Note: This is a column I wrote for MMA Latest News
Ryan Bader fans shouldn’t be too upset with former title contender Alexander Gustafsson getting the first crack at new light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier as “Darth” has another high caliber foe waiting in the wings. According to MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani, former UFC light heavyweight champion “Ultimate Fighter” season 2 winner “Suga” Rashad Evans is planning to return to the octagon in September. His targeted opponent – Bader.
I like the idea of Bader vs. Evans. It’s probably not the fight that fans want to see, but both competitors have a lot to gain. Evans, who has been out of action since recovering a knee surgery he had in February, believes a win over Bader can put him back onto the road for a title shot. The former champion is riding a two-fight winning streak that includes a decision victory over Dan Henderson and a first-round TKO finish over Chael Sonnen. Suga has always been near the top of the light heavyweight ladder since he took the title from Forrest Griffin in 2008. He last fought for the title in 2012 when he dropped a decision to Jon Jones – the first man to go the distance with “Bones” since he won the title.
When Evans was fighting for the belt the first time, Bader was on the verge of being the next big thing in the 205-pound division. He won “The Ultimate Fighter 8” tournament two weeks before Suga became champion. He went on a four-fight winning streak before suffering back-to-back losses to Jones and Tito Ortiz.
After the defeat to the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy,” Bader went 3-2 in his next five fights. He’s done well these last couple of years, riding another four-fight winning streak that includes victories over former Strikeforce champion Rafael Cavalcante and Phil Davis. But critics argue that Bader’s recent success isn’t enough to warrant him a title opportunity.
This fight could help both competitors on their quest for UFC gold. For Bader, it gives him a chance to score the biggest win of his career and some leverage for a title match against Cormier. He could argue “I’ve beaten two former world champions and I’ve won my last five fights. Give me a title shot.”
For Evans, a win over Bader could give him a crack at the belt if he plays his cards right. Evans was supposed to face Cormier at UFC 170 in 2014 but was sidelined due to the knee injury. If he defeats Bader, he could use that, as well as the long, overdue fight with Cormier as bargaining chips.
As for the bout itself, Evans and Bader are similar. They have solid wrestling, as well as blooming Brazilian jiu jitsu backgrounds. They also have good striking and are pretty durable in the cage.
It also tells a good story. In one corner you have a former champion trying to make get back to the top. On the other, you have a guy who is tired of waiting for opportunities and wants his shot right now. I say make this fight happen.