At UFC on FOX 4, Ryan Bader failed to capitalize on an opportunity that may have propelled him into a bout for UFC gold, an honor that instead went to Bader's victorious opponent, Lyoto Machida.
Machida frustrated Bader during the first round of their contest before ending things in the opening minutes of the second. That Bader was thoroughly outmatched for the entire duration of the fight only emphasizes the disappointment and despair of the defeat.
The performance was telling of many things, including several about Bader's place in the UFC's light heavyweight division. Here, we will take a look at five things we learned about Bader, and examine the importance of each, as he attempts to recover from a devastating loss.
Lyoto Machida is fast; there aren't many fighters in the UFC's light heavyweight division that can match him in a battle of pure technique without being put to sleep. But Ryan Bader looked like he was moving in slow motion at UFC of FOX 4 when he attempted to exchange with the Dragon.
The first round of the contest was characterized by Machida using short punches and quick kicks to keep Bader off balance. The Brazilian's strategy was clearly frustrating Bader, who resolved to do something about it in Round 2.
When Bader finally decided to make his move, he attempted to catch Machida off guard by exploding forward with a lunging right hook. The plan did not work very well.
Bader's shot glanced off Machida's left arm, barely making contact with the side of his head, rendering the attack ineffective. And even as Bader's punch was still heading toward Machida, the Dragon snapped out a quick right of his own that sent a stunned Bader to the canvass in a motionless heap.
The speed disparity between the two combatants was best embodied in that final exchange, as Machida had time to react defensively to Bader's assault and mount a counter offensive before Darth knew what was happening.
Machida is, of course, probably the best counter puncher at 205, so falling into his traps does not imply incompetence on Bader's part. But the ease with which Machida performed the fight-ending strike speaks to the time he had to process events before reacting.
Bader has found success on the feet against powerful strikers—Jason Brilz and Quinton Jackson come to mind—but if his performance against Machida is any indication, success against opponents with quick hands may be harder for the 29-year-old to come by.
Bader lost to Machida at UFC on FOX 4 because he lacked the tools to adapt against a technical superior opponent.
From the get-go, it was obvious that circling Machida in hopes of landing his big right hook was a doomed plan. The obvious alternative for Bader at that point was attempting to take the fight to the mat, but the distance Machida was able to keep between the two may have dissuaded the wrestler from even trying.
That Bader had nothing else to fall back on is concerning. To his credit, he did realize that things were going south and attempted to change the course of the fight, but that epiphany does not excuse Bader from lacking the means to institute a change.
He ultimately settled on blitzing the Dragon, and the result of that technique is indicative of how well the plan was conceived.
Mixed martial arts is all about adaptation, and those who fail to grow usually become extinct. Unless Bader is about to add something to his arsenal beyond a decent jab, lunging punches, a powerful right hand and strong wrestling, chances are he is destined for gatekeeper status.
Bader entered UFC on FOX 4 coming off back-to-back wins over the upstart Jason Brilz and the legendary Quinton Jackson. The consecutive wins had Bader riding high and figuring into the division's title picture. There were few fighters participating on the card with as much momentum as Bader.
But that all changed when he failed to slay the Dragon Saturday night and was sent tumbling down the divisional ladder.
A loss is always a killer of momentum, but the way Bader was defeated by Machida is more than just a hiccup—it is a definitive end.
It is possible for Bader to get back on track, but he will once again have to start from the beginning. Both his confidence and the buzz surrounding him for his next fight will be significantly lowered from the level they were at after he upset Rampage in Japan earlier this year.
In fairness to Bader, the championship level that Jon Jones has established in the light heavyweight division seems beyond the reach of anyone else. The problem is, though, Bader was thoroughly outclassed by a member of the sub-Jones tier that includes guys like Machida and Shogun.
Everyone loses in MMA, and defeat to Machida is no cause for any fighter to reexamine his career, but Bader was not even close at UFC on FOX 4.
It wasn't that Machida annihilated Bader from start to finish, it was simply that Bader was unable to mount any kind of offense whatsoever. He seemed incapable of taking the Dragon out of the fight he wanted to fight, even for a brief moment.
The one time he mustered an honest attempt to alter the pace of the fight, he haplessly ran headlong into the end of his night.
The difference in the level between Machida and Bader was apparent at UFC on FOX 4, and unless Bader figures out how to close that gap, he has little hope of putting together a title run at 205 pounds.
I have already hinted in previous slides that Bader is in danger of being relegated to the dreaded gatekeeper role. He is clearly not on the level of the division's best fighters and if he fails to close the gap, he will find himself as no more than the line between the guys he chases and the guys chasing him.
Some fighters are able to take losses and use them as tools for improvement. Whether or not Bader is able to shrug off gatekeeper status will depend on his ability to do just that.
At 29 years of age, Bader is far from the downside of his career, but he is not so young that he can dally en route to the top. He has the time to make necessary changes, but time is most definitely a finite luxury.
How Bader uses the experience he gained from his UFC on FOX 4 defeat should be evident in his next bout. If no change is apparent, don't expect a Bader renaissance anywhere down the line.