disadvantaged in the talent stakes, has a chance of victory against the greatest in his era.
Is it the chance of a sporting miracle?
Stephan Bonnar will be the UFC’s answer to Rocky Balboa this Saturday night when he faces off against arguably the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen in Anderson Silva.
That’s right, Stephan Bonnar.
The man who was officially retired before he got the call to face Silva at UFC 153 on obscenely short notice.
The very same Stephan Bonnar, who has spent most of his career as a gatekeeper for more talented guys, and who between 2006 and 2010 lost five of seven fights.
Why bother tuning in right?
Well, the reason fans should tune in this Saturday is not because Bonnar is likely to win.
In fact the odds of 13-1 given to him are the longest in UFC history.
But because if a miracle was to happen then it could not possibly happen to a more likeable fighter with a history of pleasing fans.
His fight against Forrest Griffin in 2005 on the first Ultimate Fighter finale will long be etched in the psyche of every MMA fan, in the same way that Arturo Gatti’s fight with Micky Ward has been canonized by boxing fans.
It was a bloody, relentless battle that helped push the UFC into the mainstream, a fight for the ages, a fight for the age of MMA.
The fight was so good it’s commonly ranked as the greatest fight in UFC history.
The Hollywood script is written further by the fact that when Bonnar got the call he was training another fighter, Chidi Njokuani, who some claim can mimic Silva’s moves.
Bonnar’s wife is also expecting their first child later this month. For Bonnar, though, this is Saturday is something special.
“It’s the defining moment of my whole life,” explained Bonnar to ESPN. “Everything I’ve gone through, all the martial arts training I’ve done, MMA fights, boxing matches, wrestling, grappling -- this is a culmination of it all. It’s all meant to be. It’s perfect. It feels like the stars are aligning just like it did on that magical night for the UFC when I fought Forrest [Griffin].”
Anderson Silva meanwhile is taking it easy.
In an ideal world he wouldn’t be fighting Bonnar at light-heavyweight.
Silva would be fighting a bigger name, for more money with a title on the line. But Silva is also the greatest UFC fighter in history and the reigning middleweight champion.
He cleared up the middleweight division once, got bored, moved up, decimated his opponent, moved back down, cleared his division again and returns this Saturday once more against the very unformidable Bonnar.
In his own backyard Silva in all likelihood will not be troubled.
Despite being a reasonably ripe 37 years old, Silva is the mercurial Peter Pan of MMA, capable of flying around the ring in an ageless state of unbeatable elegant brutality.
But miracles happen in sport.
And they could happen on Saturday for Stephan Bonnar. But just remember, in the first Rocky film, Balboa lost, and he took a heck of a beating.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter: @iguryashkin.