Image Courtesy of Esther Lin of MMAFighting.com
Saturday's UFC On Fox 4 card has several interesting match-ups on it, but none moreso than the main event and co-main event. With the four men all vying for a contender spot, it will hopefully bring forth some fireworks. Light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones has fought each of these athletes already, and now it's in their hands to put on the performance of a lifetime to get a shot at redemption. Of the two fights, I think the most compelling one is between Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader. Jones tweeted out his opinion of the four fighters yesterday, and called Lyoto "the toughest puzzle" and Bader "the strongest". In a short, exclusive interview for Bloody Elbow, Ryan Bader discussed how he's matured as a fighter and gave his thoughts on Machida's skillset.
Stephie Daniels: In your fight with Rampage, you went back to your bread and butter, your wrestling, which to me, signified you maturing as a fighter. Would you agree with that?
Ryan Bader: Yeah, absolutely. After those few losses, I looked back and we had to change a lot of things. We did it as a team, and I got a new boxing coach and a new head coach, most importantly. He's put everything together as far as making each fighter the best they can be by taking their strengths and not trying to add anything that they're not really going to use. I've been working with them to do a lot of little things like footwork, head movement, and just putting it all together.
A guy like Rampage is very tough on his feet with a lot of power. The gameplan wasn't to just go box with him. We knew that the takedown and elusive strength, as far as getting in and out, was going to be the key to success in that fight. We trained hard for it and you saw the outcome.
Stephie Daniels: You seem to be able to adapt very well, and change your gameplan to fit the needs of the fight much better now. Can you pinpoint when you got to where you could put it all together like that?
Ryan Bader: I think it's come mostly from my coaches just drilling. We weren't really drilling much, and then we started, specifically with the Jason Brilz fight. I feel like I reinvented myself with that fight. I've been working with these coaches, and bringing in guys that really emulate the opponent that I'm fighting. It's just doing it through repitition over and over in the gym and mixing it all up. I know that my best asset is my wrestling and I've been using it more, and using it to set up other stuff.
Stephie Daniels: In Lyoto's fight with Jones, we also saw his ability to adapt, in that he was willing to stand in the pocket and fight in close quarters, where before, he was notorious for being so elusive. Do you think he might employ that same gameplan with you, or go back to staying on the outside because you're not as rangy as Jones?
Ryan Bader: I don't think he'd want to stand in the clinch with me, and I think he'll fight me differently than he fought Jones, but I'm prepared for anything. I brought in a guy that is a karate world champion that studied Machida and helped me out for this fight, and I definitely believe that will be one of the keys to my success against him.
Stephie Daniels: A couple days ago, Dana said that the winner of Shogun and Vera would get the next title shot, but left you and Machida out of the conversation. He came back and amended his statement saying that you two were also in the mix, pending who has the best performance. What's your overall feeling knowing that after a year and a half of putting in the grind, you're now back in the mix again?
Ryan Bader: It's great, but it really doesn't change anything. I'm looking to go out there and win as impressively as I can, anyway. He called me personally that day and said, 'Hey, you're in the mix too, I listened to the fans', so that was good to hear, but it's just extra. It's just something that when I'm done with the fight, and if I won it impressively, he'll be there to say, 'Hey, Ryan Bader gets the next shot', that's gonna be an amazing feeling. Right now, I can't really think about it. I'm already motivated enough, so it's in the back of my mind, but it's not something that I'm really worried about.
Stephie Daniels: Does Dana's announcement that whoever has the most impressive showing will get dibs on the next title shot affect your gameplan at all? Do you train any differently knowing that in order to get that shot you really have to put on a show?
Ryan Bader: Well, what does that really mean? Is a five second knockout more impressive than a really technical battle? Yeah it went to decision, but it might be a more impressive display because it was a battle. We'll just have to see what happens in the fight.
Lyoto is a tough guy to finish, for sure. I'm going to be trying to do that, but I'm going to be smart about it. I'm not going to just forego my whole gameplan because the title shot is on the line. It is in the back of my mind, but I plan to fight smart and fight to win.
Stephie Daniels: Where do you think Lyoto will have an advantage, if any?
Ryan Bader: I think it's his distancing and ability to get in and out. He probably thinks he's going to be faster than me, but we trained exclusively with a guy just like him. We've seen all those angles. A lot of people don't get that, but I'm fortunate enough to have it. I think he's just going to use his blitzes and try to get me with those.
Stephie Daniels: Some guys are really big on viewing fight tape footage to formulate their gameplan, and others don't think it's an advantage at all. How big a part of your training relies on viewing the tape of your opponents fights?
Ryan Bader: With a guy like Lyoto, you definitely have to watch a lot of tape. My head coach does a great job with that. He's studied the tape for countless hours. I've watched it. The guy that we spar with has seen it many times, and finds it useful to emulate him better. If it was another guy, maybe not so much. A guy like Rampage, a search of the tape, you're really not going to find too much different. You're not going to have to change too much, but with a guy like Lyoto, you can pick up on little tells and feints he does before certain moves, and whatnot. I definitely studied the tape for this fight more than any other, and I drilled a lot more for it.
Stephie Daniels: Last question, what are your thoughts on TRT?
Ryan Bader: I'm not really well versed in it, as far as what happens or what you have to do to be on it. I know that Rampage was on it when I fought him. I just show up to do a job on a contracted date. I just go out there and I do my job. A lot of people asked me how I felt about him being on TRT after that fight. It doesn't matter to me. I just worry about myself. I go out there to do my thing and get the win. Some guys might have legitimate excuses or reasons to use it. I don't really know too much about it, so I can't really comment.
You can follow Ryan via his Twitter, @RyanBader