Ryan Bader (left) will be fighting with a chip on his shoulder this weekend.
Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
As UFC 192 fast approaches, Ryan Bader can’t avoid the questions about how he’s not fighting in the main event against Daniel Cormier with the light heavyweight title on the line in favor of Alexander Gustafsson.
Bader is currently riding a four-fight win streak with three victories over top-10 opponents including Ovince Saint-Preux, Phil Davis and Rafael Cavalcante while Gustafsson lost his last bout against Anthony Johnson in January.
Logically, Gustafsson getting the title shot doesn’t make much sense, but Bader refuses to let the frustration fester inside and infect the preparation for his upcoming fight against Rashad Evans this weekend.
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"Obviously I was a little bummed out because that’s what you work towards," Bader told FOX Sports. "You want to fight for a title and be the champion or at least the chance to be a champion. I’m not one to sit there and dwell about it and I’ve got to move on.
"If you look at it from a logical, sports perspective, ranking-wise and who was available, who was on a win streak and who was off losses, it was me. I mean you can’t lose in the playoffs and still make it to the Super Bowl."
As much as Bader would like to simmer and stew about missing out on the title fight, he can’t pay too much attention to Cormier and Gustafsson when he has a former champion standing across the Octagon from him Saturday night.
Evans will return to action for the first time in nearly two years after a series of knee injuries forced him to a pair of surgeries, but he’s finally healthy and ready to reclaim his spot in the top five of the division. To get there he’s going to have to go through Bader, and that’s not a spot he’s going to allow Evans or anything else to take from him.
I have something to prove to myself, to the UFC and the fans that I deserve to be at the very top. That I deserve to be there fighting for the belt.
— Ryan Bader
"I have something to prove. Especially with Rashad and Cormier," Bader said. "I have something to prove to myself, to the UFC and the fans that I deserve to be at the very top. That I deserve to be there fighting for the belt."
It’s impossible to ignore Evans’ long layoff and how that might affect his performance on Saturday night. Bader can’t depend on Evans coming in with ring rust or not being at his best because underestimating a veteran like that could spell disaster.
Instead, Bader will treat Evans like the person who won the UFC light heavyweight title in 2008 although he’s going to test the former champion early to see if he’s still relevant in 2015.
"I don’t want to go out there and think I’m fighting a slow or older Rashad," Bader said. "I’m not thinking like that at all. I’m thinking like I’m getting the best Rashad, the one who won the title. For me, every time I step in there I don’t underestimate anybody, but two years off isn’t easy. Every training camp and every fight takes a little bit out of you, and then with surgeries you’re putting your body through hell. Coming off two ACL surgeries into a training camp isn’t easy."
Bader knows it probably won’t take long into the fight to see if Evans is truly back or just a shell of what he used to be, but either way the former "Ultimate Fighter" winner plans on coming out on top while sending a strong message to Cormier, Gustafsson and anyone else in the division that he’s ready to challenge for the gold.
"I think by the end of the first round we’ll see if he’s ready," Bader said about Evans. "I’ve been training for that (Daniel Cormier) fight since I beat Phil Davis in January, so I know I’m in amazing shape. I could fight right now. I’m going to feel good.
"I still don’t feel like I’ve shown who I really am as a fighter in there. I want to have that fight and I want to have that fight with Rashad. Go out there and make a statement and build my five-fight win streak with Rashad at the end of it, and that way no one can say I don’t deserve the shot at the title."