There are few fighters, if any, who are really, truly versatile. Sure, guys may be K-1 level kickboxers and All American wrestlers, or Muay Thai champs with black belts in BJJ. But rarely, if ever, do fighters put all of their skills together and use them to succeed.
When we think about the types of fighters that do, one name comes to my mind. No, not Anderson Silva—Bryan Baker.
He has hard punches, a strong wrestling game, good judo, and underrated submissions. As versatile as that is, he will only look to take all of his skills to the next level against Alexander Shlemenko.
Baker, who is fighting Shlemenko at Bellator 23 on Thursday, truly does show his versatility in every fight. It also shows in his record, which stands at 13-1, with six wins coming by KO and three coming by submission.
With the way Baker feels leading up to his fight, he is ready to make it 14-1.
"I feel real good, I feel confident. I've been putting in a lot of work throughout this whole tournament, and I'm ready to finish it off and become the season two tournament champion.
"It's just a lot of hard work that I've put in, and it's about to pay off. I'm excited to go and win this tournament, and compete against Hector, who is one of the top 10 professional middleweights in the world. I've faced a top-ranked guy already, and I'm ready to put my skills to the test against another one."
If Baker beats Shlemenko, he will have earned himself a shot at Hector Lombard, who, in addition to being one of the top middleweights in the world, is the Bellator middleweight champion.
Baker may be on a roll now, but if he beats Lombard, he's hoping for a shot at Chael Sonnen in the future. The fight against Sonnen would be to avenge Baker's only loss in his career.
"I fought him about two-and-a-half years ago, and I'm ready to put my skills to the test against him again."
Although the loss was probably painful, especially for a young, undefeated fighter, Baker realizes now how the loss was good for him.
"I've learned a lot since then, a lot that I wouldn't have learned if I had gotten the win that night. It kept me humble, it kept me realizing that you have to put in a lot of work, and that there is always room to improve."
Though he is no Sonnen, Baker's next opponent is no slouch in the fight game either. Bryan wasn't as worried about Shlemenko's game plan so much as him fighting his own.
"It's more on me being in control on the fight, you know? Using my game plan, forcing him to fight the way I want him to fight, rather than what his game plan is. I'm not sure if he thinks I'm going to go in and try to take him down right away, or if he thinks I'll stand with him. I'm just going to make him feel uncomfortable to the point where he doesn't feel confident unleashing with his striking. With my size and strength compared to his, I think I have a big advantage."
Even with a record of 13-1, and his only loss coming via decision against a perennial title contender in Sonnen, Baker knows he isn't perfect but far from it in fact.
"You know, I'm fairly young in the fight game, and I'm getting better each fight, but I'm still trying to understand how my body can react and move in certain situations. I'm just barely starting my career, but I'm getting better each fight. Down the road, I'm going to be known as one of the greatest."
When talking about fights that were special to him, one name comes to his mind above the others: Eric Schambari. The two have fought twice, once for Bellator, the other under World Extreme Cagefighting. Baker is 2-0 in these bouts, but the wins aren't what make him happy.
"To beat Eric Schambari, you know, from fighting him two years ago and winning a split decision, but now, finishing him off, it just shows you the work I'm putting in, how I'm evolving faster than my opponents."
At the ripe, young age of 24, he is a finalist in one of the top MMA promotions in the world. If he wins his next fight, and then beats defending champ Lombard, the sky is the limit for this kid.
"I want to thank God. He's the one who made this possible, and he provides me the strength to get through everything I do. God is my No. 1."
Bryan Baker would also like to thank King Size clothing and Team Wildman for all the things with which they help him.