This evening (Sat., August 16, 2014), No. 8-ranked UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader will take on surging prospect Ovince St. Preux in the main event of UFC Fight Night 47 from the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine.
Coming in off a lackluster decision win over former Strikeforce champ Rafael Cavalcante at UFC 174, Bader has now won two straight since his most recent defeat, a first round knockout loss to recent title challenger Glover Teixeira. He’s building a decent amount of momentum, yet the fashion in which he’s won certainly doesn’t have any fans talking about him as a future title contender in one of the most dangerous divisions in UFC.
And that’s what puts Bader in a compromising position heading into tonight.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 8 winner exploded into the Octagon in late 2008, racking up five straight victories and an undefeated 12-0 record before succumbing to eventual champion Jon Jones at UFC 126. After a shocking loss to Tito Ortiz at UFC 132, Bader has gone 5-2 over his last seven UFC bouts, his only losses coming to former champion Lyoto Machida and Teixeira.
On paper, his resume is a solid (if not spectacular) one, and his wrestling skills honed as an NCAA Division I All-American at Arizona State make him a tough out for the majority of 205-pound talent in the UFC. However, with the top five (aside from Jones) populated by a murderer’s row of Alexander Gustafsson, Daniel Cormier, Rashad Evans, Teixeira, and the surging Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, there’s not a lot of room for Bader to maneuver.
That’s a long list of contenders for Jones to face, and with him only just beginning to recover from surgery for a torn meniscus, the division is at a standstill. Regardless, if Bader wants to prove he can somehow contend with those names one day, he’s going to have to win, and he’s going to have to do it impressively.
The No. 10-ranked St. Preux comes into UFC Fight Night 47 on a tear, having won all four of his bouts in the UFC (including three by stoppage), and 13 out of 14 overall. The Strikeforce vet is seemingly evolving at a rapid rate, and his athleticism as a former University of Tennessee football player should also help him contend with the mat acumen of “Darth.”
He also maintains a sizeable six-inch reach advantage over Bader, something that could cause problems if the TUF winner gets overzealous while rushing in, something that spelled his doom against Machida and Teixeira. But that’s not to say he can’t take down “OSP” and ride out a decision win; he most certainly can.
Again, that kind of a victory won’t raise any eyebrows. While it would no doubt be an impressive victory for Bader, time may be running out on him to make a legitimate run at the belt in a stacked division.
A loss would almost certainly relegate him to the role of high-level gatekeeper, and another smothering win would simply mean he has a lot more work to do. But the latter is obviously the only way he can finally begin to build on his once-hyped promise, and Bader believes he is in the best shape of his career.
So is UFC Fight Night 47 Ryan Bader’s make-or-break point? In today’s rapidly progressing cutthroat UFC, I’d have to say that unfortunately for him, it probably is.
Bader will have to stop a runaway freight train in St. Preux, and even if he does, a litany of truly world-class challenges will await him. He’s a slight favorite in the odds, but the deck is still stacked against him in the long run.
Can he prove his doubters wrong and fight on to another high-profile bout, or will he go the way of his namesake “Darth?”
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