Ryan Bader has a championship belt around his waist and nearly 30 professional fights on his record, but he refuses to ever stop growing in his mixed martial arts game.
While Bader has certainly faced his own share of ups and downs, the reigning Bellator light heavyweight champion is proud of the advancements he’s made in recent years that helped lead him to nine wins in his past 10 fights, including stints in the UFC and Bellator.
Ryan Bader Entering the Prime of His Career
At 34, Bader feels like he’s just now entering his prime for competition and that’s why he was so comfortable and confident to accept a slot in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix. Bader didn’t just take a spot in the tournament because it was offered to him — he absolutely believes he’s going to walk away as heavyweight champion.
In his first round match-up on May 12 at Bellator 199, Bader will take on another veteran in Muhammad “King” Mo Lawal, who at 37 comes into their fight with an eerily similar record. Unfortunately, since losing the Strikeforce light heavyweight title back in 2010, Lawal hasn’t been able to reach the top of the mountain again, while coming up short in several attempts to compete for Bellator gold.
Bader believes those shortcomings are a result of Lawal’s own lack of growth in the sport, which sees playing a major factor when they step into the cage together next weekend.
“First and foremost, there’s nothing but respect there. I wrestled him back in college; he whooped my ass in college. I’ve been competing against these guys like him and Phil Davis since then. He’s done great in his career. Just for me, I just don’t see him evolving through this whole process,” Bader told MMAWeekly. “While I’m in the gym constantly getting better, I’m constantly working hard and going through these training camps, I feel like I’m coming in here in my prime just now. I feel like he’s had injuries, he’s sat out a lot, he’s just going through the training camps just trying to stay healthy and then going in there trying to box or knock somebody out and wrestle some people. He has great wrestling.
“I just feel like we’re at different stages. I’m hungry, I want it, I’m willing to do the extra stuff knowing that I’m coming into my prime at the perfect time in this heavyweight grand prix. I just feel like we’re in different stages in our careers.”
Ryan Bader Believes He’s Fought Tougher Competition Than King Mo
Bader says level of competition is also a big difference when it comes to his resume versus Lawal in recent years.
Prior to signing a multi-fight deal with Bellator, Bader was competing in the UFC light heavyweight division, where he was routinely considered one of the top five fighters in the world.
Bader won’t diminish Lawal’s accomplishments, but he can’t deny that there is a huge difference in the kinds of wins each of them have earned recently.
“If you look at who we fought and if you look at who I’ve fought, I couldn’t tell you the last time I didn’t fight a top 10 guy in the world, regardless of promotion. He’s fought and beat good guys but he hasn’t fought the same level of competition that I have at all,” Bader stated.
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“He just beat “Rampage” in a close fight and nothing against “Rampage” because “Rampage” is a stud, but he’s at a different point in his career. If you pull up my resume, in the last 10 fights I’m 9-1 and I had the hiccup in there against Anthony Johnson. I’ve been on a good roll and I’m constantly getting better. I just feel like that’s the difference. He’s fought some good guys, maybe some out of their prime and what not but I just feel I’m a different guy. I’m top three in the world and I’m coming in here in my prime.”