Ryan Bader: Forever a Gatekeeper
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 08.20.2014
With his win in the main event at UFC Fight Night 47, Ryan Bader did little to shake his label as a light heavyweight gatekeeper! Jeffrey Harris examines why Bader has been unable to shatter this perception in his UFC career!
Greetings, 411mania readers. It is I, your friendly neighborhood 411 Jack of all Trades, Jeffrey Harris. For this week's MMA Zone column, I wanted to take a look at the career of the winner of UFC Fight Night 47's main event, Ryan Bader. Throughout his UFC career, Ryan Bader has firmly established himself as a perennial top 10 fighter and gatekeeper, but he has never been able to shatter that perception. His performance last Saturday reinforced that perception, if anything.
Since winning The Ultimate Fighter 8 in December 2008, Ryan Bader has gone 11-4 in the Octagon. For much of his career, he's been between the top 5 and top 10 of the UFC light heavyweight division. If you look at his record, in the long scheme of things, he's done pretty well. He's never lost more than two in a row. He's currently on a three-fight winning streak, and he's ranked No. 8 in his division. So what's the problem? The problem is that with his main event bout against Ovince St. Preux at UFC Fight Night 47, he did little to dispel the notion of him being nothing more than a light heavyweight gatekeeper.
The fight against St. Preux was seen as more of a test for St. Preux than anything. St. Preux was a holdover from Strikeforce who was seen as having some potential. He was doing well in the UFC at first, winning four straight fights and finishing three. Bader was a fight to see how well St. Preux would fare against a tough, grinding wrestler. It was a test that St. Preux failed. For Bader, it was not a fight that would move him higher up the rankings. However, he could have answered many of the criticisms against him by beating a tough, exciting light heavyweight prospect who fans expected more out of for this fight.
Bader has had many opportunities against top contenders that would've ascended him into the upper echelon in the division. He has failed on every occasion, getting finished by Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida, and Glover Teixeira. His biggest wins were decisions over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Quinton Jackson at different points in his career. After both wins he was essentially matched up in potential title eliminator fights against higher level opponents. After the Nogueira win, he was dominated and submitted by Jon Jones. After the Jackson win, he got knocked out by Machida. Followed by the Machida loss, he then got submitted by Tito Ortiz of all people that was essentially seen as a fight where Ortiz was going to his execution.
Bader has been able to build up a solid, but unspectacular record in the UFC. It is a record befitting of a gatekeeper. Bader is generally good enough to stay in the top 10 throughout his career. He beats lesser opponents, but when he gets matched up against a higher level of opposition, he crashes and burns. Bader seemed well aware of his gatekeeper status going into UFC Fight Night 47. He talked a big game as many fighters do about getting a finish and finally being ready for a title shot. It seems for two years now, Bader has espoused that he finally has good coaching and actually game plans for his fight now. That's all well and good, but he's still not looked like he has actually improved in any way. Sure, his cardio and wrestling looked on point against Ovince St. Preux, but it generally always has. His attempts at ground and pound were poor. He managed to ragdoll or get St. Preux to the ground and get side control many times, but looked like he had no idea what to do at all when you get a fight to the ground. I think this the problem fans have with dominant grapplers in the UFC. When you get a fight to the ground, that's where you should be doing damage, attempting submissions, and trying to get points. If a fighter just takes you down, passes guard and lays there, that is what gives you the moniker of being a "boring" grappler or wrestler. Of Bader's 11 UFC wins, seven them have been grinding decision wins.
Bader's wrestling and style is good enough to get him where it currently is. And yet in all these years, he's not evolved his game to a level where when he gets an opportunity against a top 5 opponent he can win. It's not just acting like a kickboxer that caused him to lose those big fights. He couldn't get a hold of Jones or Machida to take them down either.
Bader is by no means a bad fighter. In fact, being a gatekeeper in the grand scheme of things means you are a pretty good fighter. The UFC and the sport needs gatekeeper. Why? It means Bader is at a level where if a title contender beats him, that's a good win or strong resume builder for that fighter. He is the guy that stands in the way of other guys fighting for the title. That's not a bad role to have. Most gatekeepers don't like being the gatekeepers, but Bader's record is not a bad record. It's just not a record that will ever get him to the title level.