No fighter competing at UFC Fight Night 28 needs a win more than Ryan Bader. He faces No. 1 contender Glover Teixeira on Wednesday night in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in a fight that is set up to prove whether Teixeira is indeed worthy of a title shot.
Bader was once in that position, but his consistent failures against elite fighters have him playing the role of gate keeper. A win would put him back into the mix as a serious contender. A loss would likely remove him from main-card status.
Ultimately, he could see himself cut from the promotion if he strings too many losses together. Quite honestly, he's fortunate to have this opportunity. He isn't ranked, yet he's getting a shot at the No. 1 contender.
Bader has handled the less-heralded light heavyweights in the UFC but fallen short against the likes of Lyoto Machida, Tito Ortiz and Jon Jones. Where does Teixeira fit in that list? We will soon found out.
Teixeira's striking and grappling background gives him an edge over Bader, but this is far from an open-and-shut case. Bader can thump and he's also an accomplished wrestler; he's still a very dangerous opponent for any light heavyweight.
The key to this fight could be the chins of the fighters.
Bader has only been stopped once in his career. It came at the hands of Machida in August 2012. Teixiera has heavy hands and could possibly test Bader's beard again in this fight. It will be interesting to see if he tries to entice Bader into a slug fest or take the fight to the mat to utilize his jiu-jitsu.
The stakes are high for both fighters, but the consequences are more dire for Bader.
Here are two other fighters competing with their backs against the cage.
Yushin Okami is ranked third among middleweights and has won his last three fights. Yet even with his recent success, he's 32 years old and can ill afford to slip in the rankings. The middleweight division is suddenly quite competitive, and dropping his fight against Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza could lead to a long and uncertain wait at another shot at the title for Okami.
Jacare is a newcomer to the UFC, but he is already ranked fifth at 185 pounds. He arrived with a great reputation as a grappler and validated that rep with a submission win over Chris Camozzi in his debut. It is beginning to look as if he'll have a solid future in the UFC.
If he beats Okami, he'll likely jump to third in the official rankings. Meanwhile, Okami would probably drop out of the Top Five. If Okami were to dip that low in the rankings at this stage of his career, it is unlikely he'd ever ascend into the Top Three again.
Rafael "Sapo" Natal
If Rafael Natal is going to make himself a factor in the middleweight division, he has to do it now. He was seemingly on his way up when he was knocked out by Andrew Craig in July 2012.
At 30 years old, Natal isn't in the serious title-contention picture at 185 pounds as he's not ranked in the Top 10. On Wednesday night, Natal faces Tor Troeng, a fighter who won his UFC debut by submission over Adam Cella in April.
If this fight were part of a pay-per-view event, it would probably be a Facebook preliminary. If Natal wants to raise his level on future cards and earn a Top 10 ranking, he needs a win against Troeng.
Though a victory alone won't get him ranked, it would give him an opportunity against a more heralded fighter the next time out.
Rankings references per UFC.com.
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