Ryan Bader has been on the cusp of a world title fight for years, but with all the time he spent inside the UFC’s Octagon, he never was able to break through and land that elusive fight. However, the Reno, Nev., native will finally climb through the cage with an opportunity a select few are able to experience, something he’s longed for forever.
Losses to Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida and Anthony Johnson have all come at the most inopportune times, curtailing his quest for gold. But on Saturday, “Darth” Bader will lock horns with an old foe with championship gold on the line in the featured bout at Bellator 180 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Bellator 180, which serves as a lead-in to the promotion’s
“It’s a long time coming. I’ve earned this world title fight,” Bader told Sherdog.com in a recent interview. “Yes, I’ve lost some big, important fights in my career but I also feel as though I’ve been (skipped over) when I felt I was deserving of a title shot. But honestly, I don’t feel any added pressure. Every fight is a title fight, really, because of how important each one is. If you lose, you go back to the end of the line so every single fight is loaded with pressure.”
That aforementioned old foe is Phil Davis, a powerful wrestler that Bader bested back at UFC on Fox 14 two years ago. It wasn’t the most scintillating fight for the fans, but Bader did enough to earn himself a split decision. Bader openly talked about his displeasure of how he fought and promises that he’s an entirely different fighter today.
“For me, I feel as though I was a totally different fighter when I first fought Phil compared to what I am today,” he said. “I didn’t feel good in that fight and he basically said the same thing. We fought at an odd time of, like, 3:30 in the morning in Sweden so I don’t think either one of us were at our best. But I went in there and got the job done, but I thought it was lackluster. I didn’t feel like myself. But since then, I’ve grown a ton. I think I’ve [grown] more in these past two years than the five years leading up to that fight. I get to show everybody who I am and how I’ve changed. I’m going to win that title and keep it for a long time.”
But in order to hold that title for a long time, he has to have his hand raised when the fight is over. Davis is among the best at light heavyweight and Bader knows the dangers “Mr. Wonderful” poses. However, he feels as though he has a leg up on his foe going in.
“I like this matchup,” he stated. “This is the second rematch of my 30-fight career and I’m excited. I already know how strong he is. You never know how somebody feels until you get in there with them, but with rematches, you already know what to expect in that regard. One thing that I have going into this is that I have greatly improved everywhere, but especially with my striking. I can’t wait to get out there in the Garden and win that title.”
As a long-time contender who is fighting for a title belt for the first time, Bader is well aware of the opportunity that lies ahead. Even though some UFC free agents haven’t fared so well in the Bellator cage in recent months, Bader scoffs at the thought there might be some sort of curse and expects to be triumphant on Saturday night inside Madison Square Garden.
“I’m in the prime of my career,” he said. “I’m not one of these guys who is coming over to Bellator at the end my career looking for a quick paycheck or an easy fight. That’s what I told Scott Coker when I signed on with them. For me, it’s all kind of the same thing because I’m still fighting. Yes, the promotion is different, but I’m still fighting one of the best guys in the world and it’s for a world title. I’ve never been more focused coming into a bout before in my life.”