UFC 174: Johnson vs. Bagautinov - Ryan Bader vs. Rafael Cavalcante Preview and Prognostication

Photo by Esther Lin of MMA Fighting

UFC Light Heavyweights Ryan Bader and Rafael Cavalcante try to make some noise in a division that feels like it will be dominated by Jon Jones for a very long time. Can these two men put on a performance that makes us interested in seeing where they go next?

Ryan Bader vs. Rafael Cavalcante Light Heavyweight

I know Ryan Bader. He's the guy who fought Junie Browning by the TUF house pool, right?

If you wanna call it a fight. It was more like Browning drunkenly stumbling towards him only for both to fall into the pool.

Whatever happened to him?

Last I remember, he was turned into an awful bizarrely self aware comedy sketch for the World MMA Awards.

And this Rafael Cavalcante dude? All I know about him is what his nickname Feijao means.

Feijao sort of came out of nowhere. He had always been extremely talented, but his career didn't begin to really simmer until he brutalized Muhammed Lawal at the Strikeforce: Houston show. As a result, he managed a bout with Dan Henderson in a very competitive scrap that ended with a dynamite right hand that somehow didn't kill Cavalcante standing. I'd argue that he's a bit of an underachiever. He's suffered losses that I feel he shouldn't have, but I think he's bordering on elite. Problem is, he's 34.

As for Bader, he's a historical facsimile. He seems to win fights you don't expect him to (Quinton Jackson, although I realize Jackson was hardly in his prime), whole losing fights you expect him to win (Tito Ortiz). Actually that's not true. Bader has only taken one bad loss while his other three losses were to the current LHW champion, and two former LHW title contenders. Needless to say, Bader has got an improbably high level of experience in the division, regardless of where he sits in the rankings.

Cavalcante at +140? A no brainer, right?

Pretty much.  This fight is dead even on paper.

That doesn't mean there aren't good reasons for him to be an underdog here. As I said, Bader is a solid fighter. For some reason he's often seen as a garden variety gatekeeper. I think a lot of it, other than the horrific loss to Ortiz, has to do with the fact that people aren't used to seeing the wrestle boxer style dominate LHW. Just look at its cast of champions: Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida, Mauricio Rua, etc. Perhaps fans like because he's not some sort of specialist he isn't worthwhile.

Beating Feijao would constitute a big win, and I think he's capable. For one, he's developed a striking game that exists beyond just a big right hand. Still, having a lot of power in one hand is still useful for obvious reasons. Especially here because Rafael has lost via TKO/KO three times. Bader's power isn't on the level of Dan Henderson, or Mike Kyle, but it does reveal that Cavalcante fights with his chin up a little too often.

If Bader wins, it'll be because he was able to catch Cavalcante in the middle of an exchange. I don't know how likely that is though. Bader has never show an aptitude to counter. Cavalcante is a monster moving forward. He throws powerful punches with both hands, and in close possesses brutal knees. He sort of does it all with the type of violent aplomb that characterizes a man who...'just wants to watch the world burn.'[Alfred]

His takedown defense is sturdy enough to avoid the double, especially since Bader doesn't have an especially quick shot.

To me the X-Factor here is Feijao's gas tank. Obviously, this shouldn't be Bader's gameplan: to hope a professional fighter is gonna quit on his stool because he's been on the treadmill for 10 minutes. But Bader's is climbing uphill by virtue of not having the style to make Feijao really feel the cardio sting of the final round.

On paper, this is a very competitive matchup, and yet I don't see how Bader snags takedowns while avoiding getting tagged on the feet.

Rafael Cavalcante by TKO, round 3.

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