Ryan Bader continues serving as the light heavyweight division's foremost gatekeeper, and he has officially declared that Ovince Saint Preux's name is "not on the list." Now, he finds himself in an oddly familiar position, straddling the chasm between Contendersville and Stepping Stone Land.
Now riding a three-fight winning streak, there is legitimate cause to believe that his longtime struggles against Top 10 competition may be a thing of the past. Then again, his losses to Lyoto Machida, Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira still loom large on his record, even with his recent efficacy.
Depending on whom his next opponent is, and how he performs, he could either be relegated to lifetime midcard status or be in the thick of contention. So whom could he face? And how might that fight pan out?
Find out right here!
The rise of Anthony "Rumble" Johnson from middling UFC welterweight to WSOF staple to fearsome light heavyweight contender has been one of the biggest stories of 2014. Unfortunately for Johnson, champion Jon Jones is booked solid for the next 12 months. That leaves him with plenty of time to take on new challenges, and a solid option would be Ryan Bader.
Who do you want to see Bader fight next?
For Bader, a fight with Johnson represents the opportunity to trampoline into contention for the first time since 2010. For Johnson, who already has all sorts of hype behind him, Bader is pretty much the best opponent available to him, outside a fight with Alexander Gustafsson (which Gustafsson's camp is actively resisting).
Depending on how dinged up Bader is, the fight can potentially be put together soon and fits nicely into the main event of a Fight Night or UFC on Fox card.
I know, I know...
Gustafsson is holding out for Jon Jones. Still, the reality is that Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier is four months away. Jones is very obviously avoiding the rematch and could easily choose not to fight Gustafsson the same way he did ahead of his fight with Glover Teixeira.
Still, Jones vs. Gustafsson 2 is a fight the UFC would like to preserve, and the best way to do that would be keeping the Swede in the win column. Bader, who is a favorable stylistic matchup, would be an ideal opponent to keep The Mauler in the win column.
Patrick Cummins (or Ilir Latifi)
For the first time in a long time, the light heavyweight division has a number of rising stars. Two of those fighters are Patrick Cummins and Ilir Latifi. Both took on established veterans on short notice and lost those fights, but they have since proved themselves to be legitimate talents.
While Bader may seem like "too much, too soon" for men with just three UFC bouts apiece, have you seen them? Both looked absolutely fearsome against formidable veterans and appear ready for a shot at ranked talent.
Cummins is by far the better option for the UFC (which likely wants to groom Latifi to be a staple fighter for shows in Sweden), but both make sense. Neither of these fighters has anything on his plate, so a fight could be made with little difficulty.