Injuries are common in mixed martial arts, and the fighters who succumb to these setbacks can easily be pulled out of the competitive mindset during their layoff, but Ryan Bader hasn't allowed his six-month layoff to break his fighting spirit.
While drubbing Anthony Perosh at Fight Night 33 last December, The Ultimate Fighter season eight winner suffered a broken hand en route to earning the lopsided unanimous decision victory. Yet, despite being forced to the sidelines while he recovered from surgery, Bader was determined to remain on the proverbial grind in whatever fashion he could muster.
The Power MMA leader kept a diligent presence inside his Phoenix-based training facility and effectively worked around his injured hand. Where he could have slipped out of the fighting realm until he was fully recovered, Bader's motivation to push forward was based on keeping his mental focus locked in a competitive mindset.
The 31-year-old believes the elements in his MMA game are rising to the levels they need to be, and he wasn't going to let a physical setback detour his progress.
"This was the first time I have ever broken my hand," Bader told Bleacher Report.
"I injured my knee before, and when you first come back, you are a little gun-shy because grappling and being on the mat requires you to work it pretty hard. But with my hand it was completely different. As soon as I got the pins pulled out and was given clearance to work with it, I jumped right back in and didn't feel a thing. In fact, it has never felt better. I went from not using it at all for a few months, to going 100 percent in just a few days, and it's been out of my mind for awhile now. It is a total non-issue.
"I really don't feel like I took a lot of time off because I've been in the gym the entire time. Even when I couldn't do anything with my hand, I was still in there doing what I could. Whether it was lifting or cardio; I was working every day. Once the pins came out, I turned everything up. I've been training the entire time since my last fight and I feel great. I feel like I haven't missed a step.
"It's just my personality, but I couldn't sit around and cry about my hand," he added. "I was in there lifting one-handed, doing squats and working whatever I could. I kept myself in the fighting mentality. My last fight was ways back, but it doesn't feel that way to me. I feel more confident than ever, and I'm going to keep it rolling."
Where the former Arizona State University wrestling standout came to the UFC relatively "green" back in 2008, the five years he's spent competing inside the Octagon have been a "trial by fire." Five of his 11 showings have come against opposition that have either held, challenged or went on to win the light heavyweight championship.
While there have certainly been setbacks during his run up the 205-pound ranks, Bader has chalked every step up to education through experience.
He will take the next step on his journey this Saturday night when he faces Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante at UFC 174 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Much like Bader, the heavy-handed former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion is well regarded for his knockout power, and the Arizona representative is expecting the leather to fly with bad intentions when the cage door closes on Saturday.
"Cavalcante is a tough fighter, and he has a very powerful right hand. He has good hips on the ground, is a black belt and all that good stuff, but I'm looking to go in there and make it my fight. I have power in my hands as well. I plan to use my wrestling in this fight, and I believe those things will be the keys to victory against Cavalcante.
"There are a couple knocks on him. He's been taken down in a few fights. He's been knocked out a few times and has gassed out a couple times as well. I'm looking to push the pace in this fight and test his gas tank. I also have solid power in my hands, so if I connect on him, he's going out. At the same time, I have to respect that about him. He's a powerful puncher, and he's put a lot of people away. He's always dangerous; it doesn't matter if it is the first or the third round. I need to go in there and implement my game plan. I respect him as a fighter, and it's going to be a good one."
"You are never going to get an easy fight per se in the UFC, and Cavalcante is a tough guy," he added. "He's a former Strikeforce champion, and I believe he's a bit underrated. But I'm definitely bringing the power in this fight, and I'm confident I will get the job done. Beating him is going to get me that much closer to where I want to be. After I defeat him, I could get a guy in the top five and keep going up. I want to be the champion, and I'm going to keep working hard until I get there."
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand, unless noted otherwise.