Bellator 180: Ryan Bader Excited for a new journey


CagePages spoke with Ryan “Darth” Bader ahead of his fight with Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis at Bellator 180 in New York City on Spike TV.

Ahead of Bellator 180, I had the opportunity to speak with title challenger Ryan Bader regarding his upcoming fight against Phil Davis for the light heavyweight championship. I spoke with “Darth” regarding his upcoming fight, how his training has changed as he’s become a veteran of the sport, and why he’s okay not being on the pay-per-view portion of the card.

At the time of the interview, the news about Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was less than an hour old.  Bader spoke of the event in the context of the sport of MMA and acknowledged that it was an accomplishment worth celebrating.

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.  Good for Conor McGregor for being able to make that happen. He got his name to there so much that he’s fighting Mayweather who’s one of the best boxers of all time and making great money.  I think it’ll be good for MMA.  I don’t know how they’ll do in the fight but I think it’s going to be good for the sport.  I think it’s going to be a huge fight and the more eyeballs the better.”

With talks of super fights aside, Bader spoke about the latest stage in his career.  The veteran is one of the high profile acquisitions that has joined Bellator in the last twelve months. Notably, he was unexpected as his success in the UFC and the depth at 205 had many believing he would be staying in his former promotion. Bader was the longest tenured light-heavyweight in the division with 20 fights and was ranked in the top ten.

Even so, UFC president Dana White went on the record to say that “Bellator is a good place for Ryan Bader” despite the fact that he wasn’t a free agent yet.  When “Darth” went on the MMA Hour to discuss his new contract, he pointed out that his deal is excellent for someone of his status in the sport.

It was expected that with such financial incentives in his new contract, Bader would prefer to fight on the pay-per-view portion of the card rather than the cable-televised portion on Spike.  The reality is that Bader is actually in a better position in fighting earlier on the card than later in the marquee action.

“We never really talked about the pay-per-view at all.  I was fighting King Mo and then he got hurt and Phil Davis stepped in.  So we’re technically the main event of Bellator 180 on the Spike portion. Contract wise it’s better for me because I have TV bonuses and what not that I wouldn’t have been getting if I was fighting on pay-per-view.  For me, it’s great.  Spike is a proven model there, you know you’re gonna get viewership there.

The PPV, I’m sure it will do awesome, but we don’t know for sure yet.  It’s only the second PPV they’ve ever done.  So I’ll take my spot as the main event of Bellator 180 on Spike.  I hope to blow the roof off and get people to tune into pay per view.  But for me contract wise, viewership-wise, I think it’s smarter to be on Spike.”

While the UFC is the goal for most mixed martial artists, Bader is more than content with where he stands in his career.  At a time when Bellator has never been bigger, it can be argued that Bader is the free agent with the most to gain from it’s newfound popularity.  Unlike additions like Rory MacDonald or Chael Sonnen, Bader has the benefit of not only being a familiar name but also one who came in to the promotion on a win-streak and highly ranked.

“I know I came over at the right time. It happened to work out that my contract was up. I asked them, what’s your plan for Bellator?  What’s your plan for me?  I liked what they had to say. I ended up signing with Bellator and got a great contract.

The day after they announce that they’re throwing a card in Madison Square Garden so it just reaffirmed that I did the right thing.  Seeing the recent pick-ups, even in the commentating booth, they’re doing it right. Bellator is coming up and they’re doing it right.  I’m excited to be a part of it and help them grow and for them to get behind me.”

Ironically, this is Bader’s first time back on Spike after beginning his UFC career on the network through the Ultimate Fighter.  Now after having faced several of the biggest names in the history of the sport.  He quickly made his way through the ranks, getting better in each outing.  Since his UFC debut in 2008, he has faced several of the biggest names in not only the division but in the history of MMA.  At this stage of his career, however, training is different than when he was the young prospect who burst onto the scene.

“I was probably 24-25 when I started. I was pretty much a pure wrestler who was tough and relied on his punching power. To be honest, a lot of the times I didn’t know what the hell I was doing which is crazy considering the type of guys I was fighting.  Now in my career, I feel like I’m the best fighter I’ve ever been by far.

Training wise it’s different, I do a lot less sparring.  In a typical camp only once a week will we do hard sparring with big gloves.  That’s pretty much it sparring wise.  We’ll do some work with smaller gloves but not hitting each other in the face.  So we’re just training smarter.  I just turned 34 and it’s the best I’ve ever felt physically and mentally.  You have to listen to your body.  I come from a wrestling background where if you were tired you work even harder.  That’s how I trained in my career.  Now I listen to my body.

If I’m tired and beat down, I take some time off.  I do a lot more recovery now than I did early in my career.  Now, I do a tonne of drilling where before we never used to and I’ve gotten a lot better.  We also have changed in the gym, we have a new coaching staff which started before my Nogueira camp.”

The bout with Phil Davis is arguably the most closely contested bout in the career of “Darth.” Bader defeated Mr. Wonderful back in 2015 in a close contest by split decision in a fight where both men were unsuccessful in doing devastating damage.  Bader has shown on social media that he’s working with UFC standout Corey Anderson to prepare for the rematch, a training partner who helped him prepare for Davis the first time.

In analyzing the first fight, it was clear that the size and style of Davis did not allow for either man to gain a significant advantage.  Both men avoided big exchanges and had to be weary of a takedown from the other. Bader’s volume and aggression made the difference in two of the judges scorecards to give him the nod that night, and he has now transitioned into the latest stage of his career as a professional.  Against a familiar opponent, Bader is excited to showcase his growth as a fighter in his Bellator debut.

“It’s just night and day.  I’m a way better fighter than I was at that moment.  I walked out of the fight with the win but at the same time, I felt terrible in there.  Phil’s a weird guy to fight.  He’s unorthodox, he runs a lot, and he has unorthodox movement.  I feel great now.  I have been in there, I know what he can do.  I know what he’s capable of, I know how strong he is and how fast he is.  I feel so much better and I’m looking to use it as a baseline to show people how much I’ve grown. They’ll see that last fight and look at the fight this weekend and see that it’s a different guy in there.”

Despite stumbles in several of his biggest fights, it’s clear that Bader is not lacking for confidence as he prepares to enter the cage at Madison Square Garden.

“Regardless, it’s going to end with the belt around my waist.  I’d love to be the guy to go in there and finish Phil Davis.  I don’t know if it’s happened too many times, if at all.  I want to be that guy to not only win that belt but also show the fans and Bellator what’s to come.”

Ryan “Darth” Bader will be fighting Phil “Mr Wonderful” Davis in the main event of Bellator 180 for the light-heavyweight title on Spike TV.