"I’m not going to fight him scared. He’s fought some really tough guys
but every fighter is different."
Facing the toughest match in his perfect MMA career, Ryan Bader (13-0) is approaching UFC 126 as just another day at the office when he goes up against one of the most exciting fighters in the sport today, Jon “Bones” Jones (11-1).
“I look at it one fight at a time,” says Bader. “My goal is to be the champion, and if you look at what it takes to achieve that in the 205 division, it could be pretty daunting. But if you take it one fight at a time and just train for the fighter in front of you and just go out like it’s any other fight, you’ll get there.”
Training for Jones has been a challenge. After all, how many guys out there have an 84 inch reach and the technique that Jones brings to the table, including vicious elbows that have resulted in some of the most impressive ground and pound in the division?
“I’m not scared of him,” says Bader. “That’s one thing, I’m not going to fight him scared. He’s fought some really tough guys but every fighter is different. I’m different than Matt Hamill, than (Brandon) Vera, than (Vladimir) Matyushenko; we all present our own problems. For me, I’m a tough wrestler. I have the mental capacity to make it a dogfight and take it in deep water. With my wrestling combined with my knockout power, I bring a lot to the table and even more than what you’ve seen in my last couple of fights.”
A two-time All American wrestler at Arizona State University, Bader thought he was through being an athlete after graduating college. The years of training and cutting weight took their toll, and Ryan went the 9 to 5 route, taking a job as a telecommunications salesman in a business-to-business company.
Six months later he discovered MMA.
“I felt like I hit a plateau with wrestling,” he said. “It was fun but it wasn’t there any more for me. I wasn’t getting much better. When I found MMA I learned something new every day and felt like every day I walked into the gym I was getting better.”
The progress Bader saw in the gym quickly translated to success in the cage, and after going 7-0 in smaller shows that included slamming an opponent in a cement floor ring in Mexico for a knockout victory, the Reno, Nevada native caught his second wind, and he eventually found himself on national television competing on The Ultimate Fighter, Season 8.
Since defeating Vinny Magalhaes in the finale and winning a UFC contract, Bader has gone 4-0 inside the Octagon, with key victories over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Jones’ teammate, Keith Jardine. A victory over Jones would catapult Bader into the top five of one of the most stacked divisions in all of MMA.
“This is a huge fight for me,” says Bader. “It has a lot of implications for my career, but it’s just another fight, he’s just another fighter. I put pressure on myself for every fight. I’m highly competitive. When I was fighting in smaller shows and wrestling matches, to the Ultimate Fighter and now huge fights like this, I train the same. I’m my biggest critic and I want to go out there and not only win, I want to be exciting.”
With unpredictable spinning elbows and impressive Greco Roman throws, Jon Jones is known for being exciting, but Bader says he’s got some tricks of his own that Jones needs to watch out for.
“Obviously I’m not going to give away my game plan, but if the opportunity presents itself in the second or third round, you’ll see some interesting stuff from me,” he says. “We are pretty much opposite fighters. He’s got unorthodox technique, he’s very long, we have totally different bodies, and we couldn’t be any further apart. The only thing I would say is similar is the wrestling. I feel with my wrestling and my boxing, my ability to take him down and knock him out presents a lot of problems. I’m just working on mixing it up well. He’s obviously a great fighter too and he brings a lot to the table. I’m going to stay tight, use my wrestling and boxing and throw some kicks and knees in there.”
To help prepare for the imposing reach that Jones possesses, Bader worked with Kyle Kingsbury, who faces Ricardo Romero at UFC 126. At 6’4” tall and with a good 79 inch reach, Kingsbury presented a lot of the same scenarios that Bader will see against Jones.
“He’s a lot bigger than Jon Jones, but he’s lanky and tall with long arms so I got to work on getting inside, and he kept me honest, not walking straight in with punches because he’s got ten inches on me,” says Bader. “He was throwing some different stuff and it was nice to work with him just to feel that length and that size.”
Bader said he also did a lot of MMA sparring for this camp, with all of his opponents actively trying to emulate the unpredictable moves Jones is known for.
“We’ve had a fresh guy in there with me every minute and they were instructed to throw some of the techniques that Jon likes to throw at me so I’ve been getting used to seeing those types of things.”
For Bader, being undefeated in MMA and facing his toughest challenge to date doesn’t add any extra pressure to keep his record unblemished, because he’s got his eye on the big picture.
“He’s got all the hype and everything but if you put any one of those top ten guys in front of me it’s going to be a dog fight,” he says. “It’s a highly competitive division. When you start looking at those names and who I have to go through to reach my goal, you’ve got to take one fight at a time. It’s a hard division but that’s where I want to be.”