Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin punched and kicked each other’s faces to a pulp for 15 minutes in 2005 to create the Bonnar-Griffin Boom—the explosion of mixed martial arts onto the national sporting landscape. MMA fans remember the fight fondly, but one fan in particular, Tom Scully—a long-time friend of Bonnar—needed a more tangible tribute than just a great memory. Scully needed a masterpiece of the masterpiece, so he commissioned a painting of the historic bout.
“When I actually saw the piece for the first time, I knew right away it wasn’t going to be hanging on my wall for long,” he says. Scully and Bonnar knew they had a lightbulb idea. They wanted to provide fight fans with artistic representations of classic UFC moments, so they formed NGAUGE inc—an art company meant to exhibit the more reputable and uplifting moments of fighting.
Bonnar and Scully had worked various jobs together over the years, some of which helped pay their way through college, but NGAUGE became the project they had always talked about while growing up back home in Indiana. They officially launched their new company at the UFC 100 Fan Expo in July 2009. The Bonnar-Griffin fight may have been a great catalyst, but they found no shortage of moments to commemorate once they started.
“Lyoto Machida raising his arms and saying,‘Karate is back.’ That image needed to be seen,” says Scully, listing one of his favorite moments that they’ve immortalized. “That stuff should be up at every dojo across the nation. Those are moments that everyone should hold on to.”
For Bonnar, who has never shied away from an entertaining fight, fine art that incorporates mixed martial arts is a no brainer because both are positively engaging. If he sees something cool happen in the Octagon, he wants to share it with everyone.
“My whole life I’ve tried telling my friends how MMA is the coolest thing ever, but no one really got it, no one really loved it the way I did,” says Bonnar. “Eventually, I had to show them—I just had to get in there and show them, and then they saw how cool it was.”
As an accomplished athlete by reputation and a jokester at heart, Bonnar couldn’t help but illuminate the lighter side of MMA, so he and Scully came up with a “Trash Talkin’ Kids” ringer t-shirt line. The apparel features drawings by original Garbage Pale Kid artist Luis Diaz and gently jabs the sport’s most popular stars (Bonnar included), with titles such as “Brocked and Loaded,” “Josh-Kosh-Magosh,” “Gentleman Georges,” and “Master Bader.” After all, he concedes, it’s important to enjoy the work.
Both Bonnar and Scully are eager to contribute to the sport that afforded them this unique opportunity, and they acknowledge Charles “Mask” Lewis for his part in their artistic venture.
“Mask paved the way for people like us—free thinkers who pursue their passions,” says Scully.
“Before that fight with Forrest,” says Bonnar, “Mask found me and said, ‘Win or lose this fight, I like the way you bring it. I like your style. We’re gonna sponsor you. We’re gonna spot you. Even if you get knocked out in 10 seconds, I don’t care. I believe in you.’ That meant the world to me. After I lost that fight, he was true to his word and sponsored me.”
It’s not always easy running NGAUGE, even with Stephan Bonnar along for the ride. But any drawbacks they’ve encountered along the way have long been outweighed by the benefits. While some people conclude that a business is a fighter’s means to make a living after MMA, Bonnar will let them know otherwise. “Everyone says, ‘You’re trying to set yourself up for a life after fighting.’ Everyone says ‘life after fighting.’ I’m like, ‘No man, I need a life during fighting’” says Bonnar. “Before I was doing all this, when all I was doing was fighting, life was boring. Free time and where you find yourself in that free time is important—it’s important for a fighter to have an artistic outlet.”