Rivalries: Ryan Bader

By Brian Knapp Jul 3, 2020

Two-division Bellator MMA champion Ryan Bader flies under the radar historically, but he has carved out quite a career for himself inside the cage.

Bader was a decorated amateur wrestler at Arizona State University, where he twice earned All-America honors, won three Pac-10 Conference championships and amassed 120 career victories. He made his mixed martial arts debut in 2007, compiled a 7-0 record on the regional circuit and joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster after winning Season 8 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series. Bader pieced together a quality resume during his time with the company but never managed to get over the hump to challenge for a title. He chose free agency in 2016, signed with Bellator and established himself as one of the promotion’s top stars while capturing its heavyweight and light heavyweight titles. The Reno, Nevada, native’s record now sits at 27-5.

As Bader awaits his next assignment, a look at some of the rivalries that marked his rise:

Phil Davis

Bader made a more significant move toward the top of the 205-pound weight class, as he eked out a split decision over Davis in their UFC on Fox 14 light heavyweight showcase on Jan. 24, 2015 at Tele2 Arena in Stockholm. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28: Mark Collett for Davis, Mans Nilsson and Andy Roberts for Bader. “Mr. Wonderful” enjoyed some success with his kicks, as he attacked the legs, body and occasionally the head. However, the lack of dimension to his game eventually caught up with him. Bader scored with overhand rights, mixed in jabs and left hooks and shut down all but one of Davis’ takedowns. By the close of Round 3, Davis wore significant damage to both eyes and also showed signs of fatigue, as the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler surrendered a takedown to “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner in the waning seconds of the fight.

The stakes were much higher in their June 24, 2017 rematch. In his first appearance since leaving the UFC for Bellator MMA, Bader captured the light heavyweight crown with another split decision over Davis in the Bellator 180 co-main event. Scores at Madison Square Garden in New York were 49-46 and 49-46 for Bader, 48-47 for Davis. The sequel covered five forgettable rounds that saw neither man seize the moment. They were met with boos from those an attendance, the lack of meaningful action prompting referee Dan Miragliotta to admonish both champion and challenger at one point. Nevertheless, Bader exited the cage with his first major championship.

Lyoto Machida

The onetime Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder knocked out Bader in the UFC on Fox 4 co-headliner on Aug. 4, 2012 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Bader, who had never before been knocked out, met his end 92 seconds into Round 2. Like so many others before him, the two-time NCAA All-American failed to solve the riddle in front of him. Machida lured him into his trap with kicks to the legs and body, and in the second round, Bader charged forward with a powerful right hand cocked. He was met with a Machida counterpunch and folded where he stood. A pair of right hands followed, one of them with Bader on the way down, and resulted in his being knocked unconscious. “The Dragon” bowed respectfully nearby, providing the UFC with one of its most iconic images.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

It bordered on cruel and unusual punishment, as Bader disposed of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira with ground-and-pound in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 100 main event on Nov. 19, 2016 at Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Nogueira succumbed to blows 3:51 into Round 3. A replacement for the injured Alexander Gustafsson, Bader showed the 40-year-old Brazilian no mercy. One takedown after another was followed by brutal ground-and-pound. Elbows, punches and hammerfists were all on the menu, as he slowly chipped away at Nogueira’s legendary resolve. Bader—who had defeated the Pride Fighting Championships veteran by unanimous decision in their first meeting back in 2010—returned the action to the mat inside the first minute of the third round, postured in half guard and let the punches and hammerfists go until referee Mario Yamasaki had seen enough.
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