By Adam Martin
Heading into his main event matchup against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC Fight Night 100, Ryan Bader was in a potentially high-risk, high-reward situation. The former Ultimate Fighter winner and perennial top-five light heavyweight contender turned down a contract extension offer from the UFC, instead opting to fight out his contract by taking on Little Nog in a rematch of a fight Bader won back in 2010 at UFC 119 when he was still a prospect.
Bader was filling in on short notice for an injured Alexander Gustafsson, heading down to Brazil -- Little Nog's home country. And although he was favored to win the fight by oddsmakers, it's not like this was a blowout fight, as Bader has been knocked out before, and Little Nog has big power in his hands.
For Bader, the fight represented a risk worth taking, as he and his camp felt the style matchup was in his favor. Clearly Bader was right in taking the risk, as he was able to survive an early attack on the feet by Little Nog to use his wrestling to take the Brazilian down and beat him up on the ground until he eventually won the fight via third-round TKO.
The fact of the matter is light heavyweight is the shallowest weight class in MMA right now, and Bader is about as elite as it gets at 205 lbs, so there will be no shortage of suitors for his services, especially considering he's coming off of two big knockout wins and overall has won seven of his last eight fights. He will get paid in free agency, the only question is who gives him the best deal.
According to Bader, his first choice is to remain in the UFC, and he's already said he wants to re-sign and fight the winner of UFC 206's rematch between UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson for the title next. Johnson already knocked Bader out earlier this year, so that rematch likely won't excite fans or the UFC matchmakers, but if Cormier wins, a Bader vs. Cormier bout is actually fairly intriguing, and it's a fresh fight.
With Bader coming off of two big wins and the UFC desperate for top-level light heavyweight title contenders, clearly Bader is going to use his free agency as a way to leverage his way into a title shot. And it might actually work, because the UFC doesn't have many options with Jon Jones out of action, particularly if Cormier beats Johnson. Bader says he wants to re-sign with the UFC, but he also said he wants to get paid, which will make his free agency journey interesting to watch.
Phil Davis recently winning the title, Bellator needs contenders to fight him. Who better than Bader, who beat Davis by split decision last year in the UFC? Bellator is for sure going to talk to Bader, and with Bader looking to cash in for the first time in his career as a true free agent, it will be interesting to see if Bellator does indeed make Bader an offer he can't refuse, and one the UFC won't match.
Additionally, Bader could field an offer from RIZIN, ONE FC, or even World Series of Fighting. But it's more than likely going to come down to either the UFC or Bellator, and my money is on Bellator making Bader a big offer to become one of the newest faces of its light heavyweight division. Whether or not the UFC matches it, though, remains to be seen.
Bader bet on himself at UFC Fight Night 100, and it will pay off big time when he signs his new contract. For a guy who has always been underappreciated in the sport, he deserves the opportunity to get paid.