Arizona native Ryan Bader has endured a tumultuous journey as a professional fighter.
After piecing together 12 consecutive victories to launch his career, five of which came inside the UFC’s famed Octagon, the TUF season eight winner ran into future champion, Jon Jones.
Jones battered “Darth” with ease, sending the reality star turned respected talent home within 10 minutes of competition. A stunning first-round submission defeat at the hands of Tito Ortiz would follow, and pundits would quickly come to question the legitimacy of Bader’s abilities.
Bader worked to silence critics in his following two bouts, defeating Jason Brilz and former champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Ryan looked to be back on track, moving steadily toward title contention once more.
Then Lyoto Machida derailed the powerful wrestler’s hope of ascending the light heavyweight mountain once again. Machida rendered Bader unconscious at UFC on Fox 4.
Again, the question was asked: Can Bader compete against the elite light heavyweights?
That’s a question yet to be convincingly answered.
On Saturday night, Bader encountered Vladimir Matyushenko, a 42-year-old, 16-year veteran of the sport who has fallen far from top divisional rankings. Regardless of ranking, Matyushenko has always proved to be a tough opponent with a well-rounded skill set.
In just 50 seconds—a light heavyweight submission record—Bader floored Vladimir with his patented left hook before pouncing for the choke. The choke was tight, “The Janitor” had nowhere to go and the tap ensued.
So, what’s next for Bader?
Bader has disposed of virtually all foes ranked outside of the top 10. And to his credit, his victory over Jackson was a career-defining moment. But Jackson had admittedly faded with time.
Bader’s next move could very well provide a clear outline of his future. In order for him to establish himself as a consistently top-ranked fighter, he’s got to beat another member of the division’s elite.
One fighter stands out as the perfect litmus test for Bader: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Rua is a fading fighter who has showcased an unbreakable will and a desire to win that refuses to betray his battered body. Always willing to exchange big punches, kicks and knees, Rua is also a capable grappler.
A former top-ranked 205-pound competitor, Rua has held the UFC light heavyweight title in the past. While his days as a valid contender to the throne may be in the past, he’s still a profoundly dangerous fighter who is capable of ending a fight at any moment.
All that said, “Shogun” is susceptible to aggressive, intelligent foes who fight at a fast pace.
Ryan Bader fits the bill.
A victory over Rua would ensure that Bader is prepared to take up immediate residence in top-10 discussions. A loss would signal a need for further technical development on the part of "Darth."
Rua fought in December, which puts these two on a relatively similar schedule. It’s time to pair these men up and determine Bader's position in the light heavyweight division.
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