July 2, 2011 was one of the toughest nights Ryan Bader has endured since he started doing athletics at a young age.
The former Arizona State wrestler had seen the ups and downs of an NCAA tournament, and a few months prior to that date in July he had tasted his first defeat as a pro fighter when he lost to future UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones.
But as he stepped into the cage with future UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz at UFC 132, Bader was a heavy, heavy favorite and many called him a more evolved version of what Ortiz had been just years prior.
Coming into the fight, Ortiz was literally fighting for his UFC career, having dropped four out of his last five bouts, and had to beg the brass for one more chance in the Octagon and they gave it to him against Ryan Bader.
Just moments into the fight, Ortiz connected with a big punch that rattled Bader, and shortly thereafter the former light heavyweight champion sunk in a nasty guillotine choke that forced the tap and sent the Ultimate Fighter winner to his second straight defeat.
It is always darkest before the dawn.
From those down trodden nights brought much brighter days however as Bader recommitted himself to training better and smarter instead of faster and more often. Bader along with his teammates at Power MMA & Fitness brought in head coach Tom Vaughn to lead them, and the result in his next fight was a quick knockout over fellow wrestler Jason Brilz.
But for his follow-up performance instead of taking another fighter outside the top ten, Bader wanted to jump right into shark infested waters so he accepted a bout against former UFC champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson.
“That’s why we took this fight,” Bader explained when speaking to MMAWeekly Radio. “A lot of other people were turning it down and we got offered pretty much or were told about it right after the (Jason) Brilz fight. We definitely wanted a fight that would put us in this kind of position and get back to where we were.”
Some might call it a gamble, but Bader was betting on it like a sure thing.
The former Ultimate Fighter season 8 winner proceeded to beat Jackson in almost every facet of the fight, outside of a big slam landed by the former champion in the 2nd round. Bader even got to show off his new and improved cardio and conditioning, something that has long haunted him in past fights.
“That’s some of the criticism I’ve had in the past and it was warranted, I’d kind of gas out in the second round. I wasn’t really being efficient, I was holding my breath, I was real tense and tight, just like a wrestling. That’s how you wrestled wrestling matches,” Bader said.
“It took me a while to transition to MMA as far as being more efficient with everything, and relaxing more. I think I definitely turned a corner in my career.”
The corner he turned was beating a legit top five light heavyweight in Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, and while it doesn’t erase what happened in the fights with Jones and Ortiz, it certainly helps turn the page.
What’s next for Bader is some minor knee surgery that will likely sideline him for about a month, and then it’s onto the next one.
It’s not really his style to call anybody out by name, but Bader wants a top ten fighter that will help push his career along to the next level. Names that exist out there include Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, Dan Henderson, or possibly the winner in the upcoming fight between Alexander Gustafsson and Thiago Silva.
“For me, I want to fight a guy that will keep me up to where I’m at right now, and get me closer to my ultimate goal which is for a title,” said Bader. “That’s the kind of guys I want to fight.”