Ryan Bader’s 2014 campaign to reach the top of the light heavyweight division is yet to officially get off the ground, but things are certainly off to a bright start.
Earlier this week, the winner of the eighth season of The Ultimate Fighter inked a new four-fight contract with the UFC. The former Arizona State University wrestling standout is currently on the mend from a broken hand suffered in his drubbing of Anthony Perosh at Fight Night 33 back in December, but is eyeing an early summer return.
In addition to signing a new contract, the 30-year-old Power MMA owner continued his ongoing contribution to the United States military. On Wednesday, Bader donated $30,000 to the Armed Forces Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to supporting the families, both active duty and retired, from all branches of the military.
The light heavyweight’s most recent donation is part of an ongoing process as Bader has made multiple contributions to military-focused operations in recent years. Prior to his bout against Perosh in Australia, Bader donated $10,000 to a Navy SEALs foundation—an amount that was then matched by one of the fighter’s primary sponsors.
By making this donation to the Armed Forces Foundation, Bader adds further substance to his ongoing commitment to the American military. The Arizona-based fighter intends to continue contributing to these causes and is appreciative to the parties that have made his involvement possible.
“Supporting the military is something I’m passionate about, and I’m very fortunate to be at a place where I can do things like this,” Bader told Bleacher Report. “I am where I am today because of the opportunity given to me by Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta, and I'm just trying to make the most of what has come my way. My management team has aligned me with great people like Jeff Broin at American Ethanol, John Radtke at Incapital, and great guys like Shane and Greg at Monster Milk and Kevin Lampe, Doc Reeves and the team at Sanford. They have been the ones to allow me to make donations like this and I am more than happy to give back to our troops any time I can.
“During my time with the UFC, I have traveled to bases all over the world. I’ve heard so many stories, met so many troops and veterans, and anytime I can give back I definitely will. We were just out in Las Vegas and I donated $30,000 to the Armed Forces Foundation. I went out on stage at Ron White’s show for the troops and spoke about the AFF for a bit. All the proceeds from the show went to support the cause and I was proud to be a part of it.”
The current atmosphere surrounding mixed martial arts is one where sponsorship dollars are hit and miss. Due to the ever-changing landscape, the majority of athletes appear to have shifted into a "survival mode" of sorts. It is a system that has changed drastically in recent years and has created an environment where every fighter is seemingly going after the same 15 sponsors in an effort to get a piece of their allotted advertising budget.
While sponsorship dollars are a crucial part of a fighter's livelihood, Bader takes a different perspective than many of his peers on the topic. He believes the options are certainly there, but it requires having the right people around you to ensure you are in the right position to make the most of the opportunities that materialize.
“It all comes down to being around and working with great people,” Bader said. “My management has put me in a great situation, and I am honored to work with the companies I mentioned earlier. These are blue-chip companies and it is not a situation where you just sit back and pick up a paycheck. We have a team mentality and are active in our endeavors with our sponsors.
“It’s not just a signing here or an appearance there; we are actively involved in what these companies are doing and promoting things we believe in. They support us and we support them in return. That has made for great relationships and has allowed me to give back and support causes I care about.”
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.