Ryan Bader had to travel quite a long way to earn the biggest win of his career. Bader traveled for over 15 hours to Japan at UFC 144 to fight Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for 15 minutes, and in return, continue his comeback to light heavyweight title contention.
Bader was not on the radar amongst possible opponents listed for Jackson in his return to Japan. Names like “Shogun” Rua and Forrest Griffin were brought up, but Bader was the one that ended up getting the call. Once he did, Bader knew he had the biggest opportunity of his career.
For Bader, who prior to UFC 126, was an up-and-coming prospect in the deep light heavyweight division, this was a way to really kick start his comeback. The downfall started when he suffered his first career loss to Jon Jones, and then was upset by Tito Ortiz at UFC 132 in July. He was able to halt the losing streak after defeating Jason Brilz at UFC 139. But there is a big step up in competition in regards to Brilz and Jackson, and Bader was well aware of that.
In order to defeat Jackson, a tactical gameplan needed to be created in order to take advantage of the former champion’s shortcomings. While Bader will always be known as a strong wrestler, other styles came into play like boxing and grappling. After utilizing that throughout the match, Bader now looks back with satisfaction in carrying out that gameplan.
“I didn’t want [Jackson] to get comfortable,” Bader said to MMAFrenzy.com. “I wanted to make it a fight he really didn’t want to be in, whether it be on the feet or on the ground, I really wanted to keep mixing things up. I made sure to test his cardio and test a little bit of everything. My coaches created a great gameplan, and I went out there and implemented it, so this is really a big win for all of us.”
That gameplan took quite a hit, as did Bader, after Jackson brought back his premier move with his patented “Rampage” slam of Bader in the second round. While Bader admits it certainly had an effect on him, he made sure to return the favor.
“I fell right on my head and neck, so I was out of it for a little bit,” explained Bader. “But when something like that happens, your training goes into effect. We spar pretty hard during practice, so I have been hit rather hard before. You basically just go into survival mode for a little bit. You take about 10-20 seconds where you just have to survive, and then everything starts to come back to you.”
“Then it came back to me and I gathered my senses, and I was able to take him down. He then got up and I was able to slam him down. That’s why you’re in there; you get back up and get back after it.”
Going into the fight, much attention was made of Jackson missing weight at the pre-fight weigh-ins. Having weighed 211 pounds, Jackson missed the weight limit by five pounds. Bader had no intentions of pulling out of the fight, and accepted the now-catchweight bout.
But following the event, even more attention was made of Jackson’s weight, as he admitted to using testosterone replacement therapy to nurse a knee injury suffered during pre-fight training.
Now aware of the situation and partially why Jackson missed weight, Bader still has no qualms about the decision.
“I would have accepted the fight even if he was 25 pounds overweight,” declared Bader. “I went through a whole training camp, and I put a lot of work into this camp. I went over there to fight, and I was going to do that, regardless. Even if we knew all of that before the fight, we would have done the same thing.”
Now coming off of the biggest win of his career over Jackson, Bader feels he has returned to contention, but still has a lot of work to put in to make it to where he wants to be.
“I feel like I’m back in title contention,” said Bader. “It’s a big win, winning over Jackson. Beating a guy who has held the title and just fought for the title is huge. But I am always going to want more, and I am never satisfied.”
For now, Bader is focused on life outside of the cage. He and his wife are expecting their first child, a boy, in April. Bader admits that it has been a whirlwind of emotions, with switching from training for a fight, to winning that fight, and then returning to home life and preparing for your firstborn.
“In training camp, you’re almost a different person,” explained Bader. “You’re basically just thinking about your opponent at all times. Now that the fight is over, I don’t have to be as selfish and can think more about everyone else. This will only put me in a better state of mind and in a better place in life.”
Aside from focusing on becoming a father within the next few weeks, Bader remains focused on becoming a true contender in the division. A win over Jackson feels like just the start for Bader, and he wants to continue on to the next chapter in his career.
“I just hope to fight another top guy like Rampage. I want to go out there and keep beating those top guys, so I can get closer to my goal, which is ultimately winning a title. So, whatever puts me closer to achieving that, that is what I want to do.”