Ryan Bader finds himself in a very familiar position against Ovince Saint Preux at UFC Fight Night 47 on August 16. He's been here before, but hasn't been able to get past the realm of the gatekeeper.
The former Division I All-American wrestler has another chance to stake a claim as a legit title challenger, something Bader has had the chance to do earlier in his career on three occasions.
Following his thunderous KO win over Vinny Magalhaes to win The Ultimate Fighter, Bader went on a nice streak where he won four straight inside the Octagon.
Included in those wins were a highlight-reel KO of Keith Jardine and a win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 119. Following the win over Nogueira, Bader was slotted in a fight with another contender, Jon "Bones" Jones.
Both men had become surging contenders, and in a rare move, the UFC matched up the pair of prospects. Bader had gained notoriety from his time on TUF and had become a staple of the upper half of the UFC's light heavyweight division.
Jones meanwhile came into the UFC with little fanfare until he completely wrecked Stephan Bonnar at UFC 94. The future UFC light heavyweight champ would follow that up by leaving a path of destruction that featured highlight-reel finishes in each of his wins.
Even in his disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, Jones looked like he was on another level.
Up to this point in his career, Bader was the typical wrestler who had knockout power in his hands that we've seen so many times before in MMA. But despite having heavy hands, he hadn't developed the technical skills to apply the KO power.
Unable to secure a takedown or land the one-punch knockout, Bader was simply outclassed against Jones.
It wouldn't get any better for Bader in his next fight as he was blown away by Tito Ortiz at UFC 132. Perhaps this is where Bader hit his lowest point during his UFC career, because since the loss to Ortiz, Bader has looked like a much better fighter.
He rebounded with a KO victory over Jason Brilz and added a strong showing against former Pride and UFC champ Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Once again, Bader found himself on the cusp of a title shot.
All he had to do was the seemingly impossible—solve the "Machida Puzzle." Facing off against former UFC light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida, Bader had another opportunity to stamp his ticket to a title shot.
Instead, Bader once again found himself failing to achieve the golden ticket. This time he was knocked out in the second round by the Brazilian.
After defeating Vladimir Matyushenko in his next contest, Bader found himself in another chance to rise to title contender. He enjoyed some initial success, rocking Glover Teixeira, but he was eventually knocked out after coming in too aggressive.
Now, Bader once again has another chance to prove he's not in Michael Bisping territory. Bader has shown the ability to take out the mid-tier fighters in the division but hasn't been able to defeat that top level of opponent.
OSP certainly isn't a top contender at the moment, but he has won five straight in the Octagon. Much like Bader's clash with Jones, UFC Fight Night 47 features a clash of rising contenders in Bader and Saint Preux. Bader has looked extremely impressive in his recent wins, especially the fight with Anthony Perosh.
But it will all be for not if Bader cannot capitalize on the opportunity presented to him.
He'll have a national television audience watching at home, and with no other card scheduled around the same time frame, all eyes of the UFC brass will be focused on UFC Fight Night 47.
Teetering on the edge of his athletic prime, Bader could be facing his last opportunity to become a top contender. Losing to guys like Jones, Machida and Teixeira is one thing. He cannot afford to lose in another high-profile fight if the former TUF winner wants to add a UFC championship to his legacy.