Ryan Bader (top) is not looking past Tito Ortiz. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog.com
Mere hours away from his UFC 132 clash with Tito Ortiz, Ryan Bader finds himself swimming in uncharted waters.
For the first time in his career, Bader will enter a bout coming off a loss, a fact that “Darth” says fueled him during his training camp.
“I’m coming off the first loss of my career, and it made me reevaluate everything. I was getting by and winning with a certain skill set. It was a 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' kind of thing. [The loss] put me back to the drawing board and made me start over,” said Bader. “I was just rejuvenated and wanted to get back to training and become a better MMA fighter. I was working on a lot of footwork and technique and [learning how to] not go out there crazy and trying to end [the fight] with one punch every time.”
A powerful right hand coupled with his All-American wrestler status propelled Bader to five consecutive Octagon victories, starting with his knockout of Vinny Magalhaes at “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 finale in 2008. Victories over Carmelo Marrero and Eric Schafer would follow before Bader handled a significant step up in competition by besting both Keith Jardine and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in 2010.
In his next fight, however, the 28-year-old would run into a brick wall by the name of Jon Jones. “Bones” handled Bader from start to finish at UFC 126, taking down the former Arizona State Sun Devil and finishing him with a second-round guillotine choke from top position.
While some might speculate that Bader felt a measure of relief following his first defeat, the fighter believes that he still faces pressure heading into his next contest -- just not the pressure of being undefeated.
“I still think there's pressure. You don't want two losses in a row. It was great to be in there and experience that big fight with [Jones], who is now the champion. [Losing] didn't take the pressure off, but it motivated me for this fight. I want to reinvent myself,” said Bader. “I put a lot of pressure on myself for every fight. You go through a whole camp and you don't want to let any of your friends and family down. I just want to get back to winning.”
Part of reinventing himself has led Bader back to fighting fundamentals, improving both his standup and his ground game. While Bader is best known for his long-standing wrestling prowess, the fighter says that even his wrestling skills have grown as of late.
“As far as MMA wrestling, I might not get 100 percent of my takedowns, but at the same time, I have a different shot. I’m not down there on my knees in danger of guillotines and all that. Sometimes [my shots] are setups for punches, and I’ve worked a lot this camp on my standup and being more technical,” said Bader. “My takedowns actually got a lot better. My wrestling is my bread and butter, and I can always fall back on that, but I’m looking to evolve and get better in every aspect. Even in my wrestling.”
In Ortiz, Bader faces a former light heavyweight champion and a man in desperate need of a win. Once a dominant force, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” has gone just 0-4-1 in his last five fights. With a defeat, Ortiz could receive his walking papers and perhaps face the end of his career as a professional mixed martial artist.
Though Bader enters the bout as a heavy favorite, the Power MMA and Fitness representative asserts that he doesn't buy into the Vegas odds. Instead, Bader regards Ortiz as a serious threat to hand him the second loss of his career.
“I’ve been through enough competition with my amateur wrestling background to know that anybody can beat anybody on a given day, and I don't pay any attention to [the betting odds] whatsoever,” said Bader. “I have one job to do: go out there and win and look good doing it. I’m prepared for that, and that's all that matters to me.”