Ryan Bader pulls out split decision victory over Phil Davis

Ryan Bader wanted to prove that he has what it takes to crack the top five of the light heavyweight division, and he took a big step forward on Saturday with a split decision victory over Phil Davis.

It was hard to imagine this battle between two of the premiere wrestlers in the division being anything other than a war of attrition as Davis and Bader constantly jockeyed for position and looked for an opening on the feet.

Bader’s punching power was evident over the course of all 15 minutes, especially when he started connecting with a series of jabs that busted up Davis’ eye.

To counter Bader’s heavy hands, Davis came back with a barrage of kicks to the legs as he tried to slow his opponent’s attacks, but he just never put any kind of combination together to pull himself ahead on the scorecards.

Davis consistently looked for the takedowns, but Bader shrugged him off at every turn over the course of all three rounds. Davis did manage to get Bader to the ground in Round 2, but only stayed there for a matter of seconds until the fight was back on the feet.

Bader did the same to Davis in Round 3 with just seconds to go in the fight, and that may have swayed the judges in his favor as time ran out.

In the third and final round, Davis’ right eye swelled shut courtesy of Bader’s punches, which may have forced him into a defensive posture to avoid taking too much damage.

When the judges returned their decision, one saw the fight 29-28 for Davis while the other two gave the same 29-28 scores to Bader, giving him the split decision win.

It’s probably not a fight that will go down as one of the greatest in UFC history — far from it — but Bader finally gets the signature win he’s been searching for against a top-10 opponent. He now moves to 4-0 in his last four fights with a chance to get into title contention by the end of 2015.