Ryan Bader on Potentially Fighting for the UFC Light Heavyweight Title

Brandon HinchmanCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2017

Ryan Bader (12-0) recently won a unanimous decision against Antônio Rogério Nogueira at UFC 119.

The decision came without much fervor for many, though Bader nevertheless retains his perfect record and a chance to further grow with the UFC.

In the post-fight press conference, Bader was asked a number of questions surrounding how he felt he did against Lil' Nog and where he sees himself going with the UFC.

In regards to the UFC 119 victory, Bader said, "I felt great. It was an honor just to be in the same Octagon with him, let alone pull out a win."

So the respect is there, but is the level of competition needed to excel against the current greats of the light heavyweight division, or even that one other young, huge prospect that potentially stands in Bader's way?

Despite a poor showing in a recent fight against Jason Brilz, Lil' Nog is no doubt one of the best light heavyweights in MMA today. A victory over him certainly gives Bader a fair amount of MMA street cred, though everything in between leaves some skeptical of Bader's ability to continuously step things up in an über-competitive division.

As for now, Bader is content with his recent victory, stating, "[Lil' Nog] is a dangerous fighter on the feet and on the ground, so you have to pick your poison. I felt I caught him in the first, put him down, and tested that out a little bit."

He continued, saying, "I was trying to be careful. I wasn't trying to rush in and go after it and get counterpunches. A lot on the line in this fight."

By essentially playing it safe with Lil' Nog, how would Bader fare against some of the others at the top? Examples include Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua, and maybe even Randy Couture.

Don't forget about that one guy everyone seems to be talking about, Jon Jones. Similar to Bader's record, Jones truly hasn't lost despite the L on his record due to a disqualification from his match against Matt Hamill. As for weaknesses, this young prospect has shown none thus far.

As far as the potential for Bader to fight for the light heavyweight title, he had this to say:

"I feel like I’m close. It’s my goal. I’m willing to bide my time. I’m pretty young in this sport. I have a lot to learn. I want to get in the gym and correct mistakes and learn a lot more, but my ultimate goal is to have a belt one day. As close as I can be to that, the better, but we’ll see."

The good thing is that he's not too eager to get to the title. Nevertheless, the difficulty lies in actually surviving what the division has to offer. There's no doubt that Lil' Nog was Bader's toughest test to date, but as he acknowledged, he will certainly have to keep the pace up to grow with the UFC.

"When you get up to this level, Nogueira included, these guys you can switch them out and put whoever in there and they’re all the same. They’re going to be tough as nails. Whoever is next, it’s going to be a tough fight no matter what, so I really don’t care."

Being in an extraordinarily difficult division, Bader is correct in saying that beating one tough opponent only guarantees someone at least as skilled the next time around. Will he be able to continue hanging with the elite in the division?

Even Bader admitted he needs to work on holes in his game. From Round 2 onward, Bader seemed to lose a lot of his power, so conditioning may be an issue. Also, when fighters have a strategy that involves winning by decision, they can oftentimes focus too much on earning points versus finishing the fight.

As for what the UFC should do next with Bader, perhaps he should take a quieter path of slowly working his way up in the ranks before getting a title shot.

A good match for Bader would be the winner between Machida and Rampage scheduled for UFC 123, as both Machida and Rampage are eager to get the belt back, though they are at least two wins away from taking a shot at it.

Regardless of criticism surrounding Bader's performance against Lil' Nog and despite looming threats in probably the most competitive UFC division, it's hard to argue with a perfect record. Until it's tarnished, the only thing we can do is sit back and watch the fireworks.