If Ryan Bader is reading all of the headlines and listening to all of the pundits, a win over Anthony Johnson on Saturday at Prudential Center will get him a title shot in the ultra-competitive light heavyweight division.
The thing is, Bader doesn’t read the headlines or listen to pundits.
“I gave up thinking about it because there were times there where I thought I had it,” he said. “For me, it’s cliché, but it’s about just going out there and beating that guy in front of me. Nothing’s a given in this sport, especially title shots. And so all you can do is control the here and the now, and that’s going out and beating the guy in front of you.”
The guy in front of him this time is none other than “Rumble,” who fought for the vacant belt against Daniel Cormier last May at UFC 187. Johnson lost that bout via third-round submission, but not before rocking “DC” with his patented right hand.
On a media tour through New York City in late December, both Bader and Johnson spent a day together doing interviews and posing for photographers, looking more like co-stars in a blockbuster movie rather than main event opponents.
“He’s tough,” Bader said of Rumble. “He comes out and he goes a million miles an hour. He has a one-track mind to come out there and hit you as hard as he can with everything he’s got in the first couple rounds, and try to get you out of there. My assessment of that is he doesn’t want to go more than a few rounds.”
By all accounts, “Darth” Bader is a terrible matchup for Johnson, who typically loses to guys who are able to slow him down with dominant wrestling. Bader plans to impose his will and put him in bad positions.
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If one thought Johnson, a former welterweight, was big for 170 pounds, he’s still big for 205 pounds, and Bader plans to use that size to his advantage.
“I think this is a great fight for me,” Bader said. “If I can control where the fight goes, like I usually do, it will be a long night for him. That being said, he goes out there and he hits hard. He goes after it, so it’ll be a good fight. And it has implications on the light heavyweight division. More than likely, Cormier will be fighting Jones in the spring, and with us ranked in the top five, there’s a good chance one of us will be fighting for a title.”
If not, Bader says he doesn’t plan on sitting out a year or more waiting for his shot to come around. After all, this is his career, and it’s not like you’re not going to show up for work for a year if you don’t get a promotion, right?
“I have a family to feed and if I’m not fighting, I’m not getting paid,” he said.
To that end, Bader is ahead of most of his peers when it comes to setting himself up for retirement. He has a 27,000 sq. ft. gym in Arizona called Power MMA and Fitness that caters to not only professionals like Johnny Case, Myles Jury and Michael Chandler, but to many student athletes and kids.
“The kids are phenomenal,” he said. “Our jiu-jitsu program is very successful with kids, and it’s good to have those pros in the gym to motivate you. I’ve been with guys like CB Dollaway and Aaron Simpson for a while now, but to get an influx of some different guys and see how they work, and their mentality, we rub off on them and they rub off on us.”
And while the 205-pound division is in stable condition since Jones was stripped of the belt due to legal issues, Bader believes in order to truly be the champion, one must get through “Bones,” who was reinstated last October.
“That whole situation that happened, it opened up the division a little bit,” he said. “Cormier went and got it. Jon Jones didn’t technically lose his title. It was taken from him. He didn’t lose it in a fight, and so I feel as the titleholder – which Cormier is right now – you’d want to have that fight again, because there would always be kind of an asterisk next to your name.”