Ryan Bader and team disheartened after Alexander Gustafsson receives title shot

Ryan Bader thought he was fighting for the title next until he wasn't. 

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Just over a week ago the NHL stood on the precipice of a chance to see two of the largest market teams square off in the Stanley Cup finals as the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Rangers were just one game away from meeting in a hockey showdown that would have likely garnered monstrous ratings on television.

Unfortunately while the Blackhawks did their part, the Rangers fell in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who rank No. 26 in overall value in the NHL while playing in one of the smallest markets in the entire league.  No matter how much the NHL would have raked in the ratings cash from a Chicago vs. New York final, the two best teams are now playing for the championship.

But that’s not how things work in the sport of MMA as Ryan Bader found out on Wednesday night when the UFC announced that Daniel Cormier would face Alexander Gustafsson for his first title defense later this year. Cormier won the belt after former champion Jon Jones was arrested in April on felony charges for leaving the scene of an accident and the UFC stripped him of the gold.

Cormier was originally scheduled to meet Bader at this weekend’s UFC Fight Night card in New Orleans before he was yanked to fight for the belt at UFC 187.

Bader didn’t get a new opponent and instead opted to wait to fight for the title, which seemed like a forgone conclusion considering he was already scheduled to face Cormier and had a four fight win streak with three victories over top 10 opponents in the division.

Cormier and Bader also engaged in a near brawl following the conclusion of UFC 187 when the two fighters got into a shouting match at the post-fight press conference and had to be separated by security following the encounter.

Despite all those factors, the UFC opted to give Gustafsson the next shot at the title after he was knocked out by Anthony Johnson in the first round of his last fight this past January in Sweden. Gustafsson was supposed to fight Glover Teixeira in Germany on June 20, but an injury forced him to drop out of the bout and now his reward is a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title.

"It’s a little disheartening, but it’s also educational in understanding that winning isn’t necessarily everything in MMA," Ryan Bader’s manager David Martin told FOX Sports on Thursday. "Entertainment clearly is the most important factor and it’s something I’m going to have to discuss with a number of my fighters who come from wrestling backgrounds where winning is the only thing that matters."

Martin represents Bader along with several other wrestlers such as four-time All-American Logan Storley, who is making his push into MMA later this year. Martin says many of his clients who came from wrestling were just built to believe that winning, by any means necessary, was the most important part of competition.

This latest move to put Gustafsson in a title shot after losing in his last fight while Bader is riding a four fight win streak seems like the clearest indication that spectacle out weighs sport at least in this particular bit of matchmaking.

Gustafsson’s woes in getting the title fight go beyond his loss to Anthony Johnson in January.  The Swedish born light heavyweight has gone 1-2 in his last three fights and injury has kept him from two more bouts during the past year.

When it comes to head-to-head competition, Gustafsson and Bader have both fought a few of the same opponents over the past few years. Both fighters have defeated Vladimir Matyushenko while losing to Jon Jones.

Gustafsson did lose to Phil Davis by submission in his second UFC fight while Bader just recently defeated the former NCAA champion wrestler to move his record to 5-1 over his last six fights.

No matter what the records say, Bader still got passed over in favor of Gustafsson who will face Cormier later this year with the title on the line.

"I’m not fighting for the title next, that’s all I know," Bader said while declining any further comment.

It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances for Bader, who appeared to be on the cusp of his first crack at the UFC title, and now he’ll have to sit on the sidelines and wait to see who he gets matched up with next instead.  Title fights are a rare commodity in MMA and Bader definitely got robbed of his chance this time around.

He’ll also have to watch as Gustafsson goes for the gold against Cormier in what will likely be a pay-per-view main event within the next few months.