May 13, 2018

Ryan Bader's Success Is A Positive Case Study For MMA Free Agency

By Raphael Garcia

"Free agency" hasn’t caught on in mixed martial arts to the extent that it has in the major team sports, but in recent years a number of these athletes have moved between the sport's largest promotions in search of more lucrative situations. One of the more intriguing changes of scenery involved Ryan Bader, who left the UFC in 2016 and has since reemerged in Bellator MMA. Bader's run in this new company is a prime example of an organization and a fighter both finding exactly what they sought in free agency, and it is worthy of discussion.

With a record of 25-5, it’s hard to see Bader as anything but a success in MMA. He competed in the UFC light heavyweight division whenh it was one of the deepest divisions in the sport. Even though he was defeated by many of the best fighters that he faced, he did pick up important wins over the likes of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and Phil Davis. On Saturday at Bellator 199, he defeated another former champion in Muhammed Lawal, stopping him in less than a minute to move forward in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.

With this win he’s one step closer to becoming a two-division champion in the promotion. At Bellator 180 he made his Bellator debut by snatching away Davis’s 205-pound title with a split decision victory over the former Penn State national champion. Bader is 11-2 in the last five years of his career, showing improvement every step of the way.

At 34 years of age, it’s clear that Bader doesn’t have the youth on his side. But fighting in the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions puts him in a position to remain near the top of both weight classes for an extended period of time. We’ve seen big name fighters such as Fedor Emelianenko, Brock Lesnar, and Frank Mir remain contenders well past their athletic prime, so it’s hard to imagine that a competitor of Bader’s abilities wouldn't be able to do the same.

In Bader, Bellator gets a champion that it can build around. His consistency is important. He can step into the cage and deliver highlight reel knockouts, he speaks well enough to draw interest in his fights, and he stays out of trouble when he’s not in competition; those are attributes that deserve praise in today’s MMA space.

Bader has completed three of the six fights on his deal with Bellator. With one more already scheduled for 2018, Bader’s contract could be up with Bellator before the end of 2019. At that time it will be interesting to see whether the organization decides to lock him into a longer deal, or whether Bader makes a triumphant return to the UFC, akin to what Anthony Johnson did years ago.

But that is exactly what’s supposed to happen when a fighter takes a risk and pursues the best deal available for his or her services. Only time will tell if both Bellator and Ryan Bader continue to make the most of their partnership.

Bellator 199
Ryan Bader vs. Muhammed Lawal (HW Grand Prix opening round): Ryan Bader def. Muhammed Lawal via knockout (punch) at 0:15 of Round 1.

Bellator 199: Bader vs. King Mo took place May 12, 2018 at SAP Center in San Jose, California.

Click HERE for more Bellator 199 Post-Fight Analysis

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